Judgment of Acquittal

The purpose of the “motion for judgment of acquittal” (called the “JOA”) is to challenge the legal sufficiency of the evidence in the trial court.

The JOA also helps preserve for appeal the issues related to the prosecutor’s failure to present a legally sufficient case. In fact, some issues for appeal can be waived if a timely motion for judgment of acquittal is not made.

If the court finds that the evidence is legally insufficient then the trial court should grant the motion and enter a judgment of acquittal. The motion is generally made orally. The court can also enter a judgment of acquittal on its own initiative.

The motion for judgment of acquittal in Florida can be raised at the following points of the trial:

  1. at the close of the state’s evidence (after the prosecution “rests its case”);
  2. at the close of all evidence (after the criminal defense attorney “rests its case”);
  3. after the trial the motion may be made or renewed within ten days after the verdict is entered and the jury is discharged (often called the “motion for judgment of acquittal notwithstanding the verdict” or “JOA NWV”).

On appeal, the denial of a motion for judgment of acquittal will be reviewed by the higher court on a de novo basis. The test for the JOA is whether the evidence is legally sufficient after all conflicts in the evidence and reasonable inferences have been resolved in favor of the state or the verdict.

Although the defendant does not necessarily have to renew the motion for JOA at the end of the evidence to preserve the issues for appellate review, the best practice is to make the JOA at the close of the State’s evidence and renew the JOA immediately after the defense rests. Then the motion for JOA notwithstanding the verdict should be filed within ten days after the verdict is returned.

In many of these cases, within 10 days after the conviction, you might hire an appellate attorney to work with the trial attorney to file the motion for JOA notwithstanding the verdict and the notice of appeal.

Attorney for Criminal Appeals on the Denial of the JOA

If you were just convicted at trial in a criminal case, act quickly to find an experienced criminal appellate attorney in Tampa, FL.

Your trial attorney might help you find the attorney needed for the appeal or make sure that the public defender’s office is appointed. The appellate attorney might help your trial attorney prepare the motion for JOA notwithstanding the verdict and the notice of appeal and attend the sentencing.

The attorney that you hire for the criminal appeal might also be able to help you secure an appellate bond so that you can avoid being punished or going into custody until after the appeal is decided.

If you are considering hiring a criminal appellate attorney, then contact Sammis Law Firm. We can help you show the appellate court why the trial court erred in denying his motion for judgment of acquittal when the evidence presented at trial was insufficient.

Contact the attorneys at Sammis Law Firm to discuss the direct criminal appeal in your case.

Call 813-250-0500.

Standard of Review for the Denial of the JOA at Trial

The de novo standard of review applies when reviewing a motion for judgment of acquittal. Keep in mind that when moving for a judgment of acquittal, the defendant basically assumes the facts in evidence and every conclusion favorable to the prosecution that may be fairly and reasonably inferred from the evidence.

The trial court should grant a motion for judgment of acquittal only if “the evidence is such that no view which the jury may lawfully take of it favorable to the opposite party can be sustained under the law.” Lynch v. State, 293 So. 2d 44, 45 (Fla. 1974).

How to Make the Motion for JOA at Trial

The Motion for JOA should set forth the ground relied upon for the appeal. The defendant will usually include within a JOA a statement that the state has not presented a prima facie case and include a statement that each element of the offense was not proven including:

  1. that the crime actually occurred in the county in which the trial is being conducted;
  2. that the evidence as to each element (which needs to be specifically stated at trial); and
  3. in a circumstantial case, that the state has overcome every hypothesis of innocence.

The defense will then elaborate on each element of the crime and why the state presented insufficient evidence on each element.

Legal Standard for Motion for Judgment of Acquittal

The “motion for a judgment of acquittal” was created to test the legal sufficiency of the evidence. Jones v. State, 790 So.2d 1194 (Fla. 1st DCA 2001). When the criminal defense attorney moves for a judgment of acquittal at the close of the State’s case, the only issue is whether the State has presented sufficient evidence to establish a prima facie case. Leonard v. State, 731 So.2d 712, 717 n. 2 (Fla. 2nd DCA 1999).

In viewing the State’s evidence, all reasonable inferences of that evidence are drawn in favor of the State. Id.

The term “prima facie” is defined as follows:

At first sight; on the first appearance; so far as can be judged from first disclosure; . . . a fact presumed to be true unless disproved by some evidence to the contrary.” Black’s Law Dictionary, 1353 (4th ed. 1968).

Such is the state’s preliminary burden. It differs substantially from the requirement that the state establish a defendant’s guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt” before he can be convicted of the crime charged.

Jones v. State, 360 So.2d 1293, 1299 (Fla. 3d DCA 1978).

This article was last updated on Wednesday, May 20, 2020.