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A punitive measure that the law imposes for the performance of an act that is proscribed, or for the failure to perform a required act.

Penalty is a comprehensive term with many different meanings. It entails the concept of punishment—either corporal or pecuniary, civil or criminal—although its meaning is usually confined to pecuniary punishment. The law can impose a penalty, and a private contract can provide for its assessment. Pecuniary penalties are frequently negotiated in construction contracts, in the event that the project is not completed by the specified date.


n. 1) in criminal law, a money fine or forfeiture of property ordered by the judge after conviction for a crime. 2) an amount agreed in advance if payment or performance is not made on time, such as a "late payment" on a promissory note or lease, or a financial penalty for each day a building contractor fails to complete a job.


noun amercement, castigation, compulsory payment, cost, deprivation, disadvantage, disciplinary accion, fine, forefeiture, forfeit, handicap, infliction, liability, loss, onus, penal retribution, penance, poena, preecribed punishment, punishment, punishment fixed by law, punishment prescribed by law, reprisal, retributive justice, sconce, sentence
Associated concepts: action for penalty, civil penalty, confissatory penalty, criminal penalty, excessive penalty, penalty clause, penalty for forfeiture, subject to penalty
Foreign phrases: Quod a quoque poenae nomine exactum est id eidem restituere nemo cogitur.No one is commelled to restore that which has been exacted as a penalty.
See also: amercement, condemnation, conviction, correction, damages, disadvantage, discipline, expense, finding of guilt, fine, forfeiture, imposition, indemnification, infliction, punishment, reparation, reprisal, retribution, sacrifice, sanction, sentence, surcharge, tax, trover

PENALTY, contr. A clause in an agreement, by which the obligor agrees to pay a certain sum of money, if he shall fail to fulfill the contract contained in another clause of the same agreement.
     2. A penal clause in an agreement supposes two obligations, one of which is the primitive or principal; and the other, is, conditional or accessory.
     3. The penal obligation differs from an alternative obligation, for this is but one in its essence; while a penalty always includes two distinct engagements, and, when the first is fulfilled, the second is void. When a breach has taken place, the obligee has his option to require the fulfillment of the first obligation, or' the payment of the penalty, in those cases which cannot be relieved in equity, when the penalty is considered as liquidated damages. Dalloz, Dict. mots Obligation avec clause penale.
     4. It is difficult, in many cases, to distinguish between a penalty and liquidated damages. In general, the courts have inclined to consider the sum reserved by such agreement to be a penalty, rather than as stipulated damages. (q.v.)
     5. The sum will be considered as a penalty, and not as liquidated damages, in the following cases: 1. When the parties to the agreement have expressly declared the sum to be a penalty, and no other intent is to be collected from the instrument. 2 Bos. & P. 346; 1 H. Bl. 227; 1 Pick. 45 1; 4 Pick. 179; 7 Wheat. 14; 3 John. Cases, 297. 2. When from the form of the instrument, as in the case of a money bond, it is sufficiently clear a penalty was intended.
     3. When it is doubtful whether the sum was intended as a penalty or not, and a certain damage or debt is made payable on the face of the instrument. 2 B. & P. 350; 3 C. & P. 240. 4. When the agreement was evidently made for the attainment of another object, to which the sum, specified is wholly collateral, 11 Mass. 76; 15 Mass. 488; 1 Bro. C. C. 418, 419. 5. When the agreement contains several matters, of different degrees of importance, and yet the sum mentioned is payable for the breach of any, even the least. 6 Bing. 141; 5 Bing. N. C. 390; 7 Scott, 364. 6. When the contract is not under seal, and the damages may be ascertained and estimated; and this though the parties have expressly declared the sum to be as liquidated damages. 2B. & Ald. 704; 6 B. & C. 216; 4 Dall. 150; 5 Cowen, 144. See 2 Greenl. Ev. 258. 1 Holt N. P. C. 43 1 Bing. R. 302; S. C. 8 Moore, 244; 4 Burr. 2229.
     6. The penalty remains unaffected, although the condition may have been partially performed; as in a case where the penalty was one thousand dollars, and the condition was to pay an annuity of one hundred dollars, which had been paid for ten years; the penalty was still valid. 5 Verm. 365.
     7. A distinction seems to be made in courts of equity between penalties and forfeitures. In cases of forfeiture for the breach of any covenant other than a covenant to pay rent, relief will not be granted in equity, unless upon the ground of accident, fraud, mistake, or surprise, when the breach is capable of compensation. Edin. on Inj. 22; 16 Ves. 403; S. C. 18 Ves. 58 3 Ves. 692; 4 Bouv. List. n. 3915.
     8. By penalty is understood, also, the punishment inflicted by law for its violation; the term is mostly applied to a pecuniary punishment. See 6 Pet. 404; 10 Wheat. 246; 1 Gall. R. 26; 2 Gall. R. 515; 1 Mason, R. 243; 3 John. Cas. 297: R. 451; 15 Mass. 488; 7 John. 72 4 Mass. 433; 8 Mass. 223; 8 Com. Dig. 846; 16 Vin. Ab. 301; 1 Vern. 83, n.; 1 Saund. 58, n.; 1 Swans. 318; 1 Wash. C. C. R. 1; 2 Wash. C. C. R. 323; Paine, C. C. R. 661; 7 Wheat. 13. See, generally, Bouv. Inst. Index, h.t.

References in classic literature ?
Of course, they could squirm as they perished, as the socialists squirmed, as the speaker on the platform and the perspiring crowd were squirming even now as they counselled together for some new device with which to minimize the penalties of living and outwit the Cosmos.
My liege," said the Inventor-in-Ordinary of Ingenious Penalties, "I venture to suggest a keener affliction.
Julius paid the preliminary penalties of a political first appearance, as exacted by free institutions, with the necessary patience; and returned to the welcome shelter of home, more indifferent, if possible, to the attractions of Parliamentary distinction than when he set out.
It was this melancholy state of things that the Company proposed to correct; firstly, by prohibiting, under heavy penalties, all private muffin trading of every description; secondly, by themselves supplying the public generally, and the poor at their own homes, with muffins of first quality at reduced prices.
But he had technically laid himself open to the malice of his enemies and was condemned to very heavy penalties, of which two were enforced, namely, perpetual incapacitation from holding public office, and banishment from Court.
Human life, as containing this, is mysterious and inviolable, and we hedge it round with penalties and laws.
This study investigates whether readmission penalties under HRRP impose significant reputational effects on hospitals.
Specializing in the fine art of Google penalty removal, Penalty Pros has a 100 percent success rate removing Panda and Penguin-related penalties
It started with a penalty and ended with penalties, spot kicks framing a tense 1-1 battle filled with incident and occasionally splendid play, especially from the French.
TEI believes that consistency, certainty, and fairness in the application of penalties play a bigger role in deterring noncompliance than viscerally increasing the penalty rate.
Tax advisers, as return preparers, could be liable for penalties, because they are viewed as the experts, whether or not they know about a reportable transaction.
I told him how the Catholic district attorney in New Orleans had said that today in the United States the death penalty was all too rare, and because we couldn't get enough death penalties, it was always an "absolute necessity.