The recent tragic death of an elementary school student has given rise to charges of reckless imprudence resulting in homicide and damage to property. The fatal road accidents reported on an almost daily basis provide more morbid examples.
Imprudence penalized under the Revised Penal Code
But what exactly does reckless imprudence mean? Article 365 of the Revised Penal Code defines reckless imprudence as that which “consists in voluntary, but without malice, doing or falling to do an act from which material damage results by reason of inexcusable lack of precaution on the part of the person performing or failing to perform such act, taking into consideration his employment or occupation, degree of intelligence, physical condition and other circumstances regarding persons, time and place.”
Article 365 also defines simple imprudence as that which “consists in the lack of precaution displayed in those cases in which the damage impending to be caused is not immediate nor the danger clearly manifest.”
The entire Article does not make for easy reading as it refers to any act, which if it been intentional, would fall or qualify as a certain criminal charge. It is like saying if you commit any crime by mistake or negligence, then it could be an act of reckless imprudence. The penalties imposable depend on the degree of negligence involved.
“ARTICLE 365. Imprudence and negligence. — Any person who, by reckless imprudence, shall commit any act which, had it been intentional, would constitute a grave felony, shall suffer the penalty of arresto mayor in its maximum period to prision correccional in its medium period; if it would have constituted a less grave felony, the penalty of arresto mayor in its minimum and medium periods shall be imposed; if it would have constituted a light felony, the penalty of arresto menor in its maximum period shall be imposed.
Any person who, by simple imprudence or negligence, shall commit an act which would otherwise constitute a grave felony, shall suffer the penalty of arresto mayor in its medium and maximum periods; if it would have constituted a less serious felony, the penalty of arresto mayor in its minimum period shall be imposed.
When the execution of the act covered by this article shall have only resulted in damage to the property of another, the offender shall be punished by a fine ranging from an amount equal to the value of said damages to three times such value, but which shall in no case be less than 25 pesos.
A fine not exceeding 200 pesos and censure shall be imposed upon any person who, by simple imprudence or negligence, shall cause some wrong which, if done maliciously, would have constituted a light felony.
In the imposition of these penalties, the court shall exercise their sound discretion, without regard to the rules prescribed in article 64.
The provisions contained in this article shall not be applicable:
1. When the penalty provided for the offense is equal to or lower than those provided in the first two paragraphs of this article, in which case the court shall impose the penalty next lower in degree than that which should be imposed in the period which they may deem proper to apply.
2. When, by imprudence or negligence and with violation of the Automobile Law (Act No. 3992), the death of a person shall be caused, in which case the defendant shall be punished by prision correccional in its medium and maximum periods.
The penalty next higher in degree to those provided for in this article shall be imposed upon the offender who fails to lend on the spot to the injured parties such help as may be in his hands to give. (As amended by Republic Acts Nos. 384 and, 1790, approved June 21, 1957.)”
Imprudence in decided cases
Still awake? We will try and simplify matters. If someone is killed or injured or property damaged, unintentionally, then there could be a charge for reckless or simple imprudence. One example cited by an authority is an instance where a policeman fires a warning shot into the air. Somehow he hits and kills someone. The charge is not homicide but reckless imprudence resulting in homicide. One has to make a distinction: that imprudence is not the crime, but just the means of committing it.
There is also a distinction between imprudence and negligence per se. Imprudence is “failure in precaution” while “failure in advertence” or lack of due diligence is negligence. But even the decided cases use the terms negligence and imprudence interchangeably. And Article 3 of the Revised Penal Code provides that “wrongful act” can result from “imprudence, negligence, lack of foresight or lack of skill.”
To further illustrate, a man was found guilty of reckless imprudence resulting in homicide when he threw a stone at a distance of ten meters and hit the victim at the back of the head. The victim subsequently died from the head injury. The victim had attacked the accused’s companion who was much smaller than the victim. Even if his intent was just to drive away the victim, he was still found guilty. The court found that the “act was committed with inexcusable lack of precaution. He failed to consider that a stone the size of a man's fist could inflict substantial injury on someone. He also miscalculated his own strength, perhaps unaware, or even completely disbelieving, that he could throw a stone with such force as to seriously injure, or worse, kill someone, at a quite lengthy distance of ten meters.” He was also found civilly liable for damages.” CALIMUTAN vs. PEOPLE, [G.R. No. 152133. February 9, 2006.]
In practice, this charge is usually made in relation to car accidents resulting in death, physical injury or damage to property. Do you ever feel the need for speed? Or do you sometimes vent your anger through aggressive driving? Do you take chances while driving? Think you can drive while drunk or drowsy? Always be mindful of the possible dreadful consequences.
In one case, a driver was sentenced to four months in prison for hitting a passenger of another vehicle that had stopped at a road shoulder. This resulted in the amputation of the passenger’s leg. A separate civil case was filed resulting in the award of damages as well. ESTACION vs. BERNARDO, et al. [G.R. No. 144723. February 27, 2006.]
The price of any lack of precaution exposes you to legal charges, having to pay damages or post bail or possibly imprisonment or all of the above. A separate civil case can be filed apart from criminal charges. So it is possible that you have to face litigation on two fronts. The worst would be having to face your own conscience, in case you took the life of another or disabled someone permanently.
Please note, however, that if there is only damage to property, the most you can get is a fine and damage, but no prison time. But when life and limb are affected, you do face imprisonment as well. Loss of liberty is something that cannot be easily measured as you can be taken away from your present life and family.
Drive (and act) carefully and safely. The lives you save may include your own.
 (NB: ARTICLE 9. Grave felonies, less grave felonies and light felonies. — Grave felonies are those to which the law attaches the capital punishment or penalties which in any of their periods are afflictive, in accordance with article 25 of this Code.xxx
ARTICLE 25. Penalties which may be imposed. — The penalties which may be imposed according to this Code, and their different classes, are those included in the following:
Perpetual or temporary absolute disqualification,
Perpetual or temporary special disqualification,
 An example is allowing a someone without a license to drive a vehicle.
 Reyes, The Revised Penal Code, Book II (1981), pp. 978-979.
 Ibid, p. 980.