Acquitted vs. Not Guilty — Do They Mean the Same Thing? | Iowa Criminal Law

Have you, or someone you know, ever been charged with a crime, but not held responsible for one reason or another? In this article, we discuss the differences between various court findings, including:

  • Not Guilty
  • Acquittal
  • Dismissal
  • Reduction of Charges

Not Guilty

‘Not guilty’ means that the defendant is not legally answerable for the criminal charges filed against him or her. This occurs when a defendant is charged with a crime, evidence is presented, and the fact finder, either the judge or jury, finds that the defendant should not be held responsible for the crime.


An acquittal is technically the finding that a defendant is not guilty. This occurs after the defendant is brought up on charges and found not guilty. An acquittal does not necessarily mean that the defendant is innocent of the crime charged, only that the prosecutor did not successfully prove that the defendant was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. If a defendant is acquitted, a doctrine is known as ‘double jeopardy’ attaches, and the defendant cannot be retried for the same charges in the same jurisdiction. A person may, however, be acquitted of criminal charges for an infraction and held civilly liable for the same action.


Both of these terms are different than a dismissal. Dismissal takes place before a jury trial and occurs because the prosecutor either did not have enough evidence, or the judge decided that the case lacked credibility. A dismissal can also be requested when some procedural violations occur, such as a mistake made by the prosecutor or police officers involved. The defendant essentially avoids having to stand trial. At any rate, a dismissal also does not necessarily indicate innocence.

Reduction in Charges

A reduction in charges is an entirely different matter. This occurs when the judge or prosecutor decides to charge the defendant with a lesser offense. For example, a prosecutor can choose to charge a defendant with a misdemeanor offense as opposed to a felony. A reduction in charges may also result if the defendant enters into a plea deal agreement.

If you need assistance with criminal charges or would like to further understand the Court’s findings, contact an experienced criminal law attorney at O’Flaherty Law, P.C. today! Call our office at (630) 324–6666, or schedule a consultation. You can also fill out our confidential contact form and we will get back to you shortly.

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At O'Flaherty Law we are your community law firm. Our attorneys are committed to providing exceptional client service in a cost-effective manner.

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O'Flaherty Law

O'Flaherty Law

At O'Flaherty Law we are your community law firm. Our attorneys are committed to providing exceptional client service in a cost-effective manner.

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