What Is The Legal Definition of Acquittal?

Everyone has a basic idea of what the word “acquittal” means. If you’ve been acquitted of criminal charges, then you’re off the hook. Even though that’s the simplest explanation, not everything is so simple in the legal world, and a lawyer needs to know all the ins and outs and small details involved with every aspect of acquittal. So what is the more complicated, legal definition of the word?

An acquittal can take place in a number of ways, depending on the specific case. While the laymen know that acquittal is when a judge or jury finds a defendant not guilty of the accused crimes. The defendant is therefore cleared of charges and cannot be tried again for those same charges in the future. This circumstance represents a factual acquittal.

A different type of more legalized acquittal may take place in certain instances. These occur when more than one person is tried with charges that relate to a single crime. For example, if an accused bank robber is acquitted of robbing the bank, then the accused accessory who was driving the getaway car would indirectly be acquitted of that charge. If no one robbed the bank as far as the law is concerned, then no one could commit a crime by driving the accused away. The law is fun, isn’t it?

These two scenarios together represent the legal definition of acquittal.

An acquittal is dependant on the “not guilty” verdict. Because such a verdict can relate to certain charges stemming from a specific crime, but not all, sometimes the acquittal is partial in nature. In essence, a “not guilty” verdict and an acquittal are the same. It should still be understood that judges have the overall say and can acquit a defendant even if there is no “not guilty” verdict connected to the case. Judges can also overturn the decision of a jury–although this is extremely rare. These scenarios generally play out when a judge finds there is not enough evidence to try a defendant of a crime. Sometimes the prosecution oversteps a boundary and the judge steps in.

One of the most important aspects of acquittal is that it means you’ve been freed from criminal charges related to a certain crime–but that’s it. Oddly enough, just because a jury or judge hasn’t been presented with enough evidence to find you guilty of a crime does not mean that a civil proceeding can’t find you guilty of that same crime. In other words, the burden of proof in a criminal court is wildly different from that of a civil court, and you might still find yourself in hot water if someone has the right to sue you for a boatload of cash. In some cases, criminal proceedings might as well be a dry run for inevitable civil proceedings.

Acquittal in both the laymen’s and legal sense is fairly simple, but when you’ve been accused of a crime you should always have a criminal defense attorney present to help you understand the legal jargon and the potential consequences of a plea or eventual verdict. This is the best way to a robust and fair defense.