False Friends 101: sentencia ; sentence

This pair of legal false cognates definitely belongs in the False Friends 101 category, terms that translators and legal professionals must avoid confusing. Sentencia denotes a court’s final disposition of a matter: decisión formulada por el juez o tribunal que resuelve definitivamente todas las cuestiones planteadas en el proceso.* In English, this is a court’s “judgment,” its “final determination of the rights and obligations of the parties in a case.”**

Previous blog posts have examined in detail the terminology of Spanish sentencias,*** but what about the legal meanings of “sentence”? The term generally denotes the punishment (condena or pena) imposed on a criminal defendant found guilty, and is used as both a noun and a verb: He served a 10-year sentence (Cumplió una condena/pena de 10 años); He was sentenced to 10 years in prison (Fue condenado a 10 años de prisión).

To look at some of the related terminology, under Spanish criminal law sentences are divided into penas privativas de libertad (custodial sentences), i.e., some form of incarceration, and penas no privativas de libertad (noncustodial sentences). Several types of alternative sentence (pena sustitutiva de la pena privativa de libertad) exist. Penas privativas de derechos entail the forfeiture of certain rights including, for example, several types of inhabilitación (disqualification from holding certain offices, exercising certain professions, etc.) or privación del derecho a conducir vehículos a motor (loss of the right to drive; suspension of driver’s license).

Mandatory community service (trabajos en beneficio de la comunidad) and fines (multas) are also often imposed. The most common fines are day fines (penas de días-multa) that take into account the offender’s financial situation based on his assets, income and family obligations and other circumstances (situación económica del reo deducida de su patrimonio, obligaciones y cargas familiares y demás circunstancias). Less common are proportional fines (penas de multa proporcional) expressed as an amount proportional to the damage caused or injury inflicted, the value of the object of the offense or the proceeds obtained from the crime (cuantía del daño causado, el valor del objeto del delito o el beneficio reportado por el delito) (arts. 50-51 CP).

Judges likewise sometimes place offenders on a type of probation, referred to in the Spanish Criminal Code as suspensión de la execución de la pena privativa de libertad (literally, “suspension of the execution of custodial sentences”) (art. 80 CP). Also sometimes called “condena condicional” or “remisión condicional,” this type of probation or suspended sentence may be granted first time offenders (delincuentes primarios) sentenced to less than two year’s incarceration (condena no superior a dos años de privación de libertad).

*F. Gómez de Liaño. Diccionario jurídico. Salamanca, 1979.

**Black’s Law Dictionary, 8th ed., 2004.

***  https://rebeccajowers.com/2016/07/07/espanol-juridico-7/ https://rebeccajowers.com/2016/07/06/confusing-terms-10/ https://rebeccajowers.com/2016/11/03/capsule-vocabularies-terminology-of-spanish-judicial-decisions-2/

Legal Meanings of pieza

In procedural law contexts, pieza does not mean “piece,” but rather denotes a “proceeding.” Certain aspects of a case may be adjudicated en pieza separada, i.e., in a separate proceeding from the main trial or proceeding (called pieza principal), and will be recorded in a separate case file (likewise often referred to as pieza separada). In civil proceedings, for example, pieza de medidas cautelares denotes a “provisional remedies proceeding” incident to civil litigation. In criminal procedure, in ordinary felony proceedings (proceso ordinario por delitos graves), a preliminary criminal investigation (instrucción sumarial) is typically conducted in four piezas. In addition to the main investigatory proceeding (pieza principal), a second pieza de situación personal reflects any pretrial measures (medidas cautelares personales) ordered against a suspect (investigado), including arrest (detención), pretrial release (libertad provisional) or pretrial detention (prisión provisional). The remaining two concern civil liability (responsabilidad civil) arising from the commission of the crime in question. The pieza de responsibilidad civil principal contains all measures ordered against the suspect’s property (medidas cautelares reales) to ensure that, if convicted, he will be able to pay the victim the compensation awarded by the court. These may include requiring the accused to make a pretrial deposit into court (prestar fianza) or ordering attachment (embargo) of his property. In the fourth pieza de responsibilidad subsidiaria similar measures may be ordered against third parties who may likewise be liable for civil damages resulting from the offense.

In other respects, the term pieza de convicción refers to the physical evidence of the commission of a crime, defined as objetos inanimados que puedan servir para atestiguar la realidad de un hecho relevante para el proceso.* The expression has sometimes been inappropriately translated as “incriminating evidence,” but whether a pieza de convicción is incriminating or not must subsequently be established at trial.

*Juan Manuel Fernández Martínez, coord. Diccionario jurídico. Thompson-Aranzadi, 2004.

False Friends: panfleto isn’t a “pamphlet”

Panfleto appears in several bilingual dictionaries translated literally as “pamphlet.” But “pamphlet” is more appropriately folleto while, at least in Spain, panfleto is something quite different. Indeed, as defined in the DLE, panfleto denotes libelo difamatorio or an opúsculo de carácter agresivo. Fundéu likewise distinguishes between the two, indicating that “folleto” es una obra impresa, no periódica, de reducido número de hojas, while “panfleto” siempre tiene sentido difamatorio. Indeed, the term panfleto is often associated with political propaganda (un panfleto político) and is defined as such (papel o folleto de propaganda política) in *Clave. Thus the informal expression nos echó un panfleto implies “(he/she) subjected us to a (political) diatribe.” And the adjectives panfletario/a (estilo propio de los panfletos) and the noun panfletista (autor de un panfleto) also have this meaning. Thus “pamphlet” should be rendered as folleto rather than panfleto, unless the reference is to some sort of biased, partisan or propagandistic writing.

*Clave: Diccionario de uso del español actual. Ediciones SM, 2006.

Terminology Sources: Swimming in the “Alphabet Soup” of European Union Agencies

As translators we often have to use the official names of EU agencies and their abbreviations, initialisms or acronyms in other languages. Their names are sometimes easily confused and, moreover, to further complicate matters they often appear to be in flux, being amended from time to time to more accurately reflect the agency’s purpose and scope. A prime example is the former Office for Harmonisation in the Internal Market (Trade Marks and Designs)—OHIM) (in Spanish, Oficina de Armonización del Mercado Interior (Marcas, Dibujos y Modelos)—OAMI), located in Alicante, Spain, which as of March, 2016 is now known as the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) (or Oficina de Propiedad Intelectual de la Unión Europea—OPIUE).

Navigating this complicated maze is much simplified by an article published in the May/June, 2016 issue of “puntoycoma: Boletín de los traductores españoles de las instituciones de la Unión Europea” that provides the current (and some possible future) names and abbreviations for dozens of EU agencies in Spanish, English and French. It’s entitled “Las siglas de los organizmos descentralizados de la Unión Europea: situación actual” and is available here:


Mistranslations: Don’t confuse libertad condicional and libertad provisional

The headline of this morning’s online edition of the Madrid daily El Mundo states: “Puigdemont y sus ex ‘consellers’ huidos, en libertad condicional en Bélgica.” El Público repeats the same mistake indicating that “El juez deja en libertad condicional a Puigdemont y a los cuatro exconsellers.” And, of course, this is not the case: the editors of both newspapers have repeated an error sometimes appearing in the press, confusing libertad condicional with libertad provisional.

In Spain libertad condicional generally denotes the early release of a prison inmate who is classified in what is termed tercer grado de tratamiento (the minimum security level of the offender treatment program), has served at least three-fourths of his sentence (que haya cumplido las tres cuartas partes de la condena) and who has exhibited good behavior (observado buena conducta).* When granted libertad conditional, an inmate is allowed to serve the remainder of his sentence in the community. In that regard, libertad condicional may be rendered as “early release” or as “parole” (the latter defined in Black’s Law Dictionary as “the release of a prisoner from imprisonment before the full sentence has been served”).

Thus Mr. Puigdemont and the former Catalan consellers are obviously not en libertad condicional (on parole), because they have not been formally accused, tried or convicted of an offense, nor have they served a custodial sentence (pena privativa de libertad) for which they could be granted parole. What the journalists meant to say was that they have been granted libertad provisional, having been released until the Belgian judge issues a decision concerning the pending euroorden (orden de detención europea or European arrest warrant) issued against them.

Indeed, in criminal proceedings libertad provisional generally denotes “pretrial release,” or “release pending trial,” referring to the release of a criminal suspect or defendant pending the outcome of a criminal investigation or while awaiting trial. In this case, among other possible orders, a judge may grant “release on bail” (libertad con fianza) or “release without bail” (libertad sin fianza), often with medidas cautelares (in this context, “conditions”) such as the requirement to periodically report to the court (obligación de comparecer en el juzgado).


*Early release can granted exceptionally under other circumstances (supuestos especiales de adelantamiento de la libertad condicional). These include libertad anticipada por enfermedad (often referred to in English as “compassionate release”) for inmates suffering from a serious incurable disease (internos aquejados de enfermedad grave incurable), or inmates over 70 years old (internos mayores de 70 años).