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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 ?
"Unless there is a tremendous injustice that is overwhelmingly clear and convincing, the Legislature avoids retroactivity," he said.
In response to retroactivity concerns this Court articulated in Quill, the South Dakota legislature crafted its economic presence law to take effect prospectively if this Court modifies Quill and finds South Dakota's law constitutional.
(8) After the general dawning of this realization, it was only natural that the mandatory retroactivity of judicial decisionmaking would come into doubt.
Wainwright (86) was decided before the arrival of the modern retroactivity framework.
(50) The Supreme Court made this determination based on a finding that the rule in Johnson is substantive (51) in nature, thus falling outside of the general bar to retroactivity. (52)
"I have never seen the concept of partial retroactivity. It's unusual to say the least....
Perhaps one of the most significant questions in the wake of Obergefell is the impact of the apparent retroactivity of the Court's decision.
Guidance on retroactivity for benefits claims is likely to flow from court rulings rather than the IRS.
"You said about Ireland 'I think there must be some degree of retroactivity in the mechanism otherwise it will lose most of its sense'.
International Legal Jurisdiction and Retroactivity It is evident that the recent activity of the PLO was merely political, filled with international legal question marks that remain unanswered.