Lawyers may be disbarred for conviction of crime involving moral turpitude

Under Section 27, Rule 138 of the Rules of Court, one of the grounds for the suspension or disbarment of a lawyer is his conviction of a crime involving moral turpitude

To consider a crime as one involving moral turpitude, the act constituting the same must have been "done contrary to justice, honesty, modesty, or good morals. [It must involve] an act of baseness, vileness, or depravity in the private duties which a man owes his fellowmen, or to society in general, contrary to the accepted and customary rule of right and duty between man and woman, or conduct contrary to justice, honesty, modesty, or good morals."[1]

In Catalan, Jr. v. Silvosa,[2] the Supreme Court held that one of the grounds for the suspension or disbarment of a lawyer is his conviction of a crime involving moral turpitude, viz:

Moral turpitude is defined as an act of baseness, vileness, or depravity in the private duties which a man owes to his fellowmen, or to society in general, contrary to justice, honesty, modesty, or good morals. Section 27, Rule 138 provides:
'Section 27. Disbarment or suspension of attorneys by Supreme Court; grounds therefor. — A member of the bar may be disbarred or suspended from his office as attorney by the Supreme Court for any deceit, malpractice, or other gross misconduct in such office, grossly immoral conduct, or by reason of his conviction of a crime involving moral turpitude, or for any violation of the oath which he is required to take before admission to practice, or for a willful disobedience of any lawful order of a superior court, or for corruptly or willfully appearing as an attorney for a party to a case without authority [to do so]. The practice of soliciting cases at law for the purpose of gain, either personally or through paid agents or brokers, constitutes malpractice.'

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The Court is mindful that a lawyer's conviction of a crime involving moral turpitude does not automatically call for the imposition of the supreme penalty of disbarment since it may, in its discretion, choose to impose the less severe penalty of suspension. As held, "the determination of whether an attorney should be disbarred or merely suspended for a period involves the exercise of sound judicial discretion."[3]

[1] Re: SC Decision Dated May 20, 2008 in G.R. No. 161455 Under Rule 139-B of the Rules of Court v. Atty. Rodolfo D. Pactolin, A.C. No. 7940, April 24,2012,670 SCRA 366, 371.

[2]  A.C. No. 7360, July 24,2012.

[3] Figueras v. Atty. Jimenez, A.C, No. 9116, March 12, 2014.

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