Under Utah law, an “acquittal” and a “not guilty” verdict have essentially the same meaning. But neither of these terms is a declaration that the defendant is factually innocent.
The criminal justice system relies on a presumption of innocence at trial, with the government prosecutor carrying the burden of proving each element of the offense. The burden of proof in a criminal trial requires that the jury be unanimously convinced, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant did in fact commit the crime charged in the case.
Utah judges regularly instruct jurors, prior to beginning their deliberations, that they must be unanimous in whatever verdict they reach — either guilty or not guilty. Jurors are also instructed that the defendant does not have to prove actual innocence in order for the jury to reach a unanimous not guilty verdict.
A jury may be convinced that the defendant committed the crime charged, but still reach a not guilty verdict. Jurors may believe that the defendant committed the crime, but still have reasonable doubts as to the certainty of that belief.
In a civil trial, the burden of proof normally requires only a preponderance of the evidence — meaning that the jury be persuaded that one set of facts is more likely true than the other set of facts. In a criminal trial, a “more likely than not” standard is not sufficiently certain. Jurors must be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt.
Because of the burden of proof and reasonable doubt standards required in a criminal jury trial, neither an acquittal nor a not guilty verdict is a determination of actual innocence.