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Acquittal Definition

Key Takeaways:

  • Acquitting you of all charges means you won the case and are free to go.
  • Acquittal releases you from any guilt, obligations to the court, and any criminal sentence.
  • You can be acquitted of some charges but still found guilty of a lesser-included offense.

At the end of a criminal case, the jury can decide whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty. Not guilty is known as an acquittal. When you are the defendant in a criminal trial, you aim to be acquitted of the charges. An acquittal means you will not face criminal penalties and can return to your daily life.

State and federal criminal laws can depend on where you are charged. This provides general information about acquittals in criminal cases. For legal advice about your criminal charges, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney.

What Is an Acquittal?

According to the U.S. Court, the definition of acquittal is “a jury verdict that a criminal defendant is not guilty, or the finding of a judge that the evidence is insufficient to support a conviction.”

At the end of a trial, a judge or jury can acquit you by finding you not guilty. This can apply to some or all criminal charges. Acquitting a criminal defendant happens when the prosecution does not prove their case.

A prosecutor has the burden of proof in a criminal trial. This means they have to prove all elements of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt. You are not guilty if there is any doubt about any element of the crime.

Acquittance can also be called absolution, exoneration, exculpation, or a judgment of acquittal.

Understanding Acquittal

Once you know the exact charge of an offense, you and your attorney will determine how to plead your case. If you plead guilty or no contest, then you won’t go to trial and can’t be acquitted.

If you plead not guilty and go to trial, the judge or jury will listen to the evidence and make a decision. The government must convince the jury “beyond a reasonable doubt” that you committed the crime. If there is reasonable doubt, the jury is obligated to acquit you.

Double Jeopardy in Acquittals

If the jury acquits you of a specific charge, you can’t go back to trial for that charge again. Trying someone for the same charge is called “double jeopardy” because you are being placed in jeopardy twice. The double jeopardy clause is guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

For example, you are charged with burglary, and the jury finds you not guilty because of insufficient evidence. Police later found enough evidence of your crime but couldn’t charge you again for the same allegations.

When Double Jeopardy Doesn’t Apply

The prosecution may have the option of charging you with a new crime. To charge you for a new crime, the elements the prosecution has to prove must be different in at least one respect. In other words, it is not considered a new crime if the prosecution tries to prove the same thing twice.

The jury can also acquit you of a more serious charge but find you guilty of a lesser-included offense. This just means the jury found you guilty of some of the actions the government is alleging, but not all. For example, a jury can find you did not commit domestic violence but are guilty of criminal trespass.

Finally, double jeopardy only applies to criminal charges, not civil actions. You could be acquitted of involuntary manslaughter and not face any sentence or criminal consequences. Later, you could be sued in civil court for wrongful death and found liable and have to compensate the family of the deceased.

How Can You Get an Acquittal?

Just because you are innocent does not mean you won’t be convicted. Plenty of innocent people were convicted of crimes they didn’t commit. You still need to take the case seriously and do what you can to ensure you don’t end up with a criminal record.

You can increase the chances of an acquittal with the help of an experienced attorney. An attorney can review your case and identify the best legal defense strategies. Your lawyer can challenge the evidence against you to keep it out of the criminal trial. Your attorney can also make a plea bargain with the prosecutor to reduce the criminal charges or help you avoid jail time.

Your chances of an acquittal will depend on your situation. Talk to an experienced criminal defense lawyer to find out about your criminal defense options.

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