Circunstancias modificativas is an ellipted expression used in Spanish criminal law contexts to denote certain circumstances that may aggravate or mitigate criminal liability, or even exonerate a person accused of an offense. The complete expression, with the ellipted part included is circunstancias modificativas de la responsabilidad criminal” (articles 19-23 of the Spanish Código Penal).
Other ellipses used in this context include agravantes (circunsancias agravantes) or “aggravating circumstances” that may increase the degree of criminal liability; atenuantes (circunstancias atenuantes) or “mitigating circumstances” that may reduce the degree of culpability; and eximentes (circunstancias eximentes), literally “exonerating circumstances” that, if successful at trial, may preclude criminal liability and which are known broadly in English as “defenses to criminal liability.”
Accidental has several meanings in which the term cannot be appropriately rendered in English as “accidental.” This is the case when accidental is used in the sense of “provisional” or “temporary.” Thus, for example, the expression secretario accidental denotes an “acting (or) interim secretary.” Likewise, el decano accidental del Colegio de Abogados refers to an “acting (or) interim president of the Bar Association.”
Accidental may also mean sin formalidad jurídica (DLE). In that regard, in Spanish business law sociedad accidental is another expression for contrato de cuentas en participación, an informal business vehicle in which a party may privately contribute capital to a business venture with a view to sharing in the profits (arts. 239-243 of the Spanish Código de Comercio). As used in this context, sociedad accidental has often been translated as “partnership” or “joint venture,” although in Spain it lacks the usual legal formalities required to set up most businesses, being a simple pacto que no requiere escritura ni inscripción en el Registro Mercantil.
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.
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.”
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
ex post facto
forum non conveniens
in forma pauperis
in loco parentis
in pari delicto
in pari materia
in propria persona
in pro. Per.
mala in se
malum in se
non campos mentis
non obstante veredicto
nunc pro tunc
pro bono publico
quid pro quo
sine qua non
status quo ante
Latin terms that should be italicized (there are dozens more)
It is sometimes wrongly assumed that the expression contrato de comisión refers exclusively to an agreement whereby an employee, agent or representative works solely on commission (trabaja a comisión) rather than receiving a fixed salary or other compensation. In that regard, contrato de comisión has at times been erroneously translated as a “sales commission agreement” or “commission-only agreement.”
But the Spanish Commercial Code’s contrato de comisión doesn’t necessarily denote “working on commission,” but rather is a type of agency agreement in which a principal (comitente) commissions an agent (comisionista) to carry out a specific commercial transaction on his behalf (the comisión). In that regard, the contrato de comisión may be considered the Commercial Code counterpart of the Spanish Civil Code’s contrato de mandato in which a principal (mandante) commissions an agent (mandatario) to perform a specific service (mandato). Depending on the context, both contrato de comisión and contrato de mandato can often be described in English simply as “agency agreements.”
Thus, in many contexts comitente, mandante and principal can generally be translated as “principal,” while comisionista, mandatario, agente and often gestor can be rendered as “agent.” If it is necessary to distinguish between the Commercial Code and Civil Code counterparts, a contrato de comisión might be described as a “commercial agency agreement” or “Commercial Code agency agreement,” while contrato de mandato might be rendered as “Civil Code agency agreement” or an “agency agreement governed by the Civil Code.” And of course, depending on the terms of the contrato de comisión, a comisionista may or may not “work on commission” (trabajar a comisión).
In other respects, contrato de agencia (“agency agreement”) is likewise used in Spain, having been formally defined in the Agency Agreement Act (Ley 12/1992, de 27 de mayo, sobre Contrato de Agencia), which incorporated into Spanish law the provisions of Directive 86/653/EEC of 18 December 1986 on the coordination of the laws of EU Member States relating to self-employed commercial agents.
This strange, seemingly cryptic expression is defined in the RAE’s Diccionario del Español Jurídico como prórroga del contrato de arrendamiento de fincas rústicas o urbanas que se produce cuando, una vez terminado el contrato hecho por tiempo determinado, permanece el arrendatario disfrutando quince días de la cosa arrendada con aquiescencia del arrendador.* In that regard, reconducción refers specifically to prórroga de un arrendamiento (DLE).
Tácita reconducción has often been translated literally as “tacit renewal,” described as “renewal by default” or, perhaps in more idiomatic English, rendered as “automatic renewal (of a lease).” But it should be noted that all of these translations are actually inaccurate, confusing prórroga (“extension”) with renovación (“renewal”). Thus tácita reconducción more appropriately denotes the “automatic extension” of a lease (if, as indicated in the DEJ’s definition above, fifteen days after the contract expires neither party has given notice of termination to the other).