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CULPRIT Definition & Legal Meaning

Definition & Citations:

A person who is indicted for a criminal offense, but not yet convicted. It is not, however, a technical term of the law; and in its vernacular usage it seems to imply only a light degree of censure or moral reprobation. Blackstone believes it an abbreviation of the old forms of arraignment, whereby, on the prisoner’s pleading not guilty, the clerk would respond, “culpabilis. pr-it,” i. e., he is guilty and the crown is ready. It was (he says) the viva voce replication, by the clerk, on behalf of the crown, to the prisoner’s plea of non culpabilis; prit being a technical word, anciently in use in the formula of joining issue. 4 Bl. Comm. 339. But a more plausible explanation is that given by Donaldson, (cited Whart. Lex.,) as follows: The clerk asks the prisoner, “Are you guilty, or not guilty?” Prisoner “Not guilty.” Clerk, “Qu’il paroit, [may it prove so.] How will you be tried?” Prisoner, “By God and my country.” These words being hurried over, came to sound, “culprit, how will you be tried?” The ordinary derivation is from culpa.


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