ex·​cul·​pa·​to·​ry ek-ˈskəl-pə-ˌtȯr-ē How to pronounce exculpatory (audio)
: tending or serving to exculpate

Did you know?

No one will blame you for having questions about the origins of exculpatory. The adjective comes from a combination of the prefix ex-, meaning "out of" or "away from," and the Latin noun culpa, which means "blame" or "guilt." Something exculpatory, then, frees one from accusations. Culpa has given English a number of other words, including the verb exculpate ("to clear from alleged fault or guilt"). The related but lesser-known terms inculpate ("to incriminate") and inculpatory ("incriminating") are antonyms of exculpate and exculpatory. Culpable is a synonym of blameworthy, and mea culpa refers to a formal acknowledgment of personal fault or error.

Example Sentences

Recent Examples on the Web Jones' lawyers argued that prosecutors withheld potentially exculpatory evidence from Jones’ original defense team before his murder trial in 1996. Amber Hunt, The Enquirer, 20 Dec. 2022 After Reilly was convicted, and spent time in prison, the prosecutor discovered exculpatory evidence in his case file and all charges were dismissed. Saul Kassin, Time, 16 Dec. 2022 Despite recanting his false confession, as well as other exculpatory evidence, Hincapie was convicted of felony murder and sentenced to 25 years-to-life in prison. Susan Haigh, USA TODAY, 4 Dec. 2022 Prosecutors said in a letter that the office was responsible for substantial failures in the case, but that government lawyers hadn’t intentionally withheld exculpatory evidence. James Fanelli, WSJ, 28 Nov. 2022 The accusation that the attorney was ignoring exculpatory evidence must have stung Galvin. Smithsonian Magazine, 30 Nov. 2022 Under the law, prosecutors can’t withhold potentially exculpatory evidence from defendants. The Editorial Board, WSJ, 27 July 2022 The brief, filed Feb. 14 by Woods attorney John Wesley Hall, claimed that government attorneys had withheld potentially exculpatory evidence prior to trial. Dale Ellis, Arkansas Online, 26 Feb. 2022 Plea offers can also be made, and accepted, before discovery, when prosecutors share evidence – including potentially exculpatory evidence – with the defense. Henry Gass, The Christian Science Monitor, 12 Jan. 2022 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'exculpatory.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Word History

First Known Use

1781, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of exculpatory was in 1781


Dictionary Entries Near exculpatory

Cite this Entry

“Exculpatory.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/exculpatory. Accessed 28 Jan. 2023.

Legal Definition


ex·​cul·​pa·​to·​ry ek-ˈskəl-pə-ˌtōr-ē How to pronounce exculpatory (audio)
: tending or serving to exculpate
an exculpatory clause in a contract
compare inculpatory

More from Merriam-Webster on exculpatory

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