Confusing Terms: antecedentes penales; antecedentes policiales

Many confusing terms in legal Spanish and legal English are simply legal synonyms that are not always clearly distinguishable, often making it necessary to learn how each one is used in a specific context or in set phrases (frases hechas). Some may be interchangeable; others are limited to use in specific contexts. Those highlighted in this blog are ones that I have seen confused in translation or that my students and lawyer clients have found most difficult to distinguish.

antecedentes penales; antecedentes policiales

In English, expressions such as “criminal record” and “criminal history” denote a person’s “conviction record” or “record of criminal convictions,” which in Spanish is known as antecedentes penales. But antecedentes penales (conviction record, criminal history, criminal record) is sometimes confused with antecedentes policiales (“police record” or “arrest record”), which records arrests or other involvement with the police that may never have resulted in a criminal conviction. In Spain this distinction is underscored by the fact that information concerning a person’s conviction record (antecedentes penales) and arrest record (antecedentes policiales) are kept in two separate databases. In that regard, it is often possible to achieve the expungement of a criminal record (cancelación de antecedentes penales) kept on file at the Ministry of Justice’s Registro Central de Penados y Rebeldes (similar to the centralized Criminal Records Bureau in England). In contrast, applications to expunge police records (cancelación de antecedentes policiales) held in the databases of both the Guardia Civil and Policía Nacional must be made through the Ministry of the Interior.

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