Not guilty refers to either a type of plea or verdict in a criminal case. A defendant can make a not guilty plea which means the defendant denies committing the accused crime or one of the facets of the crime. By pleading not guilty, the defendant will actually go to trial and force the prosecution to prove beyond a reasonable doubt every part of the offense.
As a verdict, not guilty means the fact finder finds that the prosecution did not meet its burden of proof. A not guilty verdict does not mean that the defendant truly is innocent but rather that for legal purposes they will be found not guilty because the prosecution did not meet the burden.
[Last updated in August of 2021 by the Wex Definitions Team]