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.
sentencia definitiva; sentencia firme
Although sentencia definitiva and sentencia firme may appear to be synonymous, both referring to a “final judgment,” a sentencia definitiva is a judgment that disposes of the controversy in question (resolución que pone final al proceso) but which is still appealable (recurrible), while a sentencia firme can no longer be appealed (no cabe contra ella recurso alguno). Since sentencia definitiva and sentencia firme may be confused if both are translated simply as “final judgment,” it may be useful to translate the former as “final appealable judgment” and the latter as “final unappealable judgment” or as “judgment that has become final”.
Thus, la sentencia es firme y contra la misma no cabe recurso alguno denotes that the “judgment is final and unappealable” or “the judgment has become final.” The expression “the judgment has become final” indicates that either no appeal was filed against that decision or that the term for filing an appeal (“statute of limitations” or “limitation period”) has expired (el recurso ha prescrito), rendering it unappealable. In that regard, devenir firme and adquirir firmeza are the corresponding Spanish expressions for “to become final” in this context, as in: al devenir firme la sentencia… (“upon the judgment’s becoming final…”) or la sentencia adquirió firmeza (“the judgment became final”).