Impossible-to-Translate Criminal Law Terms: tipicidad; antijuricidad; culpabilidad; punibilidad

tipicidad; antijuricidad; culpabilidad; punibilidad

These criminal theory terms often appear to elude translation since they are not familiar concepts in Anglo-American law. Briefly, the Spanish system for determining criminal liability follows the tripartite German model and is accomplished in three successive steps. First the tipicidad of the act is established, i.e., a determination is made as to whether the alleged offender has fulfilled each element of the statutory definition of that specific offense (tipo penal). Among others, these include both the criminal act or actus reus element (tipo objetivo) and the mental or mens rea element (tipo subjetivo). The wrongfulness (antijuricidad) of the act is then assessed to determine whether the alleged offender’s act was wrongful (antijurídico, sometimes also translated as “unlawful”) and whether there are justification defenses (causas de justificación) that would render the act lawful. In a third step culpability or blameworthiness (culpabilidad) is examined to determine the alleged offender’s individual accountability for the offense and whether there are excuse defenses (causas de exculpación) which would exempt him from criminal liability. In Spain, a fourth element punibilidad (literally, “punishability”) is assessed to address individual cases in which certain offenders may be exempt from punishment.

It is often difficult to find suitable English translations for these four criminal law concepts, and I’ve found it helpful to turn to scholars who write about Spanish and German criminal law theory in English to see the terms they use. Here is a basic bibliography:

Bachmaier Winter, Lorena and Antonio del Moral García. Criminal Law in Spain. Alphen ann den Rijn: Kluwer Law International, 2010.

Bohlander, Michael. “Basic Concepts of German Criminal Procedure, An Introduction.” Durham Law Review Online, Vol. 1, 2011, pp. 1-26.

Bohlander, Michael. English translation of the German Criminal Code (Strafgesetzbuch). Saarbrücken: juris GmbH, 2010.

Bohlander, Michael. Principles of German Criminal Law. Portland: Hart Publishing, 2009.

Dubber, Markus Dirk. “Theories of Crime and Punishment in German Criminal Law.” The American Journal of Criminal Law, Vol. 53, No. 3 (2005), pp. 679-707.

Dubber, Markus Dirk. “The Promise of German Criminal Law: A Science of Crime and Punishment” German Law Review, Vol. 6, No. 7 (2005), pp. 1049-1071.

Fletcher, George P. Basic Concepts of Criminal Law. Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Fletcher, George P. y Steve Sheppard. American Law in a Global Context: the Basics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Gómez Jara, Carlos and Luis E. Chiesa. “Spanish Criminal Law” in Kevin Jon Heller and Markus D. Dubber, eds. The Handbook of Comparative Criminal Law. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2009, pp. 488-530.

Hermida, Julián. “Convergence of Civil Law and Common Law in the Criminal Theory Realm.” University of Miami International & Comparative Law Review, Vol. 13 (2005-2006) pp. 163-232.

Naucke, Wolfgang. “An Insider’s Perspective on the Significance of the German Criminal Law Theory’s System for Analyzing Criminal Acts.” Brigham Young University Law Review (1984), pp. 305-321.

Naucke, Wolfgang. “Interpretation and Analogy in Criminal Law.” Brigham Young University Law Review, Vol. 3 (1986), pp. 535-551.

Weigend, Thomas. “Germany” in Kevin Jon Heller and Markus D. Dubber, eds. Handbook of Comparative Criminal Law. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2011, pp. 252-287.

2 thoughts on “Impossible-to-Translate Criminal Law Terms: tipicidad; antijuricidad; culpabilidad; punibilidad

  1. Great article! Thank you for you tips. Quick question though: I thought criminal intent was mens rea not actus reus. I thought criminal behavior was actus reus.


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