Thursday, April 05, 2012

People vs. Chua [G.R. No. 149538. July 26, 2004]

Facts: Prior to this case the accused was confined in a drug rehabilitation center for drug dependents. He escaped from said facility. The trial court, thereafter, issued an Order recommitting him to the center but he again escaped. 

The accused appellant was charged with the murder of a 13 year old boy. The accused was 17 at the time of commission. 

The appellant, assisted by counsel, was duly arraigned and entered a plea of not guilty. 

After trial, the court rendered judgment convicting the appellant of the crime charged. The court declared that the appellant was a minor when the crime was committed; hence, was entitled to the privileged mitigating circumstance of minority under Article 68 of the Revised Penal Code. 

On appeal, the Court of Appeals rendered judgment affirming the judgment of the trial court, but applied Article 63 of the Revised Penal Code and increased the penalty to reclusion perpetua. The appellate court considered the minority of the appellant merely as a generic mitigating circumstance, and concluded that such minority could not be considered a generic and a privileged mitigating circumstance at the same time. 

Issue: Whether the appellate court was correct in appreciating the modifying circumstances. 

Held: The Supreme Court modified the decision. The trial court convicted the appellant of murder without stating the qualifying circumstance attendant to the crime. The trial court also appreciated in favor of the appellant the mitigating circumstance of voluntary surrender and considered such minority as a mere mitigating circumstance. 

The crime was qualified by treachery. The victim, who was barely thirteen years old, was helpless and unable to defend himself. His feet and hands were tied while the appellant mauled and kicked him, and hit him with a piece of wood. The appellant was so depraved that he even electrocuted the victim by placing a live wire on the latter’s palms and burying him alive. By his detestable acts, the appellant intended to exacerbate the suffering of the victim. Hence, cruelty was attendant to the commission of the crime. However, cruelty is absorbed by treachery. 

The trial court and appellate court also erred in appreciating the mitigating circumstance of voluntary surrender in favor of the appellant. He was arrested by the policemen not only for his involvement in the killing of the victim but also because of the warrant for his arrest for robbery, and the recommitment order issued by the RTC for escaping from the rehabilitation center. 

The appellate court erred, likewise, in appreciating the minority of the appellant merely as a generic mitigating circumstance. While under Article 13, paragraph 2 of the Revised Penal Code, minority is a mitigating circumstance, this provision must be construed in relation to Article 68 thereof, which provides that minority is a privileged mitigating circumstance warranting the reduction of the imposable penalty by one or two degrees, depending upon the age of the accused. The minority of the accused is not merely a generic mitigating circumstance but is a privileged mitigating circumstance. Furthermore, in determining the penalty to be meted on the accused, the trial court must first consider any modifying circumstance attendant to the crime. 

In this case, the appellant was seventeen years old when he committed the crime. Hence, the imposable penalty must be reduced by one degree, conformably to Article 68 of the Revised Penal Code. The imposable penalty for murder is reclusion perpetua to death under Article 248 of the Revised Penal Code, as amended by Republic Act No. 7659. One degree lower than reclusion perpetua to death is reclusion temporal, conformably to paragraph 2, Article 61, in relation to Article 25 of the Revised Penal Code. 

To determine the minimum of the indeterminate penalty, reclusion temporal should be reduced by one degree, prision mayor, which has a range of from six (6) years and one (1) day to twelve (12) years. There being no modifying circumstances attendant to the crime, the maximum of the indeterminate penalty should be imposed in its medium period. The minimum of the indeterminate penalty should be taken from the full range of prision mayor. 

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