*This article is intended for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as legal advice.

Stepping into a courtroom can feel like stepping into a new world. Language changes in this environment, and you need to be prepared for familiar words to take on unfamiliar meanings.

Such is the case for terms like “innocent.” While the general public’s understanding of innocent is more or less correct, the term grows in complexity when used in a courtroom.

If you’re conducting a criminal records check through PeopleFinders, the designation of “innocent” means more than it first appears. Make sure to read your report thoroughly and take in the context in which this term and others like it are used.

What Does “Innocent” Mean?

Innocent takes on two meanings in the courtroom. One definition of the term sees it used as a synonym for “not guilty.” That said, “innocent” should not be used in the place of “not guilty” for reasons that will be touched on shortly. When used in this context, innocent means that a defendant will not be charged for the crime they were accused of committing.

Note that it is not the responsibility of the court, jury or defense lawyer to prove that a defendant is innocent of a crime. Rather, it is the responsibility of those individuals to assess the behavior of a defendant and determine what the defendant’s relationship to a proposed crime is and was. Pure innocence is not a requirement for an acquittal. All a defense lawyer has to do is show to a jury and courtroom representative that there is not proof beyond a reasonable doubt that a defendant was an accessory or motivator of the crime of which they’re being accused.

The second definition of innocent applies to civil cases. In civil cases, a person will be declared innocent if they are no longer liable for the accusations that have been laid against them. In this situation, innocent once again assumes a synonymous position, though this time to the term “acquitted.”

As a final note, a court and jury will never declare a person innocent within the boundaries of that courtroom. Because again, innocence is not necessary to acquit a person of a crime, they will instead declare a person “not guilty” if there is not enough evidence to prove that they’re responsible for the crime of which they have been accused.

What Does “Not Guilty” Mean?

It is the responsibility of the prosecution to argue that a defendant is guilty of a crime beyond all reasonable doubt. This requires the prosecution not only to present a compelling argument but to support that argument with concrete, unmodified evidence of the defendant’s involvement.

The phrase “beyond a reasonable doubt” makes this responsibility a significant one. The prosecution will not be able to win a case if the jury still has to deliberate about the role of a defendant in the accused crime.

It is the defense’s job, in turn, to sow doubt into the prosecution’s argument. Whether that doubt comes from a place of honesty or not is up to the defendant and defense.

Receiving a declaration of “not guilty” means the defense has done their job well enough to force the jury to think – and at least some to disagree – about the relationship their defendant has to the crime in question. While the jury’s decision will, in the end, have to be unanimous, it is that debate among the jury parties that makes “not guilty” assessments all the more accessible.

What Is the Difference Between Innocent and Not Guilty?

So while these two terms are often used as synonyms, their meanings vary slightly from each other. “Innocent” implies a complete disconnection from the case at hand, suggesting that the defendant was not involved in the slightest with the crime they’re accused of committing. “Not guilty” merely states that the jury does not have enough evidence to convict the defendant.

Non-guilty declarations will result in the court dropping all charges against an applicable defendant.

What Does It Mean When “Innocent” Appears In a Criminal Records Report?

When you read through a PeopleFinders criminal records report, you’ll be exposed to a significant amount of legal jargon and data. What you won’t find, however, is a declaration of innocence as issued by a court. Again, courts will not declare a person innocent of a crime; they will declare them “not guilty” due to the lack of evidence brought against them.