Acquittal vs. Dismissal Differences

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What Is an Acquittal?

An acquittal basically frees a defendant from the criminal charges that have been brought against them. This may happen if the jury finds the defendant not guilty, or if a judge decides that the case should be closed (for instance due to a lack of evidence). If a person is acquitted, this means that the case cannot be appealed due to double jeopardy rules (i.e., they can’t be tried twice for the same crime).

What’s the Difference Between an Acquittal and a Dismissal?

In contrast, a dismissal is issued much earlier, often before the case even begins, or shortly after the indictment hearing. A judge may dismiss a case before it begins, again due to lack of evidence, or if it’s clear that the prosecution’s case has no bearing. Thus, a dismissal can often save the court much time and resources, by not trying a case whose outcome is clear from the beginning. 

A case may also be subject to dismissal if the criminal defendant’s constitutional rights have been violated. For instance, if there has been a delay such that the defendant’s right to a speedy trial has been violated, the case may end up getting dismissed. 

With a dismissal, the question of the defendant’s guilt never gets tried. As such, a case that is dismissed can sometimes be re-filed in the future. On the other hand, an acquittal cannot be re-filed in the future. 

Does a Dismissal Show up in Criminal Records?

If a case has been dismissed, it may appear in the person’s criminal records. For instance, the person’s record may have a note that charges were brought against them, but the case was dismissed. This is also true for an acquittal; the record may indicate that they had been granted an acquittal. 

Likewise, when the person goes to submit an application (such as a job application), they may be asked if they were ever convicted of a crime. The person may then be required to state something like, “Yes- Conviction dismissed”. Thus, the dismissal may still affect the person’s application, although they won’t have a mark of jail time or other criminal consequences in their record. These rules may vary from region to region. 

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help With an Acquittal or a Dismissal?

It can sometimes be difficult to understand the difference between an acquittal versus a dismissal. You may need to hire a lawyer if you need legal assistance or representation for a criminal law issue. Your attorney will be able to advise you on the criminal laws in your state, and can help you throughout the duration of the legal process.  

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Last Modified: 01-20-2014 02:20 PM PST

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