Acquittal
Overview
 
In the common law
Common law
Common law is law developed by judges through decisions of courts and similar tribunals rather than through legislative statutes or executive branch action...

 tradition, an acquittal formally certifies the accused is free from the charge of an offense, as far as the criminal law is concerned. This is so even where the prosecution is abandoned nolle prosequi
Nolle prosequi
Nolle prosequi is legal term of art and a Latin legal phrase meaning "to be unwilling to pursue", a phrase amounting to "please do not prosecute". It is a phrase used in many common law criminal prosecution contexts to describe a prosecutor's decision to voluntarily discontinue criminal charges...

. Under the rules of double jeopardy
Double jeopardy
Double jeopardy is a procedural defense that forbids a defendant from being tried again on the same, or similar charges following a legitimate acquittal or conviction...

 and autrefois acquit, an acquittal operates to bar the retrial of the accused for the same offense, even if new evidence
Evidence (law)
The law of evidence encompasses the rules and legal principles that govern the proof of facts in a legal proceeding. These rules determine what evidence can be considered by the trier of fact in reaching its decision and, sometimes, the weight that may be given to that evidence...

 surfaces that further implicates the accused.
Encyclopedia
In the common law
Common law
Common law is law developed by judges through decisions of courts and similar tribunals rather than through legislative statutes or executive branch action...

 tradition, an acquittal formally certifies the accused is free from the charge of an offense, as far as the criminal law is concerned. This is so even where the prosecution is abandoned nolle prosequi
Nolle prosequi
Nolle prosequi is legal term of art and a Latin legal phrase meaning "to be unwilling to pursue", a phrase amounting to "please do not prosecute". It is a phrase used in many common law criminal prosecution contexts to describe a prosecutor's decision to voluntarily discontinue criminal charges...

. Under the rules of double jeopardy
Double jeopardy
Double jeopardy is a procedural defense that forbids a defendant from being tried again on the same, or similar charges following a legitimate acquittal or conviction...

 and autrefois acquit, an acquittal operates to bar the retrial of the accused for the same offense, even if new evidence
Evidence (law)
The law of evidence encompasses the rules and legal principles that govern the proof of facts in a legal proceeding. These rules determine what evidence can be considered by the trier of fact in reaching its decision and, sometimes, the weight that may be given to that evidence...

 surfaces that further implicates the accused. The effect of an acquittal on criminal proceedings is the same whether it results from a jury
Jury
A jury is a sworn body of people convened to render an impartial verdict officially submitted to them by a court, or to set a penalty or judgment. Modern juries tend to be found in courts to ascertain the guilt, or lack thereof, in a crime. In Anglophone jurisdictions, the verdict may be guilty,...

 verdict
Verdict
In law, a verdict is the formal finding of fact made by a jury on matters or questions submitted to the jury by a judge. The term, from the Latin veredictum, literally means "to say the truth" and is derived from Middle English verdit, from Anglo-Norman: a compound of ver and dit In law, a verdict...

, or whether it results from the operation of some other rule that discharges the accused.

Scots law
Scots law
Scots law is the legal system of Scotland. It is considered a hybrid or mixed legal system as it traces its roots to a number of different historical sources. With English law and Northern Irish law it forms the legal system of the United Kingdom; it shares with the two other systems some...

 has two acquittal verdicts: not guilty and not proven
Not proven
Not proven is a verdict available to a court in Scotland.Under Scots law, a criminal trial may end in one of three verdicts: one of conviction and two of acquittal ....

. However a verdict of "not proven" does not give rise to the double jeopardy rule.

England and Wales

In England and Wales, which share a common legal system, the Criminal Justice Act 2003
Criminal Justice Act 2003
The Criminal Justice Act 2003 is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. It is a wide ranging measure introduced to modernise many areas of the criminal justice system in England and Wales and, to a lesser extent, in Scotland and Northern Ireland....

 creates an exception to the double jeopardy rule, by providing that retrials may be ordered if "new and compelling evidence" comes to light after an acquittal for a serious crime. Also the Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act 1996 permits a "tainted acquittal" to be set aside in circumstances where it is proved beyond reasonable doubt that an acquittal has been obtained by violence or threats of violence to a witness or juror/s.

In modern England and Wales, and in all countries that substantially follow English criminal procedure, an acquittal normally results in the immediate liberation of the defendant from custody, assuming no other charges against the defendant remain to be tried. However, until 1774 a defendant acquitted by an English or Welsh court would be remanded to jail
Jail
A jail is a short-term detention facility in the United States and Canada.Jail may also refer to:In entertainment:*Jail , a 1966 Malayalam movie*Jail , a 2009 Bollywood movie...

 until he had paid the jailer for the costs of his confinement. It was known for acquitted persons to die in jail for lack of jailer's fees.

United States

With one exception, in the United States an acquittal cannot be appealed by the prosecution because of constitutional prohibitions against double jeopardy
Double jeopardy
Double jeopardy is a procedural defense that forbids a defendant from being tried again on the same, or similar charges following a legitimate acquittal or conviction...

. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled:
If the judgment is upon an acquittal, the defendant, indeed, will not seek to have it reversed, and the government cannot. U. S. v. Sanges, 144 U.S. 310 (1892). Ball v. U.S., 163 U.S. 662, 671 (1896)

A verdict of acquittal, although not followed by any judgment, is a bar to a subsequent prosecution for the same offense. Ball, supra, at 672.

Society's awareness of the heavy personal strain which a criminal trial represents for the individual defendant is manifested in the willingness to limit the Government to a single criminal proceeding to vindicate its very vital interest in enforcement of criminal laws. United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 v. Jorn
Jörn
Jörn is a locality situated in Skellefteå Municipality, Västerbotten County, Sweden with 877 inhabitants in 2005....

, 400 U.S. 470, 479 (1971)

Whether the trial is to a jury or, as here, to the bench, subjecting the defendant to postacquittal factfinding proceedings going to guilt or innocence violates the Double Jeopardy Clause. Smalis v. Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is a U.S. state that is located in the Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic regions of the United States. The state borders Delaware and Maryland to the south, West Virginia to the southwest, Ohio to the west, New York and Ontario, Canada, to the north, and New Jersey to...

, 476 U.S. 140 (1986)


It was decided in Fong Foo v. United States
Fong Foo v. United States
Fong Foo v. United States, , was a Supreme Court ruling that upheld the protection from Double Jeopardy by the federal government. While the protection from double jeopardy did not get incorporated to apply to the state governments until 1969 Fong Foo v. United States, , was a Supreme Court ruling...

, 369 U.S. 141 (1962) that a judgment of acquittal by a jury cannot be appealed by the prosecution. In United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 v. Jenkins
Jenkins
Jenkins may refer to:People with the surname Jenkins:*Jenkins *The Jenkins, country music groupIn places in the US:*Jenkins, Kentucky*Jenkins, Minnesota*Jenkins County, Georgia*Jenkins Township, Crow Wing County, Minnesota...

, 420 U.S. 358 (1975), this was held applicable to bench trials. In Arizona
Arizona
Arizona ; is a state located in the southwestern region of the United States. It is also part of the western United States and the mountain west. The capital and largest city is Phoenix...

 v. Rumsey
, 467 U.S. 203 (1984), it was ruled that in a bench trial, when a judge was holding a separate hearing after the jury trial, to decide if the defendant should be sentenced to death or life imprisonment, the judge decided that the circumstances of the case did not permit death to be imposed. On appeal the judge's ruling was found to be erroneous. However, even though the decision to impose life instead of death was based on an erroneous interpretation of the law by the judge, the finding of life imprisonment in the original case constituted an acquittal of the death penalty and thus death could not be imposed upon a subsequent trial. Even though the acquittal of the death penalty was erroneous in that case, the acquittal must stand.

The only exception to an acquittal being final is if the defendant was never in jeopardy at all at trial. If a defendant bribes a judge and obtains acquittal as a result of a bench trial, the acquittal is not valid because the defendant was never in jeopardy in the first place. Harry Aleman v. Judges of the Criminal Division, Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois, et al.
Harry Aleman
Harry "The Hook" Aleman was a Chicago mobster who was one of most feared enforcers for the Chicago Outfit during the 1970s. Aleman got the nickname "Hook" from his boxing career in high school.-Early life:...

, 138 F.3d 302 (1998).

An acquittal, while conclusive as to the criminal law, does not necessarily bar private civil
Civil law (common law)
Civil law, as opposed to criminal law, is the branch of law dealing with disputes between individuals or organizations, in which compensation may be awarded to the victim...

 actions in tort
Tort
A tort, in common law jurisdictions, is a wrong that involves a breach of a civil duty owed to someone else. It is differentiated from a crime, which involves a breach of a duty owed to society in general...

 or on some other grounds as a result of the facts alleged in the charge. For example, O.J. Simpson was held civilly liable for wrongful death
Wrongful death claim
Wrongful death is a claim in common law jurisdictions against a person who can be held liable for a death. The claim is brought in a civil action, usually by close relatives, as enumerated by statute...

 even after being tried and acquitted of murder
Murder
Murder is the unlawful killing, with malice aforethought, of another human being, and generally this state of mind distinguishes murder from other forms of unlawful homicide...

. In federal states it also does not bar prosecution for the same offenses under a statute of a different jurisdiction. For example, in the United States someone acquitted of a state murder charge can be retried for the same actions on a federal charge of violating civil rights.
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