What Is the Difference Between Innocent and Not Guilty?

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When you are going through a criminal case, you might be just as excited to think about a not guilty verdict as you are to think of proving your innocence. It is very important that you take a step back so you can take a look at the differences between innocent and not guilty.

What's the difference between "innocent" and "not guilty"?

In short, "not guilty" is not the same as "innocent." Innocent means that a person did not commit the crime. Not guilty means that the prosecution could not prove "beyond a reasonable doubt" that a person committed the crime. Therefore, the court does not pronounce someone as “innocent” but rather “not guilty”.

What is innocent?

When you've been charged of a crime, you are assumed to be innocent until proven guilty. By the end of a criminal trial, you will either be declared "guilty" or "not guilty." Technically, the court never declares someone "innocent" because it is not necessary to prove actual innocence in order to be acquitted. The prosecution's job is to convince the jury that the defendant is guilty "beyond a reasonable doubt." Going the extra step of proving actual innocence is not required in order to avoid conviction.

In some cases, evidence will arise that proves actual innocence; programs like The Actual Innocence Claim Policy and Protocol in Missouri endeavor to minimize false convictions by providing evidence that proves innocence. However, it still remains a part of our country's justice system that you do not need to be proven innocent in order to be declared "not guilty."

What is "not guilty"?

As mentioned before, the prosecution has to prove that a defendant committed a crime "beyond a reasonable doubt." This clause means that even if the jury largely thinks that a defendant committed a crime, they must not have any doubt about it.

Doubt can be inserted into a case by the defense calling the prosecution's case into question. For example, this can be done by presenting witnesses who claim the defendant was with them at a different location when the crime occurred.

Being found "not guilty" doesn't necessarily mean you are innocent. Instead, it means that the evidence was not strong enough for a guilty verdict.

What the difference between "innocent" and "not guilty" means 

In conclusion, no one needs to prove that you are innocent in order to avoid conviction for the crime. Our criminal justice system does not require proof that you are innocent but rather, that the jury have no reasonable doubts about whether or not you committed the crime. If they do have doubts, you will be declared "not guilty" and charges will be dropped, regardless of whether or not you were actually innocent or guilty. This rule serves to protect the accused from being convicted unjustly. It is a much more difficult task to prove actual innocence than to prove there is room for reasonable doubt.

If you have more questions about innocent vs. guilty verdicts or need experienced legal counsel for some other criminal defense matter, please feel free to contact the MacDonald Law Office, LLC today! We offer FREE, initial case evaluations.

Source: FindLaw, "Actual Innocence and How It Differs From a Not Guilty Verdict," Ephrat Livni, Esq., accessed May 26, 2016

Nolo, "What's the Difference Between an Acquittal and a "Not Guilty" Verdict?," accessed Sep. 13, 2019

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