At the end of a trial, a judge or jury can choose to “acquit” someone by finding them not guilty. This can apply to some — or all — of the criminal charges. Acquitting a criminal defendant happens when the evidence does not support the charges or the prosecution does not prove their case.
Acquittance can also be called absolution, exoneration, exculpation, or a “judgment of acquittal.”
If you plead not guilty and go to trial, the judge or jury will listen to the evidence and make their 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.
If the jury acquits you of a specific charge, such as theft, you can’t go back to trial for that charge again (for the same allegations). Trying someone for the same charge is called “double jeopardy” because you are being placed “in jeopardy” twice.
The prosecution may have the option of charging you with a new crime. In order to charge you for a new crime, however, 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 is trying to prove the same thing twice.
The jury can also acquit you of a more serious charge, such as robbery, but find you guilty of a lesser-included offense, like trespassing. This just means the jury found you guilty of some of the actions the government is alleging, but not all.
Finally, double jeopardy only applies to criminal charges, not civil actions. So, for example, you could be acquitted of involuntary manslaughter and not face any sentence or criminal consequences, but still later be sued in civil court for wrongful death and found liable, meaning you would have to compensate the family of the deceased.
An arrest and conviction can change everything. Fines or time in jail are the immediate concern, but a conviction will also mean a criminal record that can make it harder to find a job and housing for years to come. If you are arrested or learn you are under investigation, the first thing you should do is contact an experienced criminal defense attorney. You can search LawInfo’s legal directory to find a local criminal defense attorney who can protect your rights and help you determine the best way to proceed with mounting a defense.