Is it unconstitutional to use Latin phrases in legal proceedings?

by Walter Olson on August 14, 2013

A Florida court rejects such an argument in an appeal by a litigant pro se (oh dear, there we go doing it ourselves). [Parris v. Cummins Power South, PDF] (& Greenfield)

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Stare Decisis | Simple Justice
08.14.13 at 8:51 am


1 Bob Lipton 08.14.13 at 8:05 am

The use of Latin in legal American English is an example of jargon: a specialist’s vocabulary that allows practitioners of said specialty greater precision than standard English.

Unfortunately, it also serves as a barrier to non-specialists. Use of jargon when plain English would serve can be denigratory and obstructive,. Language should be used to communicate, not to confuse.

As a result, I think the judge was correct in rejecting this argument but not in his labeling it frivolous. “Pro se” could be replaced by “without counsel” were one to stop to consider the matter. It’s just that lawyers see no reasons to do so.


2 Richard Nieporent 08.14.13 at 9:24 am

Bob, are you advocating that lawyers should eschew obfuscation?

3 Robert 08.14.13 at 1:31 pm

I think it’s fine if you have a jury of Latin speakers!

4 Bob Lipton 08.14.13 at 3:42 pm

Are you saying, Richard, that you can’t understand English?


5 wfjag 08.14.13 at 7:46 pm

Et tu Bob?

6 prior probability 08.14.13 at 7:54 pm

This case is moot. After all, Google has a Latin to English translator, and it’s free

7 wfjag 08.15.13 at 9:03 am

Similarly, on August 12th, the New Mexico Supreme Court, in obiter dictum, opined in State v. Samora, that it is unconstitutional to dismiss from a petit jury someone who responds No Hablas Englas, but only speaks and reads a modern Latin based language. Accordingly, there is no ipso facto right to the conduct of legal proceedings in a specific language, or to exclude any language’s use in them.

8 Jack Olson 08.15.13 at 9:45 am

In his book “The Underground Lawyer” Michael Minns recounts his observation of a trial on a Caribbean island. The judges conducted the trial entirely in Dutch, a language the defendant does not speak. He had no idea what they were saying about him or his case. All he knew was that they were going to do whatever they wanted with him. Is it any different when an English speaker hears lawyers speak of habeas corpus, cy pres, ipso facto, or nunc pro tunc? All he knows is that they’re going to do whatever they want with him.

9 KB 08.16.13 at 12:01 pm

“Neque porro quisquam est qui dolorem ipsum quia dolor sit amet, consectetur, adipisci velit…”

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