General Principles in Criminal Law

General Principles

Crime is the commission or omission by a person having capacity, of any act, which is either prohibited or compelled by law and the commission or omission of which is punishable by a proceeding brought in the name of the government whose law has been violated. (Wharton’s Criminal Law, Vol. 1, p.11)

If the crime is punished by the Revised Penal Code (RPC), it is called a felony; if by a special law, it is called an offense; and if by an ordinance, it is called an infraction of an ordinance.


Felonies (RPC) Offense (Special Law)
1. Criminal liability is based on mens rea or in dolo (deceit) or culpa (fault). 1. It is enough that the prohibited act was voluntary perpetrated.
2. Good faith or lack of criminal intent is a valid defense. 2. Good faith or lack of criminal intent is not a defense.
3. Degree of accomplishment are considered, i.e., frustrated, etc. 3. Acts give rise to crime only when consummated.
4. Mitigating and aggravating circumstances are taken into account in imposing the penalty. 4. Mitigating and aggravating circumstances are not considered.
5. Degree of participation is considered, i.e., accomplice, etc. 5. All who perpetrated prohibited act are penalized to the same extent.

Characteristics of Criminal Law:

1. Generality

The statutes must apply to all persons within the country, whether they reside or sojourn or are merely transients, regardless of nationality, color, sex, age, social position, and other personal circumstances, except as provided (a) in public international law, (b) treaty stipulations, and (c) laws of preferential application.

2. Territoriality

It applies only to offenses committed within the territorial jurisdiction of the country, except those against who:

a. Should commit an offense while on a Philippine ship or airship.

b. Should forge or counterfeit any coin or currency of the Philippines or obligation and securities issued by the government of the Philippines.

c. Should be liable for acts connected with the introduction into the country of the obligations and securities aforestated.

d. While being public officers or employees, should commit an offense in the exercise of their functions.e. Should commit any of the crimes against the national security and the law of nations, e.g., Treason, Espionage, Piracy. (Art. 2)


Abe, married to Liza, contracted another marriage with Connie in Singapore.  Thereafter, Abe and Connie returned to the Philippines and lived as husband and wife in the hometown of Abe in Calamba, Laguna.  Can Abe be prosecuted for bigamy?  No, Abe may not be prosecuted for bigamy since the bigamous marriage was contracted or solemnized in Singapore, thus, the offense was committed outside the territorial jurisdiction of our country.  Such violation is not one of those where the RPC, under Article 2 thereof, may be applied extraterritorially.  However, Abe and Connie may be prosecuted for concubinage under Article 334 of the RPC for having cohabited as husband and wife. (Q12, 1994 Bar)

Jurisdiction over crimes committed on board foreign vessels while in Philippine waters:

a. If the foreign vessel is a warship, our courts have no jurisdiction as such is an extension of the country to which it belongs and is not subject to the laws of another state. (US v. Fowler, 1 Phil. 614)

b. If the foreign vessel is a merchant vessel, there are two rules as to jurisdiction, namely: (1) French rule is that crimes committed on board are not triable in our country unless those affect the peace and security of our country, and (2) English rule is that crimes are triable unless such crimes affect merely the internal management of the vessel.  The English rule is followed in our jurisdiction.

3. Irretrospectivity or Prospectivity

The law does not have any retroactive effect, except if it favors the offender unless if he is a habitual delinquent (Art. 22) or the law otherwise provides.  A judicial decision, although by its nature is prospective in operation may be given retroactive effect in favor of the offender, since it forms part of the legal system. (Gumabon v. Dir. of Prisons, 37 SCRA 420)

If a penal law is expressly repealed by another law, the crime is obliterated, and if there is a pending criminal action at the time of repeal, the same is to be dismissed.  (Ang Beng v. Comm. of Immigration, 9621, Jan. 30, 1957)  If there is merely an implied repeal, the pending criminal action at the time of the effectivity of the second law impliedly repealing the first law is not dismissed because the act punished in the first law is still punished in the second law which impliedly repeal the former.  Hence, implied repeals are also called repeals by re-enactment. (People v. Purisima, 75 OG 4175)  When the law which expressly repeals a prior law is itself repealed, the law first repealed shall not be thereby revived unless expressly so provided.  But when a law which repeals by implication a prior law is itself repealed, the repeal of the repealing law revives the prior law unless the repealing law provides otherwise.

Theories of Criminal Law: (Q1, 1996 Bar)

Classical Theory Positivist Theory
1. Man is essentially a moral creature with an absolutely free will to choose between good and evil. 1. Man is subdued occasionally by a strange and morbid phenomenon which conditions him to do wrong contrary to his volition.
2. Basic criminal liability is human free will  and the purpose of the penalty is retribution. 2. Crime is essentially a social and moral phenomenon and penalty is imposed for self-defense.
3. Crime is a juridical entity and the penalty is an evil and a means of juridical tutelage. 3. Basis of criminal responsibility is his dreadfulness or dangerous state.

 The Revised Penal Code belongs mainly to the Classical Theory.

In Magno v. CA, 96132, June 26, 1992,  the Supreme Court, in acquitting the accused from criminal liability under BP 22 for checks which bounced, has invoked the Utilitarian theory of Criminal Law (Protective theory) to the effect that “the primary purpose of punishment under criminal law is the protection of society from actual and potential wrongdoers.”  Consistent with this theory, the mala prohibita principle punishing an offense regardless of malice or criminal intent, should not be utilized to apply the full harshness of the special law where the noble objective of the law would be tainted with materialism and opportunism.

There are no common law crimes in our jurisdiction.  The rule is:  There is no crime if there is no law punishing it.  If there is no law punishing an act or omission of which a person is charged, the Court must dismiss the case. (Art. 5)  In fact, customs are not sources of criminal law.

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