SC disbars lawyer ​convicted of homicide

The Supreme Court, voting ​unanimously, has disbarred ​a lawyer convicted of homicide but released on parole.

In a Per Curiam decision, the Court En Banc on February 3, 2015 consolidated two complaints for disbarment filed by Dr. Melvyn Garcia against Atty. Raul H. Sesbreño​, who ​was found guilty of murder and sentenced to suffer the penalty of reclusion perpetua by the Cebu City Regional Trial Court, Branch 18.

On appeal, however, the High Court downgraded the crime to homicide and sentenced Sesbreño to suffer the penalty of imprisonment for nine years and one day of prision mayor as minimum to 16 years and four months of reclusion temporal as maximum. Sesbreño was released from confinement on July 27, 2001 following his acceptance of the conditions of his parole on July 10, 2001.

Dr. Garcia claimed that homicide is a crime against moral turpitude and Atty. Sesbreño should thus not be allowed to continue practicing law. Sesbreño argued that the executive clemency granted to him restored his full civil and political rights.

The Court adopted the findings and recommendation of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, Commission on Bar Discipline (IBP-CBD), and the IBP Board of Governors.

Citing the case of International Rice Research Institute vs NLRC, the Court said that whether any particular conviction involves moral turpitude may be a question of fact and frequently depends on all the surrounding circumstances.

However, according to the IBP-CBD, in the case of Atty. Sesbreño’s conviction for homicide, the circumstances leading to the death of the victim, Luciano Amparado, involved moral turpitude. The victim was just at the wrong place at the wrong time and did not do anything that justified the indiscriminate firing done by Atty. Sesbreño that eventually led to Amparado’s death.Citing the case of Soriano vs Atty. Dizon, where the respondent was disbarred for having been convicted of frustrated homicide, the IBP-CBD recommended that Sesbreño be disbarred and his name be stricken from the Roll of Attorneys.

The Court said, “Section 27, Rule 138 of the Rules of Court states that a member of the bar may be disbarred or suspended as attorney by this Court by reason of his conviction of a crime involving moral turpitude. This Court has ruled that disbarment is the appropriate penalty for conviction by final judgment for a crime involving moral turpitude. Moral turpitude is an act of baseness, vileness or depravity in the private duties which a man owes to his fellow men or to society in general, contrary to justice, honesty, modesty or good morals.” The Court agreed with the IBP-CBD that the circumstances of the case show the presence of moral turpitude.

The Court also ruled that there was no mention that the executive clemency granted to Sesbreño was absolute and unconditional and ​that it had restored his full civil and political rights. The executive clemency merely “commuted to an indeterminate prison term of 7 years and 6 months to 10 years imprisonment”, the penalty imposed on Sesbreño. Commutation is a mere reduction of penalty and it only partially extinguished criminal liability.

“The practice of law is not a right but a privilege. It is granted only to those possessing good moral character. A violation of the high moral standards of the legal profession justifies the imposition of the appropriate penalty against a lawyer, including the penalty of disbarment.” the Court said.

The Philippine Supreme Court website posted this on February 5, 2015.