Judgment of Acquittal
A “motion for judgment of acquittal” or “JOA” challenges the legal sufficiency of the evidence during a trial.
In any criminal case, the State must prove all elements of the alleged crime beyond a reasonable doubt. If the State fails to do so, the defendant has the right to ask, or move, the court for a JOA. When a defendant makes this request her or she asks the judge to find that no rational jury could convict the defendant based on the evidence presented and therefore the court should find the defendant not guilty without sending the matter to the jury. This defense typically makes this motion two times: at the close of the State’s case (when the State rests) and at the close of the defense case (when the defense rests).
The JOA also helps preserve for appeal any issues related to the prosecutor’s failure to present a legally sufficient case. In fact, some appellate issues can be waived if the defense fails to timely move for JOA.
If the court finds that the prosecution’s case lack the legal sufficiency to sustain a conviction, then the trial court should grant the motion and enter a judgment of acquittal. The court can also enter a judgment of acquittal on its own initiative. If the court grants the JOA, the outcome is the same as a not-guilty verdict. The State cannot appeal and double jeopardy attaches.
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.