What Is The Difference Between Acquittal and Dismissal?

Criminal charges can be resolved in a defendant’s favor in a few different ways. Two common ways that defendants can receive favorable outcomes are by being acquitted or by having the charges dismissed. While these both involve the charges ending, they may have different results. If you are facing criminal charges in West Chester, DiCindio Law can explain what you might expect to happen in your case and work to secure the best outcome for you.

Understanding acquittals

Acquittals are when a defendant who has been accused of a crime is found not guilty at a trial. A defendant may be acquitted by a judge following a bench trial or by a jury following a jury trial. To secure a conviction of a defendant, the prosecutor is required to prove every element of the crime to the judge or jury beyond a reasonable doubt. A person is acquitted when the prosecution is unable to meet its burden of proof for one or more of the required elements of the crime.

It is common for prosecutors to charge criminal defendants with several offenses. If you have been charged with multiple offenses and receive a not guilty verdict for each of them, you will have been fully acquitted. If you receive a guilty verdict for one offense and a not guilty verdict for another, you will have received a partial acquittal.

Can you be charged again for the same offense after an acquittal?

The Fifth Amendment’s double jeopardy clause prohibits the state from retrying you twice for a crime when you have been acquitted. This means that the same court will not be able to try you again for that offense after you have won at a trial.

For example, if you were charged with possession of heroin on a specific date and the jury finds you not guilty of the offense, the prosecutor will not be able to file new charges for possession of heroin on that date again. However, if you are caught with possessing heroin on a different date, the prosecutor could file new charges for the new offense.

When does the double jeopardy clause not apply?

If you are charged for the same offense in both federal and state court, the double jeopardy clause will not apply. This is because these two courts are considered to be separate sovereigns. If you are acquitted in state court of possessing heroin, you can still be tried in federal court for the same offense if the heroin was brought into the state in interstate commerce.

Similarly, if you are convicted in state court for possessing heroin on a specific date, nothing prevents you from being charged and convicted for the same offense in federal court. Some states do not allow defendants who were charged in federal court from later also being charged in state court. However, the U.S. Constitution says nothing about dual prosecutions of defendants in both state and federal courts.

You can also face a civil lawsuit for the same offense even if you have been acquitted of the associated criminal offense. A good example of this is O.J. Simpson. While he was found not guilty of killing Ronald Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson in his criminal case, he later was found liable for killing them in civil wrongful death lawsuits that their families filed against him.

Dismissal vs. acquittal

In some cases, criminal charges will be dismissed by the court before the defendants’ guilt is adjudicated. A judge might dismiss a case for multiple reasons, including the following:

  • Lack of probable cause or insufficient evidence for the case to go to trial
  • Evidence was obtained in an unconstitutional manner such as a warrantless search or seizure or by failing to read the defendant his or her Miranda rights or to honor them during a custodial interrogation
  • When the prosecutor engages in egregious misconduct such as hiding exculpatory evidence

Under the Constitution, you have rights against illegal searches, stops, and seizures. The prosecutor is also required to share any exculpatory evidence that is uncovered during the prosecutor’s investigation. If a court finds that the prosecutor deliberately hid evidence, the charges may be dismissed. Similarly, the charges may be dismissed when the court finds that the manner in which the police officers conducted their investigation was unconstitutional.

What happens after a dismissal?

When criminal charges are dismissed, the judge or jury has not had the opportunity to determine whether you are not guilty or guilty by hearing the prosecutor’s case or your defense. Since the defendant’s guilt or innocence has not been determined, the charges can be re-filed at a later date. For example, it is still possible for a prosecutor to charge you again if your charges were dismissed for insufficient evidence. The prosecutor might investigate the case more thoroughly and find additional evidence to use against you. If that occurs within the statute of limitations, the case can be refiled against you.

Get help from a criminal defense attorney

If you are facing criminal charges, you should speak with an experienced criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible. Your lawyer will evaluate the evidence and work to identify all of the possible defenses that he or she might raise for you. At DiCindio Law, we will explore whether there might be grounds for your case to be dismissed. We can also build a strong defense case for trial or work to secure a favorable plea agreement. Contact our law firm today to schedule an appointment by calling us at 610-430-3535.