People often think of a criminal court case as one that determines if you are innocent or guilty. These are seen as opposites and the jury’s goal is to decide which one applies.
In some ways, though, this is misleading. A jury never actually says that you are innocent. They merely decide if you’re guilty or not guilty. What is the difference here?
Every criminal case starts with the presumption of innocence
Every criminal case is supposed to begin with the presumption of innocence for the defendant. That means the burden of proof is fully on the state’s shoulders — the defendant is never required to prove their innocence.
A “not guilty” verdict in court simply means that the jury could not convict based on the evidence before them because the evidence the prosecution presented did not convince them beyond a reasonable doubt of your guilt. Just the same, a “not guilty” verdict is not the same as being declared “innocent.”
You also have accused individuals who get their charges dropped because the police made mistakes with the evidence. That evidence can no longer be trusted and so that person cannot be declared guilty and sentenced, whether they committed the crime or not.
Where do you stand in your criminal case?
As you can see, these terms are related and there is some overlap — someone with an alibi showing they weren’t at the scene, for instance — but there are some stark differences to be aware of. If you’re ever facing charges, make sure you know what legal options you have and what steps to take as you make your way toward that court date before the jury.