Scales on a table in a court room

50 Common Legal Terms in Spanish

No matter what part of the legal arena you favor, learning Spanish will help you.

Sure, you might also need years of schooling in law, paralegal studies or a related field, but Spanish can be that extra skill that sets you apart—sort of like the cherry on top of your legal sundae.

But let’s get started the right way with 50 common terms every legal professional needs to know!


Common Spanish Legal Terms

1. Abogado / Abogada attorney/lawyer

El abogado fue contratado por el acusado por su experiencia en este tipo de casos. — The lawyer was hired by the defendant for his experience in these types of cases.

2. Acusado / Acusada state of being accused or the person who is accused (the defendant)

Usted está acusada de perjurio. — You’re accused of perjury.

El acusado solo habló para confirmar su nombre completo. — The defendant only spoke to confirm his full name.

3. Admisible  admissible

It’s often used in phrases like ser admisible  (“to be admissible”) and prueba admisible  (“admissible evidence”).

El abogado pensaba que las pruebas serían admisibles. — The lawyer thought that the evidence would be admissible.

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4. Declaración jurada / Afidávit affidavit

El policía que redactó la declaración jurada compareció en el tribunal mediante una videollamada. — The police officer who wrote the affidavit appeared in court via video call.

5. Archivo / Expediente archive, file or record

El abogado llevaba un expediente grande que contenía las pruebas del acusado. — The lawyer was carrying a large file that contained the defendant’s evidence.

6. Arresto / Detención (an) arrest/detention

La policía local confirmó el arresto del principal sospechoso. — The local police confirmed the arrest of the main suspect.

7. Carga de la prueba  burden of proof

El abogado habló con su cliente sobre la carga de la prueba. — The lawyer spoke to his client about the burden of proof.

8. Causa / Proceso judicial / Pleito / Acción judicial / Caso court case

Generally, all these terms are frequently used interchangeably to refer to a “court case.”

However, context is really important because some of these terms have more than one meaning. Proceso judicial and pleito are the least likely to be misinterpreted, though, because they have fewer meanings. Acción judicial means “legal action.” Pleito usually means “lawsuit” or “action.”

El proceso judicial estaba programado para comenzar en cuatro meses. — The judicial process was due to start in four months.

Juan decidió emprender acciones legales contra su ex amigo. — Juan decided to take legal action against his former friend.

El hombre estaba seguro de que su pleito era fuerte. — The man was confident that his lawsuit was strong.

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All the other words for “court case” have additional meanings. For instance, causa can also mean “cause,” proceso also means “process” or “trial” and caso can mean “case” or “fact.”

El informe policial no pudo determinar la causa del accidente. — The police report couldn’t determine the cause of the accident.

El juez explicó que el proceso sería largo. — The judge explained that the trial would be long.

No estaban preparados y no pudieron defender su caso en el tribunal. — They were unprepared and unable to fight their case in court.

9. Crimen / Delito legal violation or crime

Note that in some Spanish-speaking countries, like Spain, the term used will depend on the severity of the crime. A delito would be a minor crime whereas a crimen is more serious.

El acusado fue citado a comparecer ante el tribunal por su crimen. — The defendant was summoned to appear before the court for his crime.

10. Daños y perjuicios  damages

El abogado informó a la acusada que tenía derecho a indemnización por daños y perjuicios. The defendant was told by the lawyer that she was entitled to damages and losses.

11. Delictivo  criminal (adjective)

It’s usually used to describe various acts. For instance, acto delictivo  means “criminal act.”

El tribunal dictaminó que el acusado había cometido un acto delictivo. — The court ruled that the defendant had committed a criminal act.

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12. Demandante  petitioner, complainant or plaintiff

El demandante habló con su abogado antes de entrar al juzgado. — The plaintiff spoke with his lawyer before entering the courthouse.

13. Determinación / Sentencia / Decisión / Fallo ruling

All of these terms can be used to mean “ruling” in Spanish.

Fallo most literally means “ruling.” Determinación more literally equates to “determination.” Sentencia means “sentence” and decisión means “decision.”

Las personas en la sala de justicia esperaban ansiosamente el fallo. — The people in the courtroom anxiously waited for the ruling.

La determinación del jurado fue rápida y unánime. — The jury’s determination was quick and unanimous.

Después de una cuidadosa consideración, el juez pronunció la sentencia. — After careful consideration, the judge delivered the sentence.

La decisión se basó en todas las pruebas. — The decision was based on all of the evidence.

14. Fianza  bail/bond

El acusado quería que se redujera la fianza a mil dólares. — The defendant wanted the bail to be lowered to a thousand dollars.

15. Hecho  fact

Es un hecho que el acusado estaba en el banco en el momento del robo. — It is a fact that the defendant was in the bank at the time of the robbery.

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Hecho can also mean “incident,” “event,” “made” or “done,” so always pay attention to context.

16. Infracción  infraction or offense

This is used when referring to things like traffic violations or other non-violent crimes.

El juez lo multó por su infracción de tráfico. — The judge fined him for his traffic violation. 

17. Juez  judge (noun)

El juez lo condenó a un año de cárcel por el crimen que había cometido. — The judge sentenced him to a year in prison for the crime he had committed.

18. Juicio  trial

It can also be used to mean “opinion.”

Se espera que el juicio atraiga mucha atención, por lo que habrá una mayor presencia policial en el exterior. — The trial is expected to draw a lot of attention, so there will be a larger police presence outside.

19. Jurado  jury or individual jurors

El jurado tuvo que confirmar que no conocía al acusado antes de que comenzara el juicio. — The jury had to confirm that they didn’t know the defendant before the trial began. 

It can also act as an adjective, meaning “sworn” when referring to things like statements or testimony like declaración jurada.

20. Juramento  oath

Bajo juramento therefore means “under oath” or “sworn.”

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Puede que necesites prestar juramento en la sala del tribunal. — You may need to take an oath in the courtroom.

21. Ley  law

It can refer to specific laws or the law in general.

La nueva ley fue aprobada por el gobierno en enero. — The new law was passed by the government in January. 

22. Mandato / Mandato judicial / Orden judicial  — mandate/warrant/court order

All of these terms can be used to refer to an order given by a court.

Hay muchos tipos de mandatos judiciales. — There are many types of court orders.

23. Multa  fine/fee

El juez ordenó al acusado pagar una multa de dos mil dólares por su delito. — The judge ordered the defendant to pay a fine of two thousand dollars for his crime.

24. Palacio de justicia  courthouse

It literally means “palace/center of justice” (which really has more of a ring to it).

El juez habló con el jurado en el palacio de justicia antes de que comenzara el juicio. — The judge spoke with the jury at the courthouse before the trial began.

25. Pedimento  motion/petition

Después de hablar con su acusado, la abogada presentó un pedimento. — After speaking to her defendant, the lawyer filed a motion.

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26. Prueba  evidence

It can also mean “proof” or “test.”

El abogado presentó las pruebas ante el tribunal y demostró que su cliente no era culpable. — The lawyer presented the evidence to the court and proved his client was not guilty.

27. Policía  the police force as a group or individual officers

El policía fuera de servicio fue testigo del delito y tuvo que asistir al tribunal. — The off-duty police officer witnessed the crime and had to attend court.

28. Sala de justicia / Tribunal courtroom

These can both be used to mean “courtroom.”

You can also just use the word sala (room), but this could also be misinterpreted, so you might want to play it safe.

La familia del acusado decidió sentarse fuera de la sala de justicia. — The defendant’s family decided to sit outside of the courtroom.

29. Testigo  witness

La declaración escrita del testigo fue leída en el tribunal. — The witness’s written statement was read out to the court.

30. Tribunal / Juzgado court

Tribunal can also refer to a jury or panel, but this meaning is rarely used in a legal context—jurado is the more common word for a legal jury. Juzgado can also mean “courthouse.”

El juzgado era uno de los más antiguos del país. — The court was one of the oldest in the country.

Common Legal Verbs

31. Absolver  to acquit

El juez lo declaró no culpable y lo absolvió de los cargos. — The judge declared him innocent and acquitted him of the charges.

In other contexts, it means “to absolve.”

32. Asesorar / Asesorar to advise

Asesorar means “to advise” as in “to give professional guidance.” When you mean “to give personal advice,” though, you should use aconsejar.

Mi abogado me asesoró sobre mis opciones legales. — My lawyer advised me on my legal options.

El juez le aconsejó que fuera honesto durante el juicio. — The judge advised him to be honest during the trial.

33. Acusar  to accuse

In a legal context, acusar can also mean “to charge.” The reflexive, acusarse, can also mean “to confess.”

El juez explicó el razonamiento para acusarlo del delito. — The judge explained the reasoning for charging him with the crime.

34. Alegar  to allege/claim

El acusado alegó que estaba trabajando cuando sucedió, pero lo vieron en las cámaras de vigilancia. The defendant claimed that he was working when it happened, but they saw him on the surveillance cameras.

35. Apelar  to appeal

Aunque el acusado no estuvo de acuerdo con la decisión del tribunal, decidió no apelar y aceptó pagar la multa de estacionamiento. — While the defendant didn’t agree with the court’s decision, he decided against appealing and agreed to pay the parking fine.

36. Arrestar / Detener to arrest/detain

Both of these verbs mean “to arrest.”

La policía se disculpó después de que un hombre fue detenido por error al ser confundido con otra persona. — The police apologized after a man was arrested after being mistaken for someone else.

37. Comparecer  — to appear (in court)

El acusado compareció ante el tribunal junto a su abogado. — The defendant appeared in court alongside his lawyer.

38. Confesar  — to confess

El acusado confesó su crimen y recibió una sentencia más leve. — The defendant confessed his crime and received a lighter sentence.

39. Declararse — to plead

El acusado anunció al tribunal que había cambiado su declaración inicial y se declaró culpable. — The defendant announced to the court that he had changed his initial plea and pleaded guilty.

40. Defender  — to defend

Era la primera vez que el abogado defendía a un cliente en este tipo de caso legal. — It was the first time that the lawyer defended a client in this type of legal case.

41. Demandar  — to sue

El actor demandó a la empresa por usar su imagen para promocionar sus productos sin permiso. — The actor sued the company for using his image to promote their products without permission.

42. Dictaminar  — to rule

El juez dictaminó que el acusado había puesto en riesgo a otros y lo prohibió conducir durante dos años como consecuencia. — The judge ruled that the defendant had put others at risk and banned him from driving for two years as a consequence.

43. Entrar en vigor  to take effect

Literally translates as “to enter in vigor/force.”

El acusado quebrantó una nueva ley que entró en vigor el año pasado. — The defendant broke a new law that came into effect last year.

44. Investigar  to investigate

La policía investigó el crimen y reunió pruebas para el juicio. — The police investigated the crime and gathered evidence for the trial.

45. Juzgar — to try (in court)

Debido a una emergencia médica, el acusado no será juzgado hasta el verano. — Due to a medical emergency, the defendant will not be tried until the summer.

46. Probar — to prove

Después de investigar casos similares, se probó que el hombre había sido incriminado. — After investigating similar cases, it was proven that the man had been framed.

47. Revelar  to reveal

Las pruebas revelaron la inocencia del acusado. — The evidence revealed the innocence of the defendant.

In a legal context, its meaning is closer to “to disclose.”

48. Sentenciar / Condenar  — To sentence

El juez regresó a la sala del tribunal para sentenciar al acusado. — The judge returned to the courtroom to sentence the defendant.

49. Sobreseer  to dismiss

El tribunal informó al acusado que el caso había sido sobreseído. — The court informed the defendant that the case had been dismissed. 

50. Testificar  — to testify/give evidence (in court)

El juez solicitó que la esposa del acusado testificara ante el tribunal. — The judge requested that the defendant’s wife testify before the court.

Why Learn Spanish Legal Terms?

If you’re looking for a career as a legal secretary, paralegal, translator or lawyer, knowing Spanish legal terms will increase your job prospects. Whether you want to work with Spanish-speaking clients or work in international law, your knowledge of Spanish will come in handy. Even if a job doesn’t require it, it’s still a skill that many employers covet.

Learning Spanish legal terms will also increase the number of people you can serve. Even if a client speaks fluent English, he/she may be more comfortable communicating in Spanish. After all, legal proceedings are always stressful, and in times of stress, it’s easiest to speak in the language you’re most comfortable with.

Therefore, many clients may seek out legal professionals who can speak their language. If your firm doesn’t offer services in Spanish, these clients may seek out another that does. However, if you’re willing to learn, your law firm can start marketing to Spanish-speaking customers, who make up a sizable chunk of the population. This can massively increase the number of clients who may be interested in your services.

Additionally, learning Spanish legal terms will allow you to help people that many other legal professionals cannot help. Clear communication is important, so clients who do not speak English fluently will need someone who can communicate with them in order to navigate through the criminal justice process.

Finally, learning Spanish legal terms is useful for anyone learning Spanish. After all, you’re likely to hear these terms if you watch Spanish-language news. Plus, if you ever find yourself in legal trouble while abroad, even if it’s just a parking ticket, you’ll be super relieved you took the time to learn a little legal Spanish.

How You Can Practice Spanish Legal Terms

As you become more proficient, try to use these words every chance you get.

Your understanding of the word will increase as you utilize it in context and your fluency will increase as you use complete sentences. See example sentences with these words using online tools like Linguee or 123 Teach Me and their “Spanish Sentence Maker.” These websites collect sentences from all over the internet that contain your keyword and are invaluable as you continue on your journey to learning Spanish legal terminology.

For a better grasp on general Spanish, consider a virtual immersion program, which will help you get acclimated to the rapid speech that natives often use (particularly when in stressful situations, like…needing your services!). FluentU, for example, sorts its video lessons by subject matter, which can make efficient targeted practice easier.

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So if you’re looking to enter the legal field or just become fully fluent in Spanish, remember these legal terms. They certainly do have some appeal.

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