Multiple Meanings of condena

One of the major difficulties of learning legal language is that so many terms have one meaning in everyday usage, but may mean something radically different in legal contexts. And sometimes the same word may have several different legal meanings, depending on the practice area in which it is used. Linguists may describe such terms as “polysemous,” and they are certainly present in abundance in both legal Spanish and legal English. Under “Multiple Meanings” I offer a sampling of expressions that I believe are likely to give rise to miscues in legal translation. Logically, the focus is on usage in legal contexts, and their nonlegal meanings have generally been excluded.

 condena; condenar; condenado

In the terminology of criminal procedure (Derecho procesal penal) condena has two distinct meanings, denoting a criminal “conviction” (a judicial finding of guilt) or a “sentence” (the punishment imposed on a convicted criminal defendant): Fue condenado por narcotráfico (“He was convicted of drug trafficking”); Le condenaron a seis años de prisión (“He was sentenced to six years in prison”). Thus, in this context expressions such as sentencia de condena or sentencia condenatoria refer to a “judgment of conviction” or “judgment of guilty.”

But translators sometimes fail to recognize that condena is likewise a term of civil procedure (Derecho procesal civil) and that it does not refer only to a “judgment of guilty” or a “criminal sentence” as in the examples above, but that condena (al demandado) also has the additional meaning of “judgment for the plaintiff.” Thus, in the context of civil procedure an expression such as Se condenó al demandado means “judgment was rendered for the plaintiff” and not “the accused was convicted,” as this expression has sometimes been rendered.

In the classification of civil judgments, in contrast to sentencia declaratoria (a declaratory judgment without an award of relief), sentencia de condena and sentencia condenatoria denote a “judgment for the plaintiff” (called “claimant” in England and Wales) or, more generally, a “judgment awarding relief.” In that regard, condena dineraria or condena al pago de cantidad de dinero is a “money judgment,” while condena no dineraria denotes a “non-money judgment.” Condena de hacer is a “mandatory injunction,” i.e., a judgment ordering the defendant to perform a given act (to restore or transfer certain property to the plaintiff, for example) that might also be described as a “judgment ordering (or) compelling performance.” Conversely, a condena de no hacer is a type of “prohibitory injunction,” ordering the defendant to refrain from doing an act indicated in the judgment, which may likewise be translated descriptively as “judgment ordering defendant to refrain from X” or “judgment restraining defendant from X.”

Condena in this context is also used in expressions such as condena al pago de daños y perjuicios (“order to pay damages” or “damages order”) and condena en costas (“order to pay costs” or “costs order”). But perhaps it should be underscored that in Spanish the losing party is “ordered” (condenado) to pay damages or costs, while in English the same idea is generally expressed from the perspective of the prevailing or successful party who is “awarded” damages or costs. Thus, el demandado fue condenado al pago de daños y perjuicios means “defendant was ordered to pay damages,” but this is normally expressed in English as “plaintiff was awarded damages.” Likewise, el demandado fue condenado en costas indicates that the “defendant was ordered to pay (the plaintiff’s) costs,” but this is usually expressed in English as “plaintiff was awarded costs.” And in a sentencia sin condena en costas the judge makes “no costs order” (the losing party is not ordered to pay costs), which is generally expressed in English as “no award of costs” (i.e., the prevailing party is not awarded costs).

In line with the above, in criminal procedure el condenado denotes a person who has been convicted of a criminal offense (a “convicted criminal defendant”), or someone who has been sentenced in a criminal proceeding. But the meaning of condenado is quite different in the context of civil procedure in which the term refers to the “losing party” in a civil action in which a “judgment for the plaintiff” (sentencia condenatoria) has been rendered. In that regard, the condenado in a “money judgment” (condena dineraria) is a “judgment debtor,” while the expressions el condenado a pagar daños y perjuicios and el condenado en costas refer respectively to the losing party ordered to pay damages and the losing party ordered to pay costs.

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