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Acquittal vs. Discharge: What's the Difference?

By Janet White || Updated on November 25, 2023
Acquittal is a legal judgment of not guilty; discharge can mean release from legal charges or obligations, or from employment or service.

Key Differences

Acquittal is a legal term used when a court finds a defendant not guilty of the charges against them. It represents a conclusion of innocence in a criminal trial. Discharge, in a legal context, often refers to the release from a charge due to lack of evidence or other reasons without a determination of guilt or innocence.
In criminal law, an acquittal signifies that the prosecution failed to prove the defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, leading to their release. Discharge can occur before a case goes to trial, often when the prosecution decides there is insufficient evidence to proceed.
Acquittal is a final decision, meaning the defendant cannot be retried for the same offense, a protection under the principle of double jeopardy. Discharge, however, may not be final; for instance, discharged charges can sometimes be reinstated if new evidence emerges.
Outside of legal contexts, discharge has broader meanings, including the release of a person from employment, duties, or hospital care. This use is distinct from acquittal, which is specifically a legal term.
Acquittal and discharge both imply a release, but their connotations and contexts differ significantly. Acquittal carries a connotation of cleared wrongdoing in a legal sense, whereas discharge can refer to various types of releases, not necessarily related to legal proceedings.

Comparison Chart

Legal Context

Judgment of not guilty in a criminal trial
Release from charges or obligations


Final and cannot be retried
May not be final, subject to change


Implies innocence and end of legal proceedings
Can imply lack of evidence or procedural end


Exclusively legal
Legal and other contexts (employment, medical)


Clear outcome of innocence
Outcome may not imply innocence

Acquittal and Discharge Definitions


End of criminal proceedings without conviction.
The acquittal marked the end of a contentious trial.


Formal release from duties or service.
His discharge from military service was an emotional moment.


Legal judgment of not guilty.
The jury's acquittal of the defendant was unexpected.


Release from legal obligations or charges.
The judge ordered his discharge due to lack of evidence.


Legal exoneration from criminal accusations.
His acquittal was a significant victory for his legal team.


Termination of employment.
His discharge from the company was sudden and unexpected.


Release from criminal charge.
The acquittal in the high-profile case caused a media uproar.


Release from a hospital or medical care.
After her recovery, she received a discharge from the hospital.


Declaration of innocence in a trial.
After years of legal battles, his acquittal brought relief.


Dismissal from a contractual or legal responsibility.
The discharge of his debts relieved him from financial burdens.


Judgment, as by a jury or judge, that a defendant is not guilty of a crime as charged.


To release, as from confinement, care, or duty
Discharge a patient.
Discharge a soldier.


The state of being found or proved not guilty.


To let go; empty out
A train discharging commuters.


The act of fulfilling the duties (of a given role, obligation etc.).


To pour forth; emit
A vent discharging steam.


(legal) A legal decision that someone is not guilty with which they have been charged, or the formal dismissal of a charge by some other legal process.


Payment of a debt or other obligation; reparations, amends.


(historical) The act of releasing someone from debt or other obligation; acquittance.


(rare) Avoidance of danger; deliverance.


The act of acquitting; discharge from debt or obligation; acquittance.


A setting free, or deliverance from the charge of an offense, by verdict of a jury or sentence of a court.


A judgment of not guilty


Does acquittal remove all legal penalties?

Yes, an acquitted individual faces no legal penalties for the acquitted crime.

What does "acquittal" mean?

An acquittal is a legal judgment that a person is not guilty of the crime they were charged with.

What leads to an acquittal?

An acquittal often occurs if the evidence is insufficient to convince the jury of the defendant's guilt.

Is acquittal the same as innocence?

Not exactly. Acquittal means the prosecution didn't prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, not necessarily that the person is innocent.

What is a "directed acquittal"?

It's when a judge orders an acquittal because the prosecution's evidence is insufficient to warrant a conviction.

Can an acquitted person be retried?

Generally, no. Under double jeopardy laws in many jurisdictions, a person cannot be tried again for the same crime after acquittal.

Is acquittal common in criminal trials?

It depends on the case and jurisdiction, but acquittals are less common than convictions.

Does acquittal affect civil liability?

No, a person can be acquitted criminally but still held liable in a civil lawsuit.

Can a person be discharged from employment?

Yes, it means they are formally released or fired from their job.

Can discharge be involuntary?

Yes, especially in contexts like employment or military service.

What is an "honorable discharge"?

It's a discharge from military service under honorable conditions.

Can an acquittal be appealed?

In most legal systems, the prosecution cannot appeal an acquittal due to double jeopardy rules.

What does "discharge" mean in the military?

It refers to the formal release of a service member from their military duties.

Can a discharged employee be rehired?

Yes, depending on the circumstances and policies of the employer.

What does "discharge" mean in legal terms?

It refers to the release of a debtor from their debt obligations, often in bankruptcy cases.

Is "discharge" only a legal term?

No, it can refer to release from obligations or duties in various contexts, like military service.

What is a "medical discharge"?

It's when a patient is officially released from a hospital or medical care.

Does discharge always imply misconduct?

No, it can be for various reasons, not necessarily due to misconduct.

Does a discharge from bankruptcy clear all debts?

Most debts are cleared, but some, like student loans or certain taxes, may not be discharged.

What is a "jury acquittal"?

It's when a jury decides that a defendant is not guilty of the charges.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.

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