A Judgment of Acquittal was handed down on February 23, 2012 in the Gabe Watson trial held in Alabama. Watson, as you may recall, married his young bride and immediately thereafter went on a honeymoon to Australia. While scuba diving off the coast of the Great Barrier Reef, something went horribly wrong and by the time Watson and his wife Tina were brought to the surface, Tina was dead. Watson was charged and ultimately pled guilty in an Australian court of criminally negligent manslaughter and served 18 months in an Australian prison. In a rare chain of events an Alabama grand jury indicted Watson for murder for pecuniary gain and kidnapping where a felony occurred. Alabama Prosecutors were able to assert jurisdiction by alleging the plot to kill Tina was hatched in Alabama by Gabe Watson so that he could receive life insurance money, amongst other things. This theory, in my opinion outlandish, was not well received by Judge Tommy Nail who ultimately gave a considerable amount of hell to Prosecutor Don Valeska prior to granting the Defense’s motion for Judgment of Acquittal, thereby ruling in favor of the Defense and preventing this case from being submitted to the jury.
What is a Judgment of Acquittal or “JOA?” Because this is a Florida blog, I’ll use Florida rules (essentially JOA rules are the same in every State and Federal court). Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.380 allows a Judge to grant a Judgment of Acquittal in favor of the Defendant “[i]f, at the close of the evidence for the state or at the close of all the evidence in the cause, the court is of the opinion that the evidence is insufficient to warrant a conviction, it may, and on the motion of the prosecuting attorney or the defendant shall, enter a judgment of acquittal.” In other words, if a Judge unilaterally thinks there isn’t enough evidence put forth by the government to allow the jury to find an individual guilty, they can and should grant a Judgment of Acquittal and everyone goes home.
From a practical standpoint JOAs are quite rare. More often than not if the government doesn’t have the evidence necessary to gain a conviction they won’t move forward unless there is an underlying political implication or self serving interest of a prosecutor. As a matter of course, a good St. Petersburg criminal lawyer will, in accord with rule 3.380, move for a JOA after the government rests their case and if necessary after a jury comes back with a guilty verdict.
If you’ve been charged with a criminal offense and need a St. Petersburg criminal lawyer, call the criminal lawyers at The Mayberry Law Firm today at 727-771-3847!