Being found “Not Guilty” vs. being acquitted of the charges seem similar, which means that it can be tricky to tell the two apart. Both deal with the defendant walking out of the courtroom with the charges dropped and facing no conviction. Both also deal with the defendant not necessarily being found innocent of the accused crime – the accused was just fortunate enough that the prosecution was unable to prove guilt.
A “Not Guilty” verdict means that you were found to be not guilty by a jury of the crime in question. The prosecution failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you were guilty of the accused crime. The defendant is not legally answerable for the criminal charge filed against them.
An acquittal means that you are freed from obligation, burden, and accusation of the charges against you. The prosecution team could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you committed the crime in question. A judge and/or jury has found that you are not responsible for the criminal charges filed against you. Double jeopardy can be attached to an acquittal.
What Is Double Jeopardy?
Double jeopardy prohibits you from being tried for the same exact crime twice. It is a constitutional right bestowed upon American citizens from the fifth amendment.
An acquittal verdict comes with double jeopardy. This allows you to not be prosecuted, convicted, or punished for the same crime that you were just acquitted for.
However, you can still be tried for a similar crime. If a person was acquitted of physically assaulting their girlfriend and then physically assaulted their partner after the acquittal, then they can be prosecuted for this new crime.
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What Is the Difference Between Acquittal and Dismissal?
Dismissal is when the charges are dropped fairly early on in the legal process. A dismissal comes from either the prosecution not believing that there is enough evidence to support the charges or the judge believing that the case lacks the credibility to properly try it. Your defense attorney can petition to have the court drop the charges or dismiss them before the trial even begins.
The most common reasons for a petition to move the court to dismiss the case include:
- Law enforcement arrested the defendant without probable cause
- The district attorney made a mistake in the criminal complaint (charging documents)
- Police officers conducted an unlawful search and seizure of the defendant’s property
- There was all-around insufficient evidence to support the charges
A dismissal is entirely different from an acquittal, and it is not difficult to understand the difference between them. This is because acquittals take place during or after the trial, while dismissals happen before the trial. Acquittals pertain to the defendant being found not guilty, while dismissals pertain to there not being enough evidence to even warrant a trial.
Practically the only thing these two outcomes have in common is that the defendant walks away with no criminal convictions.
What Are the Other Types of Pleas in Court?
Defendants typically enter a plea during their arraignment. Along with not guilty and acquittal, there are a few other pleas in court cases. These include guilty, no contest, and not guilty by reason of insanity.
The three most common pleas that the defendant will enter into are not guilty, guilty, and no contest.
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What Is a No Contest Plea?
When a defendant pleads no contest, it means that they have no plans of fighting the charges lobbed against them. You are essentially admitting you are guilty of the accused crime. Pleading no contest entails that a judge will:
- Accept the plea of no contest
- Make sure that you know the consequences that will follow
- Inform you that your plea will be treated similarly to a guilty plea
- Confirm that you are okay with waiving some of your constitutional rights
Pleading no contest or guilty comes with waiving a handful of your constitutional rights. This includes your right to legal counsel, your right to a jury trial, and your right to not incriminate yourself. People who are guilty and they feel horrible about what happened are usually the ones who do not mind waiving their rights and pleading guilty or no contest.
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What Is the Difference Between Pleading Guilty and No Contest?
Both of these pleas are very similar, which often leads them to often being mistaken for one another. They both deal with the defendant accepting criminal conviction without going to trial over it. The major difference between the two comes from civil cases and not criminal cases.
You can still be sued in civil court for the crime. Pleading guilty to a misdemeanor offense in criminal court means that it can be used against you as evidence of an admission of guilt in civil court. Pleading no contest to a misdemeanor offense in a criminal court means that it cannot be used against you as evidence of admission of guilt in a civil court case.
This only applies to misdemeanor charges in the state of California. Some other states may operate differently. Do not plead guilty in criminal court if you plan on fighting the same accusations in civil court.
Why Would You Plead No Contest?
Since pleading no contest and guilty are very similar, it might not make sense to some people why you would plead no contest over pleading guilty. Wanting to fight the charges in a civil court instead of a criminal would entice someone to want to plead no contest rather than guilty. This is so their admission of guilt cannot be used against them in the civil case.
Oftentimes, defense lawyers advise their defendant to plead no contest in cases involving an accident. This can include property damage or personal injury from a DUI motor vehicle accident. The victims involved will want to sue in civil court, which means pleading no contest can help protect you when it comes to civil liability.
Sometimes your defense attorney will advise you to plead guilty if you are facing misdemeanor charges. This is because, in exchange for the guilty plea, you will be offered a more lenient sentence. This is known as a plea bargain.