Acquittal Definition and Legal Meaning

On this page, you'll find the legal definition and meaning of Acquittal, written in plain English, along with examples of how it is used.

What is Acquittal?

n. under criminal law practices the absolution of a party charged with a crime or misdemeanor is acquittal. Acquittals could be “in fact” and “in law”. Former is when the trial results in the person being not guilty; whereas the latter occurs when the person is merely an accessary, and the principal has been acquitted.

History and Definition of Acquittal

Acquittal is a term used in criminal law to describe the legal condition of a person who has been charged with a crime and found to be not guilty. The concept of acquittal dates back to the first known legal systems, where it was recognized that a person was presumed innocent until proven guilty. The word "acquittal" comes from the Latin word "acquittare," which means "to release from duty."

An acquittal can occur when a jury finds a defendant "not guilty" after a trial, or when a prosecutor or judge decides to drop charges against a defendant. An acquittal can also happen "in fact" when new evidence shows that the defendant did not commit the crime. "Acquittal in law" happens when a defendant is not convicted, typically because the primary perpetrator is acquitted.

Examples of Acquittal

  1. After a lengthy trial, the jury returned an acquittal verdict and the defendant was able to walk free.

  2. The prosecutor decided to offer an acquittal to the defendant after new evidence was discovered that proved their innocence.

  3. The judge issued an acquittal order, stating that the prosecution had not provided sufficient evidence to prove the defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Legal Terms Similar to Acquittal

  1. Dismissal: When a judge decides to end a case before it goes to trial, either because of a legal technicality, lack of evidence, or another reason.

  2. Not Guilty: The jury's verdict after a trial where they did not find the defendant guilty.

  3. Nolle Prosequi: Latin for "do not prosecute," it means the prosecutor decides to drop the charges against the defendant.