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)

Ellipsis in Legal Spanish: What do you mean by elevar a definitivas??

Ellipsis in Legal Spanish

In Spanish felony proceedings (procedimiento penal ordinario), elevar a definitivas has a peculiar meaning, referring to the ratification of the prosecution’s initial accusation or the defense’s initial defense (collectively called calificaciones provisionales). At the end of a criminal trial and after evidence has been examined, the attorneys for the prosecution and defense may either amend their initial pleadings in written closing arguments called conclusiones based on the events that transpired at trial, or they may “ratify their initial accusatory and defensive pleadings” (elevar a definitivas las calificaciones de fiscal y defensa), which are then known as calificaciones definitivas. Thus, the expression with its ellipted part included is elevar las calificaciones (or) conclusiones provisionales a definitivas. At the conclusion of a criminal trial the prosecuting and defense attorneys may simply say “a definitivas,” indicating that they are “ratifying their initial pleadings.”

It should perhaps be noted that the expression elevar a definitivas can be used in other nonlegal contexts when ratifying or confirming something that was initially considered provisional. For example, in procedures to determine candidates eligible for civil service exams (oposiciones), the authorities conducting the exams issue a resolución elevando a definitivas las listas de aspirantes admitidos en las pruebas. In this case, the final list of candidates eligible to take the exam is confirmed, after determining whether those on the provisional list met the examination requirements.

Ellipsis in Legal Spanish: circunstancias modificativas

Ellipsis in Legal Spanish

circunstancias modificativas

agravantes; atenuantes; eximentes

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.”

Read more here and here.

Ellipsis in Legal Spanish: Sala Primera, Sala Segunda, etc.

Ellipsis in Legal Spanish

Spanish legal professionals may assume that their audiences will understand what is meant when they refer to any of the five divisions of the Supreme Court by their number (Sala Primera, Sala Segunda, etc.). And some translators choose to render these literally as “First Chamber,” “Second Chamber.” But there is an ellipsis in these expressions, Sala Primera referring to the Sala Primera, de lo Civil or “Civil Division” of the Supreme Court, while Sala Segunda, de lo Penal denotes the Court’s “Criminal Division.” Indeed, the Spanish Supreme Court has five divisions: Sala Primera, de lo Civil (“Civil Division”); Sala Segunda, de lo Penal (“Criminal Division”); Sala Tercera, de lo Contencioso-Administrativo (“Administrative Division”); Sala Cuarta, de lo Social (“Labor Division”) and Sala Quinta, de lo Militar (“Military Division”). Thus instead of merely repeating the number, it may be more accurate to translate these references as “Civil Division,” “Criminal Division,” “Administrative Division,” etc.

Likewise, Magistrado de la Sala Segunda denotes a “Judge of the Criminal Division of the Supreme Court,” a Magistrado de la Sala Tercera is a “Judge of the Administrative Division of the Supreme Court,” while a Magistrado de la Sala Cuarta is a “judge of the Labor Division of the Supreme Court,” etc. In texts in which it is clear that the reference is to the Supreme Court, these three examples might also be translated simply as “Civil Division Judge,” “Criminal Division Judge” and “Labor Division Judge.”

Ellipsis in bien protegido

Ellipsis in Legal Spanish

Bien protegido might appear to refer to “protected assets (or) goods,” and the expression has sometimes been mistranslated as such, or has simply been deemed an adjective phrase and rendered as “well-protected.” But bien protegido is actually an ellipsis for bien jurídico protegido (also called bien jurídico tutelado), a criminal law term (from the German Rechtsgut) that designates the specific interest protected under the individual provisions of the Spanish Criminal Code.

As examples, in the crime of homicidio, the legally-protected interest (bien jurídico protegido) is la vida humana.* With respect to delitos de amenazas, the legally-protected interests include “el sentimiento de tranquilidad y el ataque a la libertad en la formación de la voluntad…”* In the crime of failure to come to the aid (omisión del deber de socorro) the bien jurlidico protegido is “la solidaridad humana.”* And in crimes of theft, robbery and burglary (hurto, robo con violencia en las personas y robo con fuerza en las cosas) the legally-protected interests are posesión or propiedad.*

*Source for the examples cited above: Tomás Vives Antón, et.al., Derecho Penal, Parte Especial, Valencia: Tirant lo Blanch, 2015.

Ellipsis in Legal Spanish: arrendamiento para uso distinto

Ellipsis in Legal Spanish

The expression arrendamiento para uso distinto immediately prompts the question ¿distinto a qué? The complete expression with its ellipted part included is arrendamiento para uso distinto del de vivienda, and it has been translated perhaps rather clumsily as “non-dwelling lease,” “lease for other than habitation” and “lease intended for other than residential purposes.”

But as used in Spain arrendamiento para uso distinto (del de vivienda) simply denotes the “leasing of non-residential property” (literally, “leasing for use other than as a residence.”) And, in this context, uso distinto refers to “non-residential use” or “use for non-residential purposes.” Thus, a contrato de arrendamiento para uso distinto is  a “contract to lease property for non-residential purposes” that may often be translated simply as “non-residential lease.”

Ellipsis in Legal Language

Ellipsis in Legal Spanish

No one can dispute the fact that legal language is a foreign language that future lawyers must begin to master from their first day in law school. With much dedication, translators can also acquire a solid knowledge of legal terminology from law school textbooks, well-selected dictionaries and many other legal sources. But lawyers don’t always go by the book and sometimes use their own telegraphic language, often leaving out half of any given expression. This may make translation nearly impossible for the uninitiated and, in effect, the meanings of certain legal Spanish phrases containing ellipses often elude translators. Spanish lawyers and legal professionals may be quite familiar with such expressions, but they are largely absent from bilingual legal sources.

In blog entries under “Ellipsis in Legal Language” I will offer a sampling of ellipses that I have found to be the most common, together with an explanation of the ellipted parts and suggestions as to how the expressions might be rendered in English. Many would be obvious in certain contexts, but may be difficult to understand if used in isolation. And of course there may be hundreds more: that’s just the way lawyers talk.