Ellipsis in Legal Spanish: la absolutoria; la condenatoria

Among the ellipses that constantly appear in legal Spanish documents, in procedural law contexts the expressions la absolutoria and la condenatoria obviously refer to sentencias (“judgments”): la sentencia absolutoria; la sentencia condenatoria.

But (¡ojo!) the correct English rendering will depend on whether the text to be translated concerns civil or criminal procedure. In civil proceedings la absolutoria refers to a “judgment for the defendant,” while la condenatoria denotes a “judgment for the plaintiff (or) claimant.” In contrast, in the context of criminal proceedings la absolutoria denotes a “judgment of not guilty” or an “acquittal,” while la condenatoria is a “judgment of guilty” or a “conviction.” Thus,

  • sentencia absolutoria =
    • judgment for the defendant (in civil proceedings)
    • acquittal (of the defendant in criminal proceedings)
  • sentencia condenatoria =
    • judgment for the plaintiff/claimant (in civil proceedings)
    • conviction (of the defendant in criminal proceedings)

False Friends in ES-EN-ES Translation: violación vs. violation

“Violation” is a common Legal English term denoting the contravention of a right, principle or prohibition, and in this context it can often be rendered literally as violación: “violation of human rights” (violación de los derechos humanos); “violation of international law” (violación del Derecho internacional) or “violation of the proportionality principle” (violación del principio de proporcionalidad).

But, violación cannot always be appropriately translated as “violation,” particularly in criminal law contexts. In that regard, delito de violación is “rape,” while violación de las condiciones de la libertad bajo fianza is commonly known as “bail-jumping,” “bail-skipping” or “jumping/skipping bail.” The generic term violación de secretos denotes “breach of confidentiality” or “disclosure of confidential (or) privileged information,” in contrast to violación de secretos industriales and violación de secretos empresariales that refer more specifically to “disclosure of trade secrets.” When referring to patents or trademarks, violación de patente/marca is best rendered as “patent/trademark infringement.” And violación de domicilio may be translated as “trespass to dwelling.” As a final example, violación de sepulturas is most often referred to in English as “profanation of tombs.”

What is beneficio de inventario?

One of the often-confused concepts in the Spanish law of succession is beneficio de inventario, an expression that has sometimes been translated literally as “benefit of inventory” or “inventory benefit,” renderings that do not clarify its true meaning. An initial key to understanding the term is to note that under Spanish inheritance law heirs (herederos) inherit a título universal, i.e., they do not only receive assets from the decedent’s estate (as does a legatee–legatario), but they also assume all of the deceased’s liabilities.

In that regard, an heir can decide to accept an inheritance unconditionally (aceptación pura y simple), or to accept it a beneficio de inventario. The difference is quite significant. Upon an unconditional acceptance of an inheritance, the heir inherits both the decedent’s assets and liabilities, while his own personal estate immediately becomes commingled with the inherited estate. Thus, if the assets of the inherited estate do not suffice to pay the inherited estate’s debts, an heir who accepts an inheritance unconditionally must use his own assets to satisfy those debts.

In contrast, if the inheritance is accepted a beneficio de inventario, an inventory of the decedent’s assets will be conducted and the heir will have the right to limit his liability to the deceased’s creditors to the amount received in inheritance (facultad del heredero de limitar su responsabilidad ante los acreedores del difunto al montante de la herencia recibida). An inventory is conducted after notifying the creditors and legatees who may be present if they deem it to their advantage (formación del inventario con citación a los acreedores y legatarios para que acudan a presenciarlo si les conviniera). And the decedent’s estate must be kept separate from the heir’s estate until the debts of the decedent’s estate have been paid (necesidad de mantener separados el patrimonio hereditario y el patrimonio del heredero hasta que se hayan satisfecho las deudas de la herencia).

Another related expression is derecho a deliberar, which in this context refers to an heir’s right to deliberate whether or not to accept an inheritance. And, while we’re looking at strange expressions, adir la herencia simply means “to accept the inheritance,” adir being defined as aceptar la herencia tácita o expresamente (DLE). The noun here is adición: adición de la herencia (acceptance of the inheritance).

Source: Carlos Lasarte. Principios de Derecho civil VII: Derecho de sucesiones. Madrid: Marcial Pons, 3ª edición, 2003, pp. 343-355.