What is an Acquittal?

Criminal cases that come before the court can end in sentencing or in acquittal. The difference between civil and criminal matters is that criminal cases involve charges brought against the accused by a government. At one time, the victim had the right to press charges, but in modern time the state assumes the role of the injured party; that is, the crime is considered to have been perpetrated against the government. There are various types of guilty pleas, but accused persons found innocent of a crime are acquitted.

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Types of Judgements in Criminal Courts

People accused of crimes may plead innocent, or they may enter a plea such as the Alford Plea which maintains innocence but admits there is enough evidence to convict them. The accused may also enter a nolo contendere which is not an admission of guilt but an accession to the charges. In some states, the Alford Plea results in a continuance and may eventually end in a dismissal. In most states, however, it is considered as equal to a guilty plea and judges will immediately render a judgment against the defendant. If the court finds the defendant not guilty of the charges, the judge renders an acquittal.

Definition of Acquittal

An acquittal means that the accused is found innocent of the charges that have been brought against him or her. It doesn’t always mean that the person charged with the offense is actually not culpable; it may mean that guilt was simply not proven.

Difference Between Victim and Plaintiff

Centuries ago, the victim of a crime sued and often meted out the punishment. The process has evolved, however, to one in which someone is accused of having broken the laws of the government, and so it becomes the victim. Those affected personally by the crime are considered “interested parties” or witnesses. That is why an injunction against double jeopardy is possible; the government will only try a person once for a crime.

Retrial of an Acquitted Person

People often ask if a person acquitted of a crime can be retried if new evidence arises. The answer, at least in the US, is no. According to the CPS.gov.uk website, a law has been proposed in England that would allow people found innocent of a crime to be retried in the light of new evidence. The US Constitution, in the fifth amendment, prohibits that from happening under the “Double Jeopardy” provision. Witness tampering and other things can result in a mistrial, in which case the accused can be retried, but if the defendant is found not guilty, he may not be retried in a criminal court for the same offense. Someone acquitted in a criminal court may still be brought before a civil court, however, for lesser charges. CNN shares how this occurred in the infamous OJ Simson case where the murder victim’s families brought a joint suit against Simpson in which he was found responsible for the victims’ deaths.

Although there is some contention about the impossibility of people being retried when new evidence surfaces, or even if the defendants subsequently confess to the crime with which they were charged, the rule of law must prevail. That is why a verdict of “not guilty” must be irreversible. Acquittal, at least in the US, is the “last word” in a criminal trial.