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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 defense attorneys “rests its case”);
  3. after 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.

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.

This article was last updated on Monday, July 31, 2017.

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