Not Guilty vs Innocent
The terms not guilty and innocent are not uncommon and we are somewhat acquainted with them but, when someone asks what is the difference between not guilty and innocent, it becomes somewhat of a dilemma for many of us. Prima facie, it may appear that the two terms are synonymous and share the same meaning. However, this is a mistake, albeit a fair one. The terms are not uncommon and we are somewhat acquainted with them. The term Not Guilty is relatively easy to understand. Simply put, it represents one type of verdict or decision given at the conclusion of a criminal trial. Innocent, on the other hand, does not refer to the finding of Not Guilty. Its connotation is broader and encompasses a moral, philosophical, and religious aspect to it.
What in does Innocent mean?
The dictionary defines Innocent as the absence of guilt and acting in good faith without any knowledge of objections, defects, or illegal circumstances. In general, when the term Innocent is used, it is usually with reference to someone’s life, character, personality, or disposition. This means a person whose character is not known for committing crimes or viewed as someone not capable of inflicting harm. Such a view is based on the knowledge of that person’s moral beliefs and values. From a legal perspective, however, the term may denote several different connotations that ultimately tends to blur the distinction between Innocent and Not Guilty.
As mentioned before, Not Guilty is a verdict given by a judge and/or jury at the end of a criminal trial. Given that, the prosecution must prove their case beyond reasonable doubt to convict the defendant. Not Guilty verdict simply suggests that the prosecution was not able to prove their case beyond reasonable doubt. This verdict does not necessarily imply that the defendant is Innocent of the crime. Thus, when a person is found Not Guilty by the court, that person may either be genuinely Innocent of the charge or he/she may have committed the crime, but there was insufficient evidence to prove it. In law, the term Innocent is used as a presumption; one that benefits the accused in that the defendant is presumed Innocent until proven guilty. Some may argue that an acquittal automatically signifies a person’s innocence. This may be true from a legal perspective but as mentioned above it may not be the actual fact. Further, a person may be found Not Guilty of a particular offence but may be found guilty of another. For example, a person found Not Guilty of murder in the first degree, but convicted of murder in the second degree. Legally, the term Innocent may allude to a few instances and these may differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. However, the ideal way to understand Innocent, particularly to distinguish it from Not Guilty, is to remember that the latter is only a verdict and may not necessarily suggest that the person is in actuality, Innocent.
What does Not Guilty mean?
The meaning of the term Not Guilty is two-fold: Firstly, it refers to a defendant’s formal plea before a court denying the prosecution’s charges against him/her; secondly, it is the verdict or formal finding by the court in a criminal trial that the defendant is not responsible or legally blameless for the crime with which he/she is charged. A plea of Not Guilty is typically made by the defendant before the trial begins. Such a plea calls for the prosecution to prove the charges against the defendant beyond reasonable doubt. A verdict is usually given by the judge and/or jury after hearing the arguments and cases of both the defense and the prosecution. Such a verdict represents a finding, a determination by the court that either the evidence is inadequate to convict the defendant or that the prosecution has failed to prove their case against the defendant beyond reasonable doubt. Keep in mind that a person may be found Not Guilty only of the crime with which he/she is charged and such a person may be responsible for the commission of some other crime or wrong. Thus, it does not prove that the person is Innocent overall.
What is the difference between Not Guilty and Innocent?
The difference between not guilty and innocent is somewhat difficult to identify at first glance. Indeed, legally, the line between the terms is very thin while some might even interpret the terms to mean the same thing.
• In general, the best way to distinguish the two is to think of Not Guilty as a verdict or finding given by a court of law in a criminal case, and Innocent, as a fact or state of being indicating a person’s innocence based on his/her moral beliefs, behaviour, character and conduct in life.
• Likewise, a person found Not Guilty of a particular offence may not necessarily be Innocent of the crime. It is a verdict that typically suggests that the prosecution failed to prove the case against the defendant beyond reasonable doubt.
- Article 48 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union by Trounce (CC BY 3.0)
- Garfield teacher pleads not-guilty by J (CC BY-SA 2.0)