Terminology of Spanish Judicial Decisions

resolución judicial; providencia; auto; sentencia

These four terms all denote types of judicial decisions issued by Spanish courts, but they are in no way interchangeable. The broadest is resolución judicial, a generic term for all types of judicial decisions, including providencias, autos and sentencias. Providencias are court orders that resolve issues arising during a proceeding (defined as ordenación material del proceso), and may generally be described as “interlocutory orders” or perhaps, depending on the context, as “case management orders.” The most salient feature of providencias is that they may be issued without stating the legal grounds for the decision (sin motivar).

In contrast, an auto is a court order requiring certain formalities and in which the reasons for the ruling must be stated (debe ser motivado). Autos decide appeals from providencias, resolve interlocutory issues and in some instances may also be used for the final disposition of a case. Thus, depending on the context, auto may perhaps be rendered as either “interlocutory order” or “final order.” As examples, in criminal procedure an auto is required to order pretrial custody (auto de prisión provisional), to order an arrest (auto de detención) or to order a search incident to an arrest (auto de entrada y registro). The latter two are often informally referred to as órdenes (órden de detención; órden de registro), but both arrest warrants and search warrants must be issued in the form of an auto (deben revestir la forma de auto).

Sentencia (“judgment”) denotes a court’s final disposition of a case in a ruling on the merits (decision sobre el fondo). Sentencia definitiva is a final appealable judgment, while sentencia firme is a judgment that has become final because no appeal was filed against it and the term for appealing the judgment has expired (el recurso ha prescrito). (For more on sentencia definitiva-sentencia firme, see the previous Confusing Terms post).

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