Acquittal is a legal term which refers to the formal designation of a criminal defendant as free from all charges. A criminal defendant can be acquitted at any stage of the criminal process. Once a defendant is acquitted of criminal charges, double jeopardy rules does not allow the defendant to be charged with the same criminal charges twice. Therefore, acquittal is a final determination that a criminal defendant can no longer face charges for that crime.
The following are some ways in which an acquittal can be achieved by a criminal defendant:
1. If a criminal case is taken all the way through a jury or bench trial, in which a final decision of “not guilty” is rendered. The defendant is then acquitted of the charges and can never face them again.
2. If a criminal defendant reaches trial, a jury is empaneled, and the charges are thrown out on the basis of law or procedural grounds. A mistrial will not acquit the defendant, however a determination by the judge that the prosecution could not meet the burden of proof will acquit the defendant.
3. If the prosecution abandons the trial after a jury is empaneled.
While acquittal bars retrial in the criminal court, a civil lawsuit can still be brought on the same facts and circumstances as that acquittal. Because the burden of proof in a civil trial is much lower than in criminal proceedings, a defendant may face civil liability but not criminal liability.
A defendant can also not claim double jeopardy if an acquittal is brought by bribing or threatening a judge or juror involved in the case.