Complexing Quasi-Crimes (Article 365)

Is criminal negligence or imprudence punished under Article 365 subject to the rule on complex crimes under Article 48?

The answer is in the negative; quasi-crimes under Article 365 cannot be "complexed" under Article 48. The Ivler v. Modesto-San Pedro (G.R. No. 172716; November 17, 2010) case has settled this and Justice Carpio wrote it with magisterial dexterity.

Article 48 is a procedural device allowing single prosecution of multiple felonies falling under either of two categories. The first category is when a single act constitutes two or more grave or less grave felonies (thus excluding from its operation light felonies). The second category is when an offense is a necessary means for committing the other. Article 48 as a procedural tool was created by the Legislative Branch to benefit the accused who, in lieu of serving multiple penalties, will only serve the maximum of the penalty for the most serious crime.

On the other hand, Article 365 is a substantive rule penalizing not an act defined as a felony but "the mental attitude behind the act, the dangerous recklessness, lack of care or foresight," a single mental attitude regardless of the resulting consequences. Thus, Article 365 was crafted as one quasi-crime resulting in one or more consequences. Remember, Article 365 is a crime.

In the ordinary course of things, Article 48 and Article 365 do not collide. They operate in different spheres. However, the problem arises when a single act of criminal negligence results in damages to persons and property with varying penalties corresponding to light, less grave or grave offenses. It must be remembered that under Article 38, light felonies cannot be "complexed."

What should the prosecutor do in such a situation when one act punishable under Article 365 results in death, damage to property and slight physical injuries? Should she file an two (2) information: one for reckless imprudence resulting in homicide and damage to property and another for reckless imprudence resulting in slight physical injuries?

To settle this, it must be remember that Article 365 punished the negligent or imprudent act, not the results. The resulting injury or damage is only material in the determination of the proper imposable penalty. (See "Is culpa a crime?" [] for more details.)According to the Supreme Court, jurisprudence adopts two (2) approaches in the resolution of this dilemma. Either:

[1] First, the prosecutor allow the "complexing" of a single quasi-crime by breaking its resulting acts into separate offenses (except for light felonies), thus re-conceptualize a quasi-crime and treat the multiple consequences of a quasi-crime as separate intentional felonies defined under the RPC;

[2] Or, the prosecutor treat Article 48 inapplicable in the prosecution and sentencing of quasi-crimes, requiring a single prosecution of all the resulting acts regardless of their number and severity but, thereafter, separately penalizing each as provided in Article 365, and thus maintain the distinct concept of quasi-crimes as crafted under Article 365.

In making a choice between the two (2) options, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutional proscription against double jeopardy. Justice Carpio, not losing any ounce of poetic bliss, ends his ponencia thus:
Indeed, this is a constitutionally compelled choice. By prohibiting the splitting of charges under Article 365, irrespective of the number and severity of the resulting acts, rampant occasions of constitutionally impermissible second prosecutions are avoided, not to mention that scarce state resources are conserved and diverted to proper use.
Hence, we hold that prosecutions under Article 365 should proceed from a single charge regardless of the number or severity of the consequences. In imposing penalties, the judge will do no more than apply the penalties under Article 365 for each consequence alleged and proven. In short, there shall be no splitting of charges under Article 365, and only one information shall be filed in the same first level court.

Our ruling today secures for the accused facing an Article 365 charge a stronger and simpler protection of their constitutional right under the Double Jeopardy Clause. True, they are thereby denied the beneficent effect of the favorable sentencing formula under Article 48, but any disadvantage thus caused is more than compensated by the certainty of non-prosecution for quasi-crime effects qualifying as "light offenses" (or, as here, for the more serious consequence prosecuted belatedly). If it is so minded, Congress can re-craft Article 365 by extending to quasi-crimes the sentencing formula of Article 48 so that only the most severe penalty shall be imposed under a single prosecution of all resulting acts, whether penalized as grave, less grave or light offenses. This will still keep intact the distinct concept of quasi-offenses. Meanwhile, the lenient schedule of penalties under Article 365, befitting crimes occupying a lower rung of culpability, should cushion the effect of this ruling. THE COURT GRANTED IVLER'S PETITION.