What does that Latin legal phrase mean?
This week’s blog post will take a look at the law in entertainment. Television shows and movies that feature the law often include legal phrases in Latin. Not everything you see on legal TV is true, but often the phrases do have a legal meaning! Have you ever wondered what these phrases mean? If so, keep reading to discover the meanings of common Latin legal phrases.
Actus reus: The literal translation of this phrase is “guilty act.” This phrase is most often used in criminal law. In common law, this phrase was paired with “mens rea” (described below) to ascertain liability for a crime. A criminal must commit a criminal act in order to be legally liable.
Ad coelum: The literal translation of this phrase is “to the sky.” This phrase is usually used in the longer legal phrase, “Cuius est solum eius est usque ad coelum et ad infernos. ” This longer phrase means “whoever owns the soil owns all the way up to Heaven and down to Hell.” This phrase is often used in property law to describe that a person not only owns a piece of land, but also the ground underneath and the air above (and any valuable resources found there).
Caveat emptor: The literal translation of this phrase is “let the buyer beware.” This phrase is most often used in contract law to warn potential buyers of a product that they cannot seek remedies from a seller.
De novo: The literal translation of this phrase is “anew.” This phrase is most often used to refer to a standard of review used by courts of appeal. When there is a question of law, an appellate court can review the issues “de novo”, or anew. This means the appellate court does not have to give any deference to the ruling from the inferior court on the issue.
Duces tecum: The literal translation of this phrase is “bring with you.” This phrase is most often used in the subpoena context. A subpoena duces tecum requires a person to appear before the court and bring certain physical evidence with them.
In camera: The literal translation of this phrase is “in the chamber.” This phrase refers to when a judge views certain evidence privately, or “in the chamber,” rather than in the court room before the public and/or jury.
Mens rea: The literal translation of this phrase is “guilty mind.” This phrase is often paired with the phrase “actus reus” to prove criminal liability. The phrase refers to the intent of a person who commits a crime.
Modus operandi: The literal translation of this phrase is “manner of operation.” This phrase is often used to refer to a criminal’s usual manner of committing a crime. TV and movies often refer to this phrase as “M.O.”
Prima facie: The literal translation of this phrase is “at first face.” This phrase is often used to describe a case that, on first look, appears to be true because the evidence supports it.
We hope this blog post has de-coded some of the Latin legal phrases that TV and movies use. If you find yourself in need of legal services, please contact an attorney at Kelly & Brand, Attorneys at Law, LLC.