Exculpate vs exonerate

Photo of author


Exculpate and exonerate are two words that are close in meaning, but with a difference. We will examine the difference between the definitions of exculpate and exonerate, where these two words came from and some examples of their use in sentences.

Exculpate refers to evidence that will cast doubt on a person’s guilt. To exculpate may mean to clear someone of guilt. Often, the term exculpatory evidence is used in law. This is evidence that the defense lawyer may argue casts reasonable doubt that his client committed the crime, or shows that he is not guilty of the charge. Related words are exculpates, exculpated, exculpating, exculpatory, exculpation, exculpable. The word exculpate is derived from the Latin term ex culpa, meaning out of blame.

Exonerate refers to evidence that clears a person of all guilt or responsibility. To exonerate means to show the innocence of someone, or to show that he is not at fault for something. The term exonerate is used in law when evidence overwhelmingly shows that the client carries no blame or responsibility. Related words are exonerates, exonerated, exonerating, exoneration, exonerative, exonerator. The word exonerate is derived from the Latin word exonerare meaning to unload a burden.


But Cogan said Friday “evidence that defendant was less involved in drug trafficking than someone else or was rivals with a drug trafficker does nothing to exculpate him.” (The New York Daily News)

Since policemen of the state who probe into the custodial deaths are more likely to exculpate their erring colleagues for obvious reasons, all custodial deaths should be enquired into by the State Police Complaint Authority, headed by a retired judge of the Supreme Court or a high court or by the CBI. (The Deccan Herald)
We were also fortunate that DNA testing played a role in helping to exonerate all three of us. (The Allentown Morning Call)
On May 24, when Donald Trump pardoned Jack Johnson, boxing’s first black heavyweight champion, for a century-old criminal conviction motivated by racial malice, it was hard to tell what gave him more satisfaction: that he could exonerate a once world-famous athlete, or that he could exonerate himself from charges of racism. (The New York Review of Books)