Mea Culpa

The term mea culpa is a Latin phrase that translates to mean “through my fault.” In other words, the mea culpa meaning is an individual’s acknowledgment that he did something wrong. An example of mea culpa in the legal world is a person’s confession to having committed a crime. To explore this concept, consider the following mea culpa definition.

Definition of Mea Culpa


  1. A Latin phrase a person uses to admit he is guilty of wrongdoing.



What is Mea Culpa?

The term mea culpa is an acknowledgement of wrongdoing. An example of mea culpa in the legal world would be if an individual admitted to having robbed a store. He is confessing to the crime, saying “yes, I did this.” The reason why a person might use mea culpa is because he is sorry and wishes to repent for his crime. Some additional examples of mea culpa would include confessing to a murder, admitting to littering, and confessing to selling drugs to an undercover cop.

Mea Culpa Example Involving a Supreme Court Mistake

An example of mea culpa affecting a criminal matter occurred in the case of convicted murderer Mark James Asay. In fact, this makes for one of the rarer mea culpa examples because this mea culpa came from the Court itself!

Here, Asay received a death sentence in November of 1988 after a Florida trial court found him guilty of murder. The facts of the case were that Asay, a white supremacist, shot and killed Robert Lee Booker, a black man, and Robert McDowell, a transvestite.

His reason for shooting Booker was to “show a n—er who’s boss,” and his reason for shooting McDowell, whom he didn’t know was a transvestite, was because McDowell had allegedly bilked him out of ten dollars. Several witnesses testified that Asay was proud of what he had done.

Trial and Appeal

The jury at Asay’s trial found him guilty of both murders and sentenced him to the death penalty. The court agreed and sentenced Asay to a death sentence for each of the two murders. Asay appealed his conviction and raised several issues for the appellate court to decide.

The Court denied the first four claims outright and decided that the remaining three claims lacked merit and denied them too. The Court denied Asay’s motion for a new hearing, and the U.S. Supreme Court denied Asay certiorari.

Mea Culpa

As one of the strangest examples of mea culpa, the Florida Supreme Court made the news for this case when it acknowledged that, for two decades it had misunderstood the race of one of the victims, which influenced their decision to deny Asay’s appeal.

In 2017, the Court admitted that, for nearly twenty years, it had believed McDowell to have been a black man. However, during the trial several witnesses had testified that McDowell was either white or mixed-race Hispanic, not black. The Court admitted its mistake and apologized for its “previous error.”

Of course, Asay’s lawyers jumped on the Court’s apology as a chance to request a new hearing, but the Court rejected this request. The Court noted that, just because it had made this error previously, this admission did not ultimately affect the Court’s final determination in the case. Thus, in August 2017, Asay became the first white man in the state of Florida to receive death by lethal injection for killing a black man.

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Appellate Court – A court having jurisdiction to review decisions of a trial-level or other lower court.
  • Trial – A formal presentation of evidence before a judge and jury for the purpose of determining guilt or innocence in a criminal case, or to rule in a civil matter.
  • Writ of Certiorari – An order issued by a higher court demanding a lower court forward all records of a specific case for review.