Correct the unjust to benefit the wrongdoers

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“Qualified theft is committed when a domestic servant or a person who abuses the confidence entrusted to him/her commits theft.

The Revised Penal Code (RPC) has recently undergone a much-needed facelift since its passage almost eight decades ago, thanks to Republic Act 10951 (RA 10951). This law addresses the problem of unjust and disproportionate penalties by adjusting the fines imposed and the values of properties and damages on which penalties are based, in order to reflect current monetary and property values and account for inflation since the 1930s.

The implications of the amendments introduced in RA 10951 are better understood by discussing the same in relation to a particular crime. Here, RA 10951 will be discussed in relation to one of the most common crimes against property – qualified theft.

Qualified theft is committed when a domestic servant or a person who abuses the confidence entrusted to him/her commits theft. The crime is also committed when property stolen is a motor vehicle, mail matter, large cattle, or consists of coconuts from the plantation, or fish from a fishpond or fishery, or when the taking of property is done on the occasion of a calamity, vehicular accident or civil disturbance.

The penalty for qualified theft is two degrees higher than that specified for simple theft and this remains unchanged despite the passage of RA 10951. However, given the amendments to the value of property stolen, upon which the penalty for simple theft is based, the degree of penalty or duration of imprisonment imposed for qualified theft necessarily changed, as well.

To better illustrate this, let us say that John Doe was found guilty of qualified theft for stealing money amounting to P300,000.

Prior to RA 10951, the threshold amount corresponding to the basic penalty of prision mayor in its minimum and medium periods is P22,000. If the property stolen exceeds the said amount, the basic penalty shall be imposed in its maximum period. An additional year of imprisonment shall further be imposed for every additional P10,000 in excess of P22,000. The total imposable penalty, however, shall not exceed 20 years of reclusion temporal. Following these rules, John Doe will be punished with reclusion perpetua, the penalty two degrees higher than reclusion temporal. Consequently, if the evidence of guilt is strong, John Doe, shall not be entitled to bail.

“Punishing qualified theft of P300,000 with reclusion perpetua or 20 years and one day to 40 years of imprisonment, is a little too severe and unnecessary.

Of course, the value of money or property in the 1930s is a far cry from the value of money or property today. Punishing qualified theft of P300,000 with reclusion perpetua or 20 years and one day to 40 years of imprisonment, is a little too severe and unnecessary for such amount in this day and age.

Under the present law, if the value of the property stolen is more than P20,000 but not exceeding P600,000 the penalty shall only be prision correccional in its minimum and medium periods. John Doe would thus be meted the penalty of reclusion temporal, which is two degrees higher than prision correccional in its minimum and medium periods. As such, he shall be entitled to bail as a matter of right.

Given the obvious and undeniable leniency accorded by RA 10951 in favor of the accused, it may be given retroactive application. This means that accused persons who are preventively detained pending trial or appeal can apply for bail or be released on recognizance if they already served the minimum sentence as adjusted. Those charged with non-bailable cases or cannot put up bail under the previous schedule of penalties, on the other hand, can apply for bail reflecting the adjusted values. Even convicts serving their sentences can file an action to have their cases reopened, despite the finality thereof, in order to have their penalty modified.

Do you happen to know anyone charged or convicted with qualified theft, or any other crime under the RPC? Why not be a bearer of some good news and inform him/her of RA 10951?

For comments and questions, please send email to nilo.divina@divinalaw.com

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