Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I encountered a phrase with a word "acquittal" in a context of criminal law. In Wikipedia, its meaning is described as following:

In the common law tradition, an acquittal formally certifies that the accused is free from the charge of an offense, as far as the criminal law is concerned.

In my understanding, this is same as "false accusation", which means that prosecution is found to be false.

I want some ideas about how different these two expressions are.

share|improve this question
3  
An accusation comes at the beginning of a trial, an acquittal at the end of one. Hopefully a false accusation results in an acquittal and a true accusation in a conviction, but the law and the courts are fallible so it is not guaranteed. –  Jim Jan 22 '13 at 2:19
1  
The phrase “false accusation” strikes me as meaning “deliberately false accusation”, also known as a “frame” and perhaps involving perjury or evidence tampering. By contrast, it is stressed that an “acquittal” does not mean that the defendant is innocent (that would require a “vindication”); only that the prosecution, operating under somewhat arbitrary rules of admissibility of evidence, was not able to convince the jury (or judge, as appropriate) of the defendant’s guilt (“beyond a reasonable doubt”). –  Scott Jan 22 '13 at 2:28
    
Thanks for comments! –  Nick Y. Jan 22 '13 at 2:32
    
Jim's and Scott's comments added together, I grasped the difference! Thanks. –  Nick Y. Jan 22 '13 at 2:34
1  
Acquittals are not necessarily after a trial. A judge or grand jury can determine that there is insufficient evidence for a trial and acquit the accused (cf. indictment). –  KitFox Jan 22 '13 at 2:43
show 1 more comment

closed as general reference by J.R., FumbleFingers, Hellion, Kris, tchrist Feb 9 '13 at 14:00

This question is too basic; it can be definitively and permanently answered by a single link to a standard internet reference source designed specifically to find that type of information.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

1 Answer

up vote 3 down vote accepted

Following the discussion on p. 12 of Laudan's Truth, Error, and Criminal Law, it's useful to make a distinction between material guilt/innocence and probatory guilt/innocence.

A person has material guilt if they actually committed a crime they were accused of, and material innocence if they did not actually commit a crime they were accused of. A person has probatory guilt if they are convicted of a crime, and probatory innocence if they are acquitted of a crime.

A person who is falsely accused is materially innocent, regardless of whether or not probatory innocence is established. A person who is acquitted has probatory innocence, regardless of whether or not they are materially innocent.

The two terms are therefore not equivalent, because a person can be falsely accused, yet still be convicted, and because they can be acquitted even though the accusation was true.

share|improve this answer
add comment

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.