Duhaime's Law Dictionary

De Minimis Non Curat Lex Definition:

Latin: a common law principle whereby judges will not sit in judgment of extremely minor transgressions of the law.

It has been restated as: the law does not concern itself with trifles.

In People v Durham, Justice Robert Steigmann of the Appellate Court of Illinois had before him Daniel Durham who did not like a traffic citation he had received and seeking $5 compensation:

"Litigation like this brings the judicial system into disrepute. Rational citizens (not connected to the law) would deem this appeal an utter waste of time and resources for all concerned. The time and money already spent bringing this appeal amounts to squandered resources. We will not be part of further squandering.

"The maxim de minimis non curat lex retains force in Illinois and is wholly applicable in this case. This maxim applies even to constitutional claims, and its function is to place outside the scope of legal relief the sorts of injuries that are so small that they must be accepted as the price of living in society rather than made a federal case out of."

The maxim was also on center stage in the 2004 Supreme Court of Canada decision in Canadian Foundation for Youth v Attorney General where the late Justice B. Wilson, in dissent, explained:

"The Chief Justice is rightly unwilling to rely exclusively on prosecutorial discretion to weed out cases undeserving of prosecution and punishment. The good judgment of prosecutors in eliminating trivial cases is necessary but not sufficient to the workings of the criminal law. There must be legal protection against convictions for conduct undeserving of punishment. And indeed there is. The judicial system is not plagued by a multitude of insignificant prosecutions for conduct that merely meets the technical requirements of "a crime" (e.g., theft of a penny) because prosecutorial discretion is effective and because the common law defence of de minimis non curat lex (the law does not care for small or trifling matters) is available to judges.

"The application of some force upon another does not always suggest an assault in the criminal sense. Quite the contrary, there are many examples of incidental touching that cannot be considered criminal conduct."

de minimis chart "The common law concept of de minimis non curat lex was expressed in the English decision of The "Reward"(1818):

'The Court is not bound to a strictness at once harsh and pedantic in the application of statutes. The law permits the qualification implied in the ancient maxim De minimis non curat lex. Where there are irregularities of very slight consequence, it does not intend that the infliction of penalties should be inflexibly severe. If the deviation were a mere trifle, which, if continued in practice, would weigh little or nothing on the public interest, it might properly be overlooked.'

"Admittedly, the case law on the application of the defence is limited. It may be that the defence of de minimis has not been used widely by courts because police and prosecutors screen all criminal charges such that only the deserving cases find their way to court. Nonetheless de minimis exists as a common law defence ... and falls within the courts' discretion  .... to apply  and develop as it sees fit....

"The defence of de minimis does not mean that the act is justified; it remains unlawful, but on account of its triviality it goes unpunished.

"Generally, the justifications for a de minimis excuse are that: (1) it reserves the application of the criminal law to serious misconduct; (2) it protects an accused from the stigma of a criminal conviction and from the imposition of severe penalties for relatively trivial conduct; and (3) it saves courts from being swamped by an enormous number of trivial cases. In part, the theory is based on a notion that the evil to be prevented by the offence section has not actually occurred. This is consistent with the dual fundamental principle of criminal justice that there is no culpability for harmless and blameless conduct.

"In Canadian jurisprudence, the defence of de minimis has been raised in drug cases that involve a tiny quantity of the drug, in theft cases where the value of the stolen property is very low, or in assault cases where there is extremely minor or no injury...."

And, from our Law Limericks (Law Fun) pages:

· There was a young law student named Rex,
· Who had very small organs of sex.
· When charged with exposure,
· He said with composure:
· De minimis non curat lex


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