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Having reference to things that happened in the past, prior to the occurrence of the act in question.

A retroactive or retrospective law is one that takes away or impairs vested rights acquired under existing laws, creates new obligations, imposes new duties, or attaches a new and different legal effect to transactions or considerations already past. Common-law principles do not favor the retroactive effect of laws in the majority of cases, and canons of legislative construction presume that legislation is not intended as retroactive unless its language expressly makes it retroactive.

Retroactive criminal laws that increase punishment for acts committed prior to their enactments are deemed Ex Post Facto Laws and are unenforceable because they violate Article I, Section 9, Clause 3, and Section 10, Clause 1, of the U.S. Constitution and comparable provisions of state constitutions.

West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


adj. referring to a court's decision or a statute enacted by a legislative body, which would result in an application to past transactions and legal actions. In criminal law, statutes which would increase penalties or make criminal activities which had been previously legal are prohibited by the Constitutional ban on ex post facto laws (Article I, Section 9). Most court decisions which change the elements necessary to prove a crime or the introduction of evidence such as confessions are usually made non-retroactive to prevent a flood of petitions of people convicted under prior rules. Nor can statutes or court decisions take away "vested" property rights or change contract rights. However, some decisions are so fundamental to justice they may have a retroactive effect, depending on the balance on stability of the law balanced against the public good. Retroactive is also called "retrospective." (See: ex post facto)

Copyright © 1981-2005 by Gerald N. Hill and Kathleen T. Hill. All Right reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
(8) Premium = f(Share, Size, Qtr2, Qtr3, Qtr4, Community, Experience, Mandate, Percapita, Retroact, Concurrent, Review, Filing, Contract, Wagehos, Wagephy, HMO, PPO).
Their topics include traffic as "dirt experience:" Harold Innis' tracing of media, whether traffic retroacts on the media infrastructure, Dewey's cosmic traffic: politics and pedagogy as communication, data traffic in theater and engineering: between technical conditions and illusions, nomads of the technical sublime, and mobile aesthetics in contemporary theater and travel.
It is "called 'imitation' by social psychologists, 'contagion' by crowd psychologists, 'hypnotic suggestion' by pre-Freudian psychologists...." Individuals oscillate, so to speak, along the spectrum of immersive subjectivity to detached objectivity in a movement that "is not linear [which] involves a complex patho-logical movement where the object of study (pathos) retroacts on the subject who investigates it through the tools of reason (logos)." An individual--as the author studies in treating Nietzsche and the other modernist authors--evinces instability almost to the point of disintegration, yet retains the cogency to engage in and experience all the ranges of the oscillation.