Confusing Terms: Derecho de daños; delito de daños

Confusing Terms2

Derecho de daños; delito de daños

These look-alike expressions may appear to be similar in meaning, but they actually have nothing in common other than the word daños. Derecho de daños (also called Derecho de la responsibilidad civil or Derecho de la responsibilidad extracontractual, is the term widely used in Spanish law to denote what in English is called “tort law” or the “law of torts.”

In contrast, delito de daños (Código Penal, arts. 263-267) describes the criminal offense of maliciously damaging the property of another (daños en propiedad ajena). In many common law jurisdictions (US; England and Wales) this is known as “criminal damage (to property).” For example, the Criminal Damage Act 1971 in force in England and Wales defines this offense as an act commited by a person who “without lawful excuse, destroys or damages any property belonging to another, intending to destroy or damage any such property, or being reckless as to whether any such property would be destroyed or damaged.” “Vandalism” and “malicious mischief” are other terms that describe aspects of what in Spain are defined as delitos de daños.

False Friends: When absolución isn’t “absolution”

Oh, no! False Friends

absolución; absolution / absolver; to absolve

In religious contexts, absolución and “absolution” are often cognates referring, for example, to the remission of sin imparted by a priest. In that regard, a priest may “absolve someone of his sins” (absolverle de sus pecados). But absolución and “absolution” are not cognates in legal contexts. In criminal procedure, absolución denotes “acquittal,” and refers to a finding that a criminal defendant (el acusado) is “not guilty.” Thus in criminal law contexts absolver is “to acquit” or “to find not guilty.”

In contrast, in civil procedure, absolución (del demandado) refers to a “finding (or) judgment for the defendant.” Thus se absuelve al demandado en primera instancia implies that the trial court “found for the defendant” or “rendered judgment for the defendant.”

In summary, in criminal proceedings absolución and sentencia absolutoria refer to an “acquittal” (a judgment of not guilty), while in civil proceedings absolución and sentencia absolutoria denote a “judgment for the defendant.” And in neither case would it be appropriate to translate absolución as “absolution.”

Legal Latin: italics? (or not?)

Latin for Lawyers

In nonlegal as well as legal texts it is customary to italicize foreign words and expressions. But when dealing with legal Latin that’s not always the case. Certain Latin expressions are in such common use that they are considered part of the legal English lexicon. After having checked several legal style guides (Blue Book; Cambridge Law Journal, California Style Manual, among others), I’m sharing below my lists of “don’t italicize” and “do italicize” Latin terms.

Note: There may be no hard fast rules here. Several terms appeared as “do italicize” in some sources and as “don’t italicize” in others. These include: ab initio, in loco parentis, caveat emptor and non compos mentis, etc.

Latin terms NOT italicized

actus reus


ad hoc

ad hominem

ad infinitum

ad litem

ad valorem

ab initio

a fortiori


alter ego

amici curiae

amicus curiae

anno Domini


a priori




bona fide

caveat emptor


compos mentis



corpus delicti

corpus juris

de facto

de jure

de minimis

de novo



duces tecum

ex contractu

ex delicto

ex officio

ex parte

ex post facto

forum non conveniens

habeas corpus

in camera

in extenso

in extremis

in forma pauperis

in futuro

in limine

in loco parentis

in pari delicto

in pari materia

in personam

in propria persona

in pro. Per.

in rem

in situ

inter alia

inter vivos

in toto

ipso facto

lis pendens

mala in se

mala prohibita

malum in se

malum prohibitum


mens rea

modus operando

nisi prius

nolle prosequi

nolo contendere

non compos mentis

non obstante veredicto

nunc pro tunc

obiter dictum


pendente lite

per annum

per diem

per stirpes

prima facie

pro bono publico

pro rata

pro tempore

quantum meruit

quid pro quo

quo warranto

ratio decidendi

res judicata

respondeat superior

sine qua non

stare decisis

status quo ante

sua sponte

sui generis

ultra vires


viva voce

voir dire


Latin terms that should be italicized (there are dozens more)

a posteriori

a vinculo matrimonii

ad damnum

ad diem


causa mortis

conditio sine qua non

coram nobis/vobis

cum testamento annexo

damnum absque injuria

de bene esse

duces tecum

ejusdem generis

ex curia

in curia

in perpetuum

in re

inter se

lex domicilii

lex locus contractus

lex non scripta

locus delicti

locus in quo

mala fide

ne plus ultra

parens patriae

per curiam

post facto

pro hac vice

quo animo

sensu stricto

sub judice

ut infra

ut supra

vide ut supra