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Not Innocent, But Not Guilty

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• Glossary of Legal Terms
Kids' Almanac: Laws and Rights

Technically, no one has ever been found innocent of a crime, at least not in English-speaking countries. Rather, people are found not guilty.

This is a fine distinction, but it is one worth noting.

Here's how and why:

In the technical terms of many legal systems, the only possible verdicts are guilty and not guilty. If a judge or jury find a defendant guilty, then that person or group of people has decided that the enough presented at trial was enough to prove the defendant's guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. If the judge or jury are not convinced beyond a reasonable doubt, then they must deliver a verdict of not guilty. This does not mean that the defendant is innocent. It means only that the prosecution did not convince the judge or jury beyond a reasonable doubt.

So why do people say a person was found innocent? In many judicial systems, anyway, once you're found not guilty of a crime, you can't be tried again for that same crime. Under the law (in America's case the Fifth Amendment), you are protected against double jeopardy. So, once you're found not guilty, you're as good as innocent, at least in the eyes of the law.

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 Graphics courtesy of Art Today

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