Not Guilty

According to 77-13-2, “[a] plea of not guilty is a denial of the guilt of the accused and puts in issue every material allegation of the information or indictment.” If a person is found not guilty of an offense, it means that “there was insufficient evidence to warrant conviction.” A person is not guilty of a civil offense unless it can be proven that “the person’s conduct is prohibited by law; and the person’s acts constitute an offense involving strict liability.” Ultimately, what makes a person not guilty of an offense is either noncommission of the offense or reasonable care to avoid committing the offense.

Example Sentence

Although skiing is a dangerous activity, ski resorts are not inherently guilty of negligence because 1) skiing and operating ski resorts are legal, and 2) ski resorts adhere to safety guidelines to protect themselves from liability.

Case Study

A can of paint in a hardware store has a puncture that causes paint to pool in the aisle. Employee Joe Q. sees the pooling paint and blockades the aisle with caution tape to prevent a patron from stepping in it and leaving Swiss coffee-colored stains all over the carpet while he goes to get a mop. Mr. Magoo, who has just had his eyes dilated, misses the caution tape, steps into the paint, gets one foot stuck, and suffers a nasty fall. Mr. Magoo sues the hardware store for damages. Because Joe Q. took reasonable care to prevent any foreseeable injury, the store is found not guilty of negligence.

Other Important Information

“Not guilty” is the default plea entered by the court when the defendant does not make a plea. There are multiple variations on the “not guilty” plea. “Not guilty by reason of insanity” is the one Utah code mentions specifically. If a person is found not guilty by reason of insanity, the court conducts a hearing to determine whether his mental illness lingers and poses a substantial risk to those around him and decides whether or not he is to be committed. One may be found not guilty of an offense and still be convicted of a lesser offense at the same time. “A person is not guilty of an offense when he engaged in the proscribed conduct because he was coerced to do so by the use or threatened imminent use of unlawful physical force upon him or a third person, which force, or threatened force, a person of reasonable firmness in his situation would not have resisted.” (This is true unless the defendant recklessly placed themselves in danger of coercion or threatened coercion.)

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