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Legalese 101: What Does Per Se Mean?

By Jason Beahm on February 11, 2011 5:56 AM

We here at FindLaw know that legal jargon can be confusing. We hear people misusing legal words and phrases all the time. So we've decided to help you better understand all the legal phrases tossed around on Law & Order. Here is a new educational series we like to call FindLaw's Legalese 101.

Per se is a latin phrase that means "through itself." It also means "by itself or "in itself." Per se if generally used in a legal sense to mean that without referring to anything else, something must be accepted because it is self evident or inherent.

Here are a couple of examples of situations where per se often comes up:

Negligence Law: Negligence per se is an act that is considered inherently negligent because it violates a statute or regulation. In such a case, instead of being required to prove regular negligence, the plaintiff only has to prove that the defendant violated the statute, the statute involves safety, the act caused the type of harm the statute was designed to prevent, and that the plaintiff was part of the statute's protected class.

Drunk Driving Law: Per se DUI laws also exist in some states making it illegal to drive a vehicle above a specified BAC, typically .08% measured by a blood, breath or urine test. An accusation of violating the per se law is based solely on the defendant's body chemistry. The prosecution must only prove that the driver was over the legal limit at the time of driving.

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