Latin Legal Terms No One Would Know: Part I

Many of us forget that the United States was built to resemble the Ancient Roman Empire. We see it in our architecture, we see it in our government’s structure, and we even see it in our obscure legal terminology. Although latin legal terms are common throughout the legal lexicon, even lawyers sometimes forget what they mean — especially if they never took Latin. By the way, if you plan to become a lawyer…it might not hurt to learn some!

A subpoena duces tecum is a writ made out to a witness requiring the production of certain types of documents or pertinent evidence during a subsequent proceeding.

A priori means “from what comes before.” This type of argument is akin to starting a sentence with the words: “Needless to say…” It means the idea is obvious, given, or need not be elaborated upon.

Ab initio means “from the beginning.” If something is declared ab initio, it means that the point in fact was always fact, from when the case first kicked off until now. The phrase is used to contrast certain legal points made that are true only when they are first stated. Good, now you’re confused. But ab initio is most often used when the word “void” precedes it. In other words, when an agreement is voided “ab initio,” it legally never existed in the first place. 

Alibi literally means “in another place.”

Actus reus means “a guilty act.” Crimes committed in actus reus refer to those that are voluntary in nature or occur through deliberate intent. Self-defense does not fall into this category.

Bona fide means “in good faith.” A bona fide act is one made in good faith and without malicious intent. Even when something untoward occurs, so to speak, a company that caused the problem might have its actions described as bona fide.