Exculpatory Definition

Tending or serving to exculpate.

To clear from alleged fault or guilt.

The word exculpatory comes from the Latin word exculpat, which means “freed from blame.” This term is often used when speaking of legal matters. For example, a lawyer defending a client in court may bring forth exculpatory evidence, which is evidence used to free their client from any guilt. The opposite of this is inculpatory evidence, which is evidence used to show guilt.

According to Nolo’s Plain-English Law Dictionary, the term exculpatory is defined as, “A description of evidence in a criminal trial that serves to justify, excuse, or introduce a reasonable doubt about the defendant’s alleged actions or intentions. Exculpatory evidence may ultimately show that the defendant is not guilty. No wonder police and prosecutors must, to uphold the defendant’s constitutional right to due process, tell the defense about any exculpatory evidence they’ve discovered” (Cornell.edu).

Exculpatory evidence example:

According to USLegal, in contract law, an exculpatory clause relieves one party to the agreement of liability as a result of actions (or lack of actions) performed in the course of carrying out the terms of the contract. In a trust agreement, a clause such as this protects the trustee from liability resulting from any act performed in good faith under the trust agreement. With regards to a lease, this clause relieves the landlord of liability for personal injury to tenants or damage to tenants’ property. In numerous US states, such clauses in rental agreements are not enforceable. Because these clauses are a waiver of the right to sue, courts will often examine factors such as the relative bargaining power of the parties, whether the clause was noticeably disclosed, how broad the waiver is, and other factors, in determining the fairness of upholding such a clause.

How absolvitory must the evidence be?

Although exculpatory evidence is used to prove someone’s innocence, it is not all created equally, nor will it all be perceived equally among judges, jurys, and even in everyday conversations with one’s peers. Such subjectivity is bound to exculpate those who are undeserving of being exculpated and inculpating those who are undeserving of being inculpated.

When the stakes are highest and the consequences are most impactful, exculpatory evidence can be seen as the most important thing imaginable. Innocent people are sentenced to years in prison or even executed all because they, including their lawyer(s) were unable to come up with exculpatory evidence. Such a failure to exculpate an innocent person is as consequential as it gets.

Even though corruption exists in many, if not in all justice systems from time to time, exculpatory evidence is the one true get out of jail free card that any innocent person can ever expect to receive. Exculpatory evidence not only absolves one’s guilt, but it also helps investigators to inch ever so closer to the person or person(s) who are actually guilty.

Exculpatory synonyms:

Absolvitory, exonerative, forgiving, extenuating, justificative, justificatory, vindicatory, guiltless, and innocent.

Exculpatory antonyms:

Inculpatory, inculpative, accusative, accusatory, accusive, comminatory, denunciative, denunciatory, condemnatory, condemning, crimative, criminatory, incriminating, incriminatory, damnatory, damning, recriminative, recriminatory, and guilty.