Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Exculpate Definition:

That which excuses from fault; justifies a wrong action.

Related Terms: Letters of Exculpation

To free or clear from blame as in a justification.

For example, to exculpate oneself from a finding of negligence.

In R v Norton, Justice O'Leary said:

"An absolute liability offence is one where it is not open to the accused to exculpate himself by showing that he was free of fault."

In a May 9, 1995 unreported decision of the British Columbia Supreme Court, Swinburne v. Dike, Justice Harvey wrote:

"In the fine print on the back of the contract there is a provision that deals specifically with storms and sets out the responsibility of the owner, and several provisions which provide that certain things are at the owners' risk and one provision which the defendants say exculpates the Marina from any liability or negligence."

Proof that an act, which might of otherwise been a crime, was not possible, would exculpate an accused.

The withholding of critical evidence from an accused might operate to exculpate a person from a conviction.

Thus, in Rodriguez v Canada:

"When asked about the circumstances surrounding certain criminal acts, the appellant offered versions that tended to exculpate him: he was in the wrong place at the wrong time; he intervened and struck his common-law spouse to prevent her from striking a child; or he was arrested by the police when he was simply trying to collect a debt."

The Supreme Court of Ireland, in Dunn v DPP wrote:

"Even when a video film does not allow positive identification of an individual it may allow an expert to gauge the height and build of a person shown, so as to put one sort of suspect within the net of suspicion, and thereby exculpate another sort."


  • Dunne v. D.P.P. [2002] IESC 27
  • Gonzalez Rodriguez v. Canada, unreported decision of the Immigration  and Refugee Board of Canada 1995, file MA3-07051
  • R v Norton, 56 Alta. L.R. (2d) 361 (ABQB, 1987)
  • Swinburne v Dike, BCSC Vancouver, action #C917404

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