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What Is an Acquittal?

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  • Written By: Felicia Dye
  • Edited By: J.T. Gale
  • Last Modified Date: 10 March 2014
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The decision in a court case is referred to as the verdict. An acquittal is one possible verdict in a criminal court case. It means that a person is not guilty of whatever crimes of which he has been accused.

When a person is accused of a crime, both the accuser and the accused have opportunities to present their sides of the case during a trial. Once all of the testimonies have been heard and all of the evidence has been entered, a final decision usually needs to be made. In cases where there is an acquittal, the final decision is that the accused is innocent.

A jury is not required for a person to receive an acquittal. There are many non-jury trials. When this is the case, a judge passes the verdict.

An acquittal offers a person protection from double jeopardy. This means that he can never be tried for that same case again. However, an acquittal does not offer him protection from the exact charges being entered against him if it is believed that he committed new acts.

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For example, consider a man named Paul who is accused of robbing a woman named Cheryl on March 1, 2009. If Paul is tried and receives an acquittal, he never can be tried again for robbing Cheryl on March 1, 2009. This is true even if solid proof that he is guilty surfaces sometime later. If Cheryl is robbed on December 13, 2009 and Paul is suspected, he may be charged and brought to trial for this new incident.

An acquittal is supposed to clear a person of all suspicion and any pending consequences that would have accompanied a guilty verdict. The law cannot actually erase doubt from the minds of everyone, but it can force certain entities to act as if suspicion has been erased despite true feelings. This means that if the person was incarcerated during the trial, he should be released once he is acquitted. It also means that if a person is suspended by his employer pending the outcome of his trial that he should be reinstated to his former position.

The infamous O.J. Simpson trial is a good example of the type of security that an acquittal does not offer, which is protection from civil damages. Even if a person is deemed innocent in a criminal case, he still can face civil lawsuits pertaining to the same incident. Simpson was acquitted of murder by the criminal court, but was found liable for damages in civil court.

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Discuss this Article

PinkLady4
Post 5

Unfortunately, our justice system isn't perfect. I'm sure that throughout the history of our country, there were any number of innocent people, who were convicted and guilty ones, who were acquitted. These decisions were made by juries and by judges.

In the case of Casey Anthony, I think something went terribly wrong. The jury was given directions from the judge to follow. For a case as complicated and serious as this one, the jury should have taken more time to deliberate thoroughly. Perhaps the death penalty shouldn't have been entered by prosecution.

In the end, the jury just didn't feel there was enough evidence to make a guilty decision. Casey Anthony is, no doubt guilty, in some way for the death of her daughter. What's done is done. We hope it doesn't happen again.

GreenWeaver
Post 4

@Cupcake15 -I think that many of these defendants that receive these famous acquittals do not go on to live a normal life afterwards especially if the general public felt that they got away with murder.

Some of these defendants have to live in seclusion and change their appearance and even name as in the Casey Anthony case because they are so reviled that their personal safety is at stake.

So although many felt that a defendant like Casey Anthony was given a fair verdict, her life outside of prison will not be anything like it was in the past because now everyone knows her name and it will difficult for her to hide.

If she tries to make money on her case, then the public will boycott the station or the company that offered the deal. So I don’t the road ahead will be easy for her especially since she is indigent and OJ Simpson at least had sizeable assets he could live on.

cupcake15
Post 3

@Icecream17 - I don’t understand the verdict in that case either. With the Scott Peterson trial, there was much less evidence and he got convicted. I think that the problem with the verdict lies in the jury.

There were reports that many on the Casey Anthony jury were against the death penalty although they were death penalty qualified. It is easy to second guess decisions now, but in my opinion these types of jurors should have never been allowed to sit on this jury.

I also think that another famous acquittal case was the infamous OJ Simpson murder trial. Here there was bloody evidence and a lot of DNA evidence and he was still acquitted. Some legal analysts were even wondering what the role of celebrity plays in acquittals like this. Sometimes a jury can be awestruck by a celebrity defendant like this and not convict based on factors that have nothing to do with the trial.

I think that is what happened in that case. Like in the Casey Anthony trial, there was a large percentage of the general public that felt OJ Simpson should have been convicted. Many feel that his conviction of another crime ten years to the day of these murders was a type of karma because they really threw the book at OJ Simpson in that trial and will likely never be released from prison for a crime that was not as significant as the murder charge.

icecream17
Post 2

@Suntan12- I agree with what you are saying and I believe that having cameras in the courtroom really makes these criminal court procedures so dramatic. People were riveted by the Casey Anthony case because the circumstances were so horrific that the public could not believe that someone could do something like this to their own child.

I don’t think that a not guilty verdict means that the person is innocent of the crime; I think that it means that the jury did not feel that they had enough evidence to convict the defendant. A lot of legal analysts were scratching their heads when this verdict was read and the one thing that they all agreed on is that some juries are now looking for no doubt in criminal cases rather than beyond a reasonable doubt.

I think that television programs like CSI have made more juries prejudicial in cases like this where the circumstantial evidence is much stronger than the forensic evidence. I wonder how defendants got convicted before DNA evidence developed? The interesting thing about this case was that the jury believed the entire defense argument although there was no solid proof and rejected the prosecution argument even though there was solid evidence to the contrary.

suntan12
Post 1

I have to say that probably one of the most famous acquittals have to been the Casey Anthony trial. I don’t think that there has ever been a verdict as controversial as this one. Much of the polling data suggests that over 90% of the public believes that Casey Anthony had something to do with her daughter’s murder and cannot understand the jury argument for acquittal.

The prosecutors were so sure that there was premeditation on the part of Casey Anthony that they upgraded the charges to include capital punishment. This was mainly a circumstantial case with some forensic evidence that left a lot of unanswered questions.

The general public believed that Casey Anthony was guilty because she not only did not report her daughter missing for thirty one days but in addition there was duct tape found on the little girl that the prosecutors argued was placed on the little girl before she died.

Most people hearing this evidence understands that these actions are not consistent with an accident as the criminal defense lawyers claim. I also have my doubts about the jury verdict, but after the jury votes to acquit there is really nothing you can do but accept the verdict.

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