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Circumstances affecting criminal liability

There are five circumstances affecting criminal liability:


Justifying circumstances;


Exempting circumstances;


Mitigating circumstances;


Aggravating circumstances; and


Alternative circumstances.

There are two others which are found elsewhere in the provisions of the Revised Penal Code:

Absolutory cause; and


Extenuating circumstances.

In justifying and exempting circumstances, there is no criminal liability. When an accused invokes them, he in effect admits the
commission of a crime but tries to avoid the liability thereof. The burden is upon him to establish beyond reasonable doubt the required
conditions to justify or exempt his acts from criminal liability. What is shifted is only the burden of evidence, not the burden of proof.
Justifying circumstances contemplate intentional acts and, hence, are incompatible with dolo. Exempting circumstances may be
invoked in culpable felonies.
Absolutory cause
The effect of this is to absolve the offender from criminal liability, although not from civil liability. It has the same effect as an exempting
circumstance, but you do not call it as such in order not to confuse it with the circumstances under Article 12.
Article 20 provides that the penalties prescribed for accessories shall not be imposed upon those who are such with respect to their
spouses, ascendants, descendants, legitimate, natural and adopted brothers and sisters, or relatives by affinity within the same
degrees with the exception of accessories who profited themselves or assisting the offender to profit by the effects of the crime.
Then, Article 89 provides how criminal liability is extinguished:
Death of the convict as to the personal penalties, and as to pecuniary penalties, liability therefor is extinguished if death occurs before
final judgment;
Service of the sentence;
Absolute pardon;
Prescription of the crime;
Prescription of the penalty; and
Marriage of the offended woman as provided in Article 344.
Under Article 247, a legally married person who kills or inflicts physical injuries upon his or her spouse whom he surprised having
sexual intercourse with his or her paramour or mistress in not criminally liable.
Under Article 219, discovering secrets through seizure of correspondence of the ward by their guardian is not penalized.
Under Article 332, in the case of theft, swindling and malicious mischief, there is no criminal liability but only civil liability, when the
offender and the offended party are related as spouse, ascendant, descendant, brother and sister-in-law living together or where in
case the widowed spouse and the property involved is that of the deceased spouse, before such property had passed on to the
possession of third parties.
Under Article 344, in cases of seduction, abduction, acts of lasciviousness, and rape, the marriage of the offended party shall
extinguish the criminal action.
Absolutory cause has the effect of an exempting circumstance and they are predicated on lack of voluntariness like instigation.
Instigation is associated with criminal intent. Do not consider culpa in connection with instigation. If the crime is culpable, do not talk of
instigation. In instigation, the crime is committed with dolo. It is confused with entrapment.
Entrapment is not an absolutory cause. Entrapment does not exempt the offender or mitigate his criminal liability. But instigation
absolves the offender from criminal liability because in instigation, the offender simply acts as a tool of the law enforcers and, therefore,
he is acting without criminal intent because without the instigation, he would not have done the criminal act which he did upon
instigation of the law enforcers.
Difference between instigation and entrapment
In instigation, the criminal plan or design exists in the mind of the law enforcer with whom the person instigated cooperated so it is
said that the person instigated is acting only as a mere instrument or tool of the law enforcer in the performance of his duties.
On the other hand, in entrapment, a criminal design is already in the mind of the person entrapped. It did not emanate from the mind
of the law enforcer entrapping him. Entrapment involves only ways and means which are laid down or resorted to facilitate the
apprehension of the culprit.
The element which makes instigation an absolutory cause is the lack of criminal intent as an element of voluntariness.
If the instigator is a law enforcer, the person instigated cannot be criminally liable, because it is the law enforcer who planted that
criminal mind in him to commit the crime, without which he would not have been a criminal. If the instigator is not a law enforcer, both
will be criminally liable, you cannot have a case of instigation. In instigation, the private citizen only cooperates with the law enforcer to

a point when the private citizen upon instigation of the law enforcer incriminates himself. It would be contrary to public policy to
prosecute a citizen who only cooperated with the law enforcer. The private citizen believes that he is a law enforcer and that is why
when the law enforcer tells him, he believes that it is a civil duty to cooperate.
If the person instigated does not know that the person is instigating him is a law enforcer or he knows him to be not a law enforcer, this
is not a case of instigation. This is a case of inducement, both will be criminally liable.
In entrapment, the person entrapped should not know that the person trying to entrap him was a law enforcer. The idea is incompatible
with each other because in entrapment, the person entrapped is actually committing a crime. The officer who entrapped him only lays
down ways and means to have evidence of the commission of the crime, but even without those ways and means, the person
entrapped is actually engaged in a violation of the law.
Instigation absolves the person instigated from criminal liability. This is based on the rule that a person cannot be a criminal if his mind
is not criminal. On the other hand, entrapment is not an absolutory cause. It is not even mitigating.
In case of somnambulism or one who acts while sleeping, the person involved is definitely acting without freedom and without sufficient
intelligence, because he is asleep. He is moving like a robot, unaware of what he is doing. So the element of voluntariness which is
necessary in dolo and culpa is not present. Somnambulism is an absolutory cause. If element of voluntariness is absent, there is no
criminal liability, although there is civil liability, and if the circumstance is not among those enumerated in Article 12, refer to the
circumstance as an absolutory cause.
Mistake of fact is an absolutory cause. The offender is acting without criminal intent. So in mistake of fact, it is necessary that had the
facts been true as the accused believed them to be, this act is justified. If not, there is criminal liability, because there is no mistake of
fact anymore. The offender must believe he is performing a lawful act.

Extenuating circumstances
The effect of this is to mitigate the criminal liability of the offender. In other words, this has the same effect as mitigating circumstances,
only you do not call it mitigating because this is not found in Article 13.
An unwed mother killed her child in order to conceal a dishonor. The concealment of dishonor is an extenuating circumstance insofar
as the unwed mother or the maternal grandparents is concerned, but not insofar as the father of the child is concerned. Mother killing
her new born child to conceal her dishonor, penalty is lowered by two degrees. Since there is a material lowering of the penalty or
mitigating the penalty, this is an extenuating circumstance.
The concealment of honor by mother in the crime of infanticide is an extenuating circumstance but not in the case of parricide when the
age of the victim is three days old and above.
In the crime of adultery on the part of a married woman abandoned by her husband, at the time she was abandoned by her husband,
is it necessary for her to seek the company of another man. Abandonment by the husband does not justify the act of the woman. It
only extenuates or reduces criminal liability. When the effect of the circumstance is to lower the penalty there is an extenuating
A kleptomaniac is one who cannot resist the temptation of stealing things which appeal to his desire. This is not exempting. One who
is a kleptomaniac and who would steal objects of his desire is criminally liable. But he would be given the benefit of a mitigating
circumstance analogous to paragraph 9 of Article 13, that of suffering from an illness which diminishes the exercise of his will power
without, however, depriving him of the consciousness of his act. So this is an extenuating circumstance. The effect is to mitigate the
criminal liability.
Distinctions between justifying circumstances and exempting circumstances
In justifying circumstances
The circumstance affects the act, not the actor;
The act complained of is considered to have been done within the bounds of law; hence, it is legitimate and lawful in the
eyes of the law;
Since the act is considered lawful, there is no crime, and because there is no crime, there is no criminal;
Since there is no crime or criminal, there is no criminal liability as well as civil liability.
In exempting circumstances
The circumstances affect the actor, not the act;
The act complained of is actually wrongful, but the actor acted without voluntariness. He is a mere tool or instrument of
the crime;
Since the act complained of is actually wrongful, there is a crime. But because the actor acted without voluntariness,
there is absence of dolo or culpa. There is no criminal;
Since there is a crime committed but there is no criminal, there is civil liability for the wrong done. But there is no criminal
liability. However, in paragraphs 4 and 7 of Article 12, there is neither criminal nor civil liability.
When you apply for justifying or exempting circumstances, it is confession and avoidance and burden of proof shifts to the accused and
he can no longer rely on weakness of prosecutions evidence.

[1]The difference between murder and homicide will be discussed in Criminal Law II. These crimes are found in Articles 248
and 249, Book II of the Revised Penal Code.
[2] The difference between theft and robbery will be discussed in Criminal Law II. These crimes are found in Title Ten,
Chapters One and Three, Book II of the Revised Penal Code.