Exculpatory Definition and Legal Meaning

On this page, you'll find the legal definition and meaning of Exculpatory, written in plain English, along with examples of how it is used.

What is Exculpatory?

adj. applied to evidence which may justify or excuse an accused defendant’s actions and which will tend to show the defendant is not guilty or has no criminal intent.

History and Meaning of Exculpatory

The term "exculpatory" is derived from the Latin word "exculpatus," which means "to clear from a charge." In legal terms, exculpatory evidence is any evidence that tends to prove a defendant's innocence or lacks criminal intent.

Exculpatory evidence is crucial in the criminal justice system as it can exonerate the accused and prevent wrongful convictions. However, the prosecution is not required to turn over exculpatory evidence to the defense unless ordered to do so by the court or if required by law.

The landmark Supreme Court case Brady v. Maryland in 1963 established that the prosecution has a constitutional duty to disclose exculpatory evidence to the defense. This ruling is known as the "Brady Rule" and requires prosecutors to turn over any evidence that is favorable to the defense.

Examples of Exculpatory

  1. A surveillance tape that shows a defendant was at a different location during the commission of the alleged crime is exculpatory evidence that could prove the defendant's innocence.
  2. A witness statement that contradicts the prosecution's theory of the case could be exculpatory evidence.
  3. An expert report that shows the defendant could not have caused the victim's injuries is also exculpatory evidence.

Legal Terms Similar to Exculpatory

  1. Inculpatory evidence - refers to evidence that tends to prove an accused's guilt.
  2. Mitigating evidence - refers to evidence that does not prove innocence but could reduce the severity of the sentence if the accused is found guilty.
  3. Alibi - refers to evidence that proves the accused was somewhere else when the crime was committed.