Sunday, January 24, 2010

PENAL THEORY OF RELATIVITY: Accessories Exempt From Criminal Liability

By Obiter 07

Jason Ivler, popular fugitive, was caught after a shootout with the authorities. It has been reported that his mother may yet be charged for being an accessory by harboring the murder suspect.  While we may sympathize with the victim’s family, such charges may not prosper.  No surprise that the authorities have now changed their charge to obstruction of justice (by harboring him).  We’ll just have to wait as to what the mother will allege in her defense at trial.

But allow us to discuss a little-known section of the Revised Penal Code which may exonerate a person who is an accessory to a crime. 

First of all, an accessory is one who –
 “having knowledge of the commission of the crime, and without having participated therein, either as principals or accomplices, take part subsequent to its commission in any of the following manners:

1.      By profiting themselves or assisting the offender to profit by the effects of the crime.
2.      By concealing or destroying the body of the crime, or the effects or instruments thereof, in order to prevent its discovery.
3.      By harboring, concealing, or assisting in the escape of the principal of the crime, provided the accessory acts with abuse of his public functions or whenever the author of the crime is guilty of treason, parricide, murder, or an attempt to take the life of the Chief Executive, or is known to be habitually guilty of some other crime.” [Article 19]

Under a succeeding article, there are accessories who may be exempt from criminal liability as follows:

“ARTICLE 20. Accessories who are exempt from criminal liability. — The penalties prescribed for accessories shall not be imposed upon those who are such with respect to their spouses, ascendants, descendants, legitimate, natural, and adopted brothers and sisters, or relatives by affinity within the same degrees, with the single exception of accessories falling within the provisions of paragraph 1 of the next preceding article.”

While a relative cannot profit from a crime, he may be free from liability for trying to hide the same or assisting in an escape.  And this is based on the recognition of the law on “ties of blood and the preservation of the cleanliness of one’s name, which compels one to conceal crimes committed by relatives”.  Even the law acknowledges that blood is thicker than water.  (Reyes, The Revised Penal Code, Book I (1981), p. 553).

Decided Cases

The Supreme Court has ruled on this Article in a fairly recent case involving the gruesome murder of a maid by her superior Ruth, using violence and boiling water.  The accused Ruth, together with her sister, Ruby, were caught by the police with the body of the victim. The body had been stuffed in a box and was in the trunk of Ruby’s car when they were caught by the Pasig police after a brief chase.  Ruby was driving the car.

While Ruth was found guilty of murder, Ruby was, despite her act of driving the car, her resistance in stopping the car and to immediately opening the luggage compartment when requested by police and her act of claiming that the box only contained dirty clothes, with the Court ruling that:

“Accused-appellant Ruby Mariano is the sister of accused-appellant Ruth Mariano. As such, their relationship exempts appellant Ruby Mariano from criminal liability under Art. 20 of The Revised Penal Code —
xxx PEOPLE vs. LARA, et al.. [G.R. No. 134847.  December 6, 2000.]

The Court relied on the same Article in acquitting an accused where the crime involved the concerted acts of “lifting, carrying and dumping the victim xxx who was still alive and breathing inside the deep well filled with water, head first and threw big stone/rocks inside the well to cover the victim is a clear indication of the community of design to finish/kill victim xxx.”  The Court held that although “the prosecution was able to prove that Appellant Garcia assisted in concealing . . . the body of the crime, . . . in order to prevent its discovery," he can neither be convicted as an accessory after the fact defined under Article 19, par. 2, of the Revised Penal Code. The records show that Appellant Garcia is a brother-in-law of Appellant Ortega [one of those convicted], the latter's sister, Maritess, being his wife. Such relationship exempts Appellant Garcia from criminal liability as provided by Article 20 of the Revised Penal Code.”

It does not matter what the crime is, no matter how heinous it can be, an accused’s relative who falls under the enumeration, can be exempt from liability for any cover-up or for any escape. Of course, being related to a criminal should be punishment enough.


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