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What is the Judgement of Acquittal in a Criminal Trial?

A judgment of acquittal means that the judge in a case has decided to acquit the defendant of the charges without the jury. The defense attorney files a motion in order to start this process. Most motions are not successful although this is a useful tool when it seems like a jury might be unfair. There are a few points to understand about a judgment of acquittal in a criminal trial.

When the Judgment Can Be Requested

The motion to request a judgment of acquittal can technically be entered at any time. The reality, however, is that it is most commonly entered after the prosecution has completed presenting all of the evidence to the court. The motion is made when the defendant feels that the evidence presented simply does not meet the legal burdens for the charges. The motion for a judgment can also be entered at the end of the defense portion of the trial. It must be done before the jury deliberates and comes back with a ruling.

Why a Judgment of Acquittal Would Be Granted

The motion to request a judgment of acquittal in a criminal trial with a jury is essentially placing the judge back in charge of deciding the case to some extent. A judge has superior legal knowledge when compared to an average jury. If the prosecution is relying on the emotions or the inexperience of a jury, then this type of motion can prevent an unfair verdict based on something other than the law. The judge in the case will review the evidence. The judge will be looking to see if the evidence is objectively sufficient in order to prove and retain the current charges against the defendant. If the judge does not find the evidence sufficient, then the defendant could be acquitted of all charges without waiting for a jury decision.

When the Court Can Rule On the Motion

The court does not have to rule on the motion to request a judgment of acquittal right away. The judge actually has some latitude in this area. The judge could immediately grant the motion if it is clear the prosecution does not have sufficient evidence. Alternately, the judge could wait until a later point until all evidence is presented in the trial. This sometimes occurs when the defense decides to present evidence supporting the validity of the motion. The court could also decide to hold off on ruling on the motion until after the jury has returned with a verdict. The decision is up to the judge.

Possible Outcomes of the Judgment

The most direct possible outcome is an acquittal for the defendant. This is equivalent to being acquitted by a jury. Double jeopardy prevents the prosecutor from pursuing the same charges against the defendant in the future. Another outcome is denial of the motion. This means the trial continues as normal. A third possible outcome is putting aside a jury verdict. This occurs when the court waits to rule on the motion until after the jury returns with a decision. The court can set aside the jury verdict and declare the defendant acquitted. Unfortunately, the prosecutor can appeal in this case and potentially have the guilty jury verdict reinstated without any threat of double jeopardy because a new trial was not held.

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