Monday, July 16, 2007

Arson with quadruple homicide and robbery : Is it a complex crime?


During our final examination in Criminal Law II last semester in Harvardian College of Law (Pampanga), the following question was asked:

Harry, an overseas contract worker, arrived from Saudi Arabia with considerable savings. Knowing him to be “loaded,” his friends Jason, Manuel and Dave invited him to a poker session at a rented beach cottage. When he was losing almost his money which to him was his savings of a lifetime, he discovered that he was being cheated by his friends. Angered by the betrayal, he decided to take revenge on the 3 cheats. Harry ordered several bottles of Tanduay Rhum and gave it to his companions to drink, as they did, until they all fell asleep. When Harry saw his companions already sound asleep, he hacked all of them to death. Then he remembered the losses. He riffled through the pockets of his victims and got back all the money he lost. He then ran away but not before burning the cottage to hide his misdeeds. The following day, the police investigators found among the debris the charred bodies of Jason, Manual, Dave and the caretaker of the resort.

After preliminary investigations, the provincial prosecutor charged Harry with the complex crime of arson with quadruple homicide and robbery. Was Harry properly charged?
This student offered the following answer:

Harry was not properly charged. The complex crime of arson with quadruple homicide and robbery is not defined in Book II (Crimes & Penalties) of the RPC. Harry cannot be charged with a complex crime of robbery with homicide and arson, or any other complex crime for that matter, as his primordial intent was to kill and not to rob. Robbery was conceived only after the killing when he remembered his losses.

Harry should have been separately charged with: 1) a complex crime of multiple murder as a continued crime for the death of Jason, Manuel and Dave qualified by treachery; 2) theft for getting back the money he lost from the 3 victims; and 3) destructive arson for the malicious burning of the cottage for the purpose of concealing or destroying the evidence of the crime resulting to the death of the caretaker. To explain further :

a) Complex crime of multiple murder

A complex crime of multiple murder was committed because Harry perpetrated a series of acts in pursuance of a single criminal impulse or a continued crime. A continued crime is one where the offender performs a series of acts violating same penal provision at the same time and place for the same purpose. This crime is regarded as complex not within the context and contemplation of Art. 48. The SC has extended this class of complex crime to those cases when the offender performed not a single act but a series of acts unless it is a product of a single criminal impulse. Hence, where an accused ran amok and killed several persons, only one crime is committed because the killings were the result of a single impulse.

In the Harry case, the killings were qualified by treachery pursuant to Art. 248 of the RPC, for, in the commission thereof, Harry employed means (intoxicating the victims) which tended directly and especially to ensure the execution without risk to himself arising from the defense which the victims might make.

b) Theft

Since the victims were already dead when Harry took the money from them, it would be legally impossible to charge him with robbery because one cannot employ force and intimation upon a lifeless body. The proper felony therefore is theft pursuant to Art. 308 of the RPC. All the elements of theft were present when he committed the crime, namely : 1) taking of personal property, 2) belonging to another, 3) taking done with intent to gain, 4) without the consent of the owner, 5) taking be accomplished without use of violence against or intimidation of persons or force upon things.

In People vs Domingo where the victims were killed, not for the purpose of committing robbery, and the idea of taking the money of the victims was just an afterthought, it was held the accused committed two separate crimes of homicide or murder and theft.

c) Arson

A crime of destructive arson was committed for maliciously burning a private structure (cottage) for the purpose of concealing or destroying the evidence of his crime (Art. 320 of RPC). Harry is not liable for the resultant death of the caretaker because the crime of homicide is absorbed by arson as there is no complex crime of arson with murder.

There are two laws that govern the crime of arson where death results (Art. 320 of the RPC and PD 1613). The Supreme Court held that Art. 320 with respect to destructive arson and the provisions of PD 1613 respecting other cases of arson provide only one penalty for the commission of arson, whether considered destructive or otherwise, where death results therefrom.

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