Acquittal vs Not Guilty
Difference between acquittal and not guilty, the title of this article, may be somewhat of a surprise to many. The immediate response, naturally, would be to question if there is even a difference at all. Contrary to popular opinion, the terms ‘Acquittal’ and ‘Not Guilty’ do not constitute one and the same thing. In fact, understanding the two terms to mean the same thing is a misconception, albeit a fair one. This is not to say that the terms are wholly unrelated and have no connection. They are, in fact, related and connected in particular situations. Perhaps an explanation of the terms and their precise meaning might help to understand and identify this subtle difference.
What does Acquittal mean?
An Acquittal is traditionally defined as the act of releasing someone from certain charges brought against him/her. In ordinary parlance, it is commonly used in reference to a person who receives a verdict of ‘not guilty’ for the crime with which he/she has been charged. Think of an Acquittal as an exoneration; an act that sets a person completely free from a charge or offence. The dictionary defines an Acquittal as the act of acquitting or discharging a person or the state of being acquitted. From a legal perspective, an Acquittal is understood as representing a “judicial deliverance” from a crime, based on the verdict or decision of a court.
The word ‘deliverance’ is vital in understanding the definition of Acquittal in that it signifies an absolute release or freedom from some particular thing. An Acquittal, therefore, is an act that follows a verdict of Not Guilty. Simply put, a verdict of ‘Not Guilty’ will often result in the discharge or complete deliverance of the person charged with the crime. Therefore, it is better to understand an Acquittal as an act or state that follows a particular court verdict or determination. An Acquittal is typically granted in cases where the prosecution is unsuccessful in proving its case or where there is insufficient evidence either to convict the person or to proceed to a trial. Generally, when a person is acquitted the prosecution cannot file another action against that person for the same offence.
What does Not Guilty mean?
The term ‘Not Guilty’ popularly refers to a decision made by a court concerning a person charged with the commission of a particular offence. Think of it as the process that precedes the act of acquitting the defendant in a case. Therefore, a defendant cannot be acquitted until the court returns a verdict of Not Guilty. Traditionally, the term ‘Not Guilty’ is defined as a plea or verdict in law. A plea refers to a formal statement made by the defendant declaring that he/she is Not Guilty of the crime. It also constitutes the defendant’s denial of the charges filed by the prosecution. Simply put, the defendant declares to the court that he/she is not responsible for the particular crime. Likewise, Not Guilty also represents a verdict delivered by a jury or judge declaring formally that the defendant is not responsible for the crime. Typically, a verdict of Not Guilty is delivered when the jury or judge finds that the evidence is insufficient to convict the defendant or when the prosecution fails to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt. Keep in mind that in a case where a person is charged with the commission of several offences, the court may deliver a verdict of Not Guilty for either one or more of the offences but may not necessarily find the defendant without blame for the other offences. In such an instance, the defendant is not acquitted but instead given an appropriate sentence.
What is the difference between Acquittal and Not Guilty?
• An Acquittal refers to an act that follows or stems from a verdict of Not Guilty. The term ‘Not Guilty’, in contrast, refers to a declaration made by court before granting acquittal.
• Not Guilty also refers to a plea made by the defendant at the initial stage of a legal action wherein the charges listed by the other party are denied.
• A verdict of Not Guilty may not always result in an Acquittal. The defendant may be found guilty of other offences tried in the same trial.
Images Courtesy: Defendant Otto Ohlendorf pleads “not guilty” during his arraignment at the Einsatzgruppen Trial via Wikicommons (Public Domain)