Fact pattern

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The term fact pattern indicates a set of facts which entail some legal consequence.[1] This fact pattern in turn may be analogized to other similar cases to form a constellation of cases, whether as binding law or merely persuasive evidence of law. The "fact pattern" is the minor premise of a legal syllogism. The major premise of a legal syllogism is a point of law. For example "Murder is the killing of another human being with malice aforethought and without justification or excuse." is a major premise of a legal syllogism. The elements of the crime are killing (actus reus) and malice aforethought i.e. intentional action (mens rea). The defenses are a legal justification (e.g. self-defense) or excuse (e.g. no mens rea due to insanity). Note in this example no fact pattern has yet been given. One common example of a relevant fact pattern follows:

"The defendant did return home, at night and discovered a burglar in their house, armed, and then killed said burglar."

This is a fact pattern, and the fact pattern is the minor premise of the legal syllogism. The entailed conclusion of the legal syllogism is the judicial decision.

On these facts it is most likely no murder conviction would obtain as the legal conclusion to the syllogism because of the right to self defense and the lack of a duty to retreat in one's own home ("castle doctrine"). That is, this fact pattern would entail as legal conclusion that the killing was justified and thus no conviction for murder. There was an intentional killing in this hypothetical case, but it was not murder due to the justification of self-defense. Equivalent German legal terms are "Tatbestand" possibly also "Fallkonstellation"[2] (=case constellation, i.e. a group of cases with similar fact patterns).


  1. ^ LL.M, Dr Eric Allen Engle (2012-06-19). Translator's Law Dictionary: English – Deutsch – Francais. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. pp. 20, 101, 133. ISBN 9781477689912.
  2. ^ Engle, Eric (2013-10-19). U.S. Constitutional Law for German Speaking Jurists (in English and German). Berlin: Euro-American Law Press. p. 5.