What is an impossible crime? Although the crime rate in the Philippines dropped by 6.37% with only 105,568 crime incidents recorded in the second half of 2022, as compared to 112,746 incidents recorded in 2021, the country is yet to eradicate crime incidents in the country.
To protect its citizens from becoming victims of these crimes, it is incumbent upon the government to ensure that any tendency or disposition to commit unlawful acts are dealt with accordingly, with corresponding punishments.
Unlike in other jurisdictions, such as the United States which do not punish individuals for the commission of impossible crimes, the Philippines recognizes the fact that although, technically, there is no crime committed due to the impossibility of its accomplishment, perpetrators shall be held liable for their tendency to sow fear and pose danger to the populace.
As such, the Revised Penal Code penalizes individuals who commit impossible crimes.
What is an impossible crime?
Article 4, Paragraph 2 of the said Code provides that:
By any person performing an act which would be an offense against persons or property, were it not for the inherent impossibility of its accomplishment or on account of the employment of inadequate or ineffectual means.1
Elements of Impossible Crimes
- That the act performed would be an offense against persons or property.
- That the act was done with evil intent.
- That the accomplishment is inherently impossible, or that the means employed is either inadequate or ineffectual.
- That the act performed should not constitute a violation of another provision of Revised Penal Code.
In impossible crimes or crime of last resort, the law requires that the act performed would be an offense against persons or property. The offender intends to commit a felony against a person or property which would be an offense against persons or crimes against property, defined and penalized under the Revised Penal Code.
Crimes against persons are enumerated in Title 8 of the Code, which includes parricide, murder, homicide, infanticide, abortion, duel, physical injuries, and rape; while crimes against property are found in Title 10 which includes robbery, brigandage, theft, usurpation, culpable insolvency, swindling and other deceits, chattel mortgage, arson and other crimes involving destruction, and malicious mischief. Hence, if the act is not an offense against persons or property, as mentioned, there is no impossible crime.
Furthermore, the act of the offender must be evidenced with an evil intent, which shows how the offender wanted to cause an injury to the other. In our jurisdiction, the impossibility of accomplishing the criminal intent is not merely a defense, but an act penalized by itself.2
An impossible crime is distinguished by the fact that it is impossible to commit the offense, regardless of the means employed. The act performed will not produce an offense against persons or property since such crimes cannot be accomplished, owing to their inherent impossibility, either by its nature or the inadequacy or ineffectiveness of the means employed
By inherent impossibility means that under any and all circumstances, the crime could not have materialized, where the act intended by the offender is in nature impossible to be accomplished, whether for its legal or physical impossibility.
Hence, in impossible crimes, the act should not constitute a violation of another provision of the Revised Penal Code, as it would ripen into a crime.
Why is it called an impossible crime?
In impossible crime, its accomplishment was inherently impossible, or the means employed was either inadequate or ineffectual.3 The term “impossible crime” refers to a crime that could not possibly be committed but was nonetheless perpetrated. Such an act was either deficient or insufficient.
To fall under this category, there must be either (1) legal impossibility or (2) physical impossibility of accomplishing such an act to be deemed as an impossible crime.
In legal impossibility, it is where even if such intended acts are done or even completed, it would not constitute a crime. Such would only apply if:
(1) the motive, desire and expectation is to perform an act in violation of the law;4
(2) there is intention to perform the physical act;5
(3) there is a performance of the intended physical act; and6
(4) the consequence resulting from the intended act does not amount to a crime.7
An example of a legal impossibility is when B who wants to kill A who is already dead.
In factual impossibility, it takes place when extraneous circumstances unknown to the actor or beyond his control prevent the consummation of the intended crime. A man who places his hand in the coat pocket of another with the purpose to steal the latter’s wallet and discovers that the pocket is empty is one example.8
As held in Intod vs. Court of Appeals,9 the Supreme Court held that the fact that the accused fired shots at a location where he believed his victim would be when, in reality, the victim was not present is an example of factual impossibility.
Similarly, in Jacinto vs. People,10 the petitioner performed all the acts to consummate the crime of qualified theft, which is a crime against property. Petitioner’s evil intent cannot be denied, as the mere act of unlawfully taking the check meant for Mega Foam showed her intent to gain or be unjustly enriched.11
Were it not for the fact that the check bounced, she would have received the face value thereof, which was not rightfully hers. Therefore, it was only due to the extraneous circumstance of the check being unfunded, a fact unknown to petitioner at the time, that prevented the crime from being produced.12 This constitutes as factual impossibility.
In essence, the perpetrator of such an act did not commit any specific crime. While in the objective sense, he could not have done any crime, in the subjective sense, the offender is still a criminal. He is liable for such a crime in the eyes of the law. What is punished under the Revised Penal Code is his criminal proclivity. That is why it is referred to as an impossible crime.
What is the legal philosophy behind the punishment for impossible crimes?
As discussed, an impossible crime is an act which would be an offense against person or property, were it not for the inherent impossibility of its accomplishment or on account of the employment of inadequate or ineffectual means.13
Such an act is not truly a crime in the technical meaning of the word because a crime involves a significant aberration of the outside world, which alters the common peace. The behavior did not develop into a crime. Its inherent impossibility prevented it from becoming such.
Nevertheless, the offender is being punished because of his criminality and dangerousness, with greater extent. his propensity to commit an offense. Despite the fact that, objectively, no crime has been committed, the perpetrator must be punished; hence, he is guilty of Impossible Crime.
When a person commits an impossible crime now punishable under paragraph 2, article 4, in relation to article 59 of the Revised Penal Code, he does an act:
“…which formerly was not punishable but is now under article 59 of the Revised Penal Code, are the following: (1) When one tries to kill another by putting in his soup a substance which he believes to be arsenic when in fact it is common salt; and (2) when one tries to murder a corpse”14
The occurrence of factual impossibility arises when external circumstances outside the actor’s knowledge or control prohibit him from committing the intended crime. In this instance, the petitioner shoots at the spot where he anticipated his victim to be, but the victim was not present; hence, the petitioner failed to achieve his objective.15
“The factual situation in the case at bar presents physical impossibility which rendered the intended crime impossible of accomplishment. And under Article 4, paragraph 2 of the Revised Penal Code, such is sufficient to make the act an impossible crime.16
“To uphold the contention of respondent that the offense was Attempted Murder because the absence of Palangpangan was a supervening cause independent of the actor’s will, will render useless the provision in Article 4, which makes a person criminally liable for an act “which would be an offense against persons or property, were it not for the inherent impossibility of its accomplishment . . .17
“In that case, all circumstances which prevented the consummation of the offense will be treated as an accident independent of the actor’s will which is an element of attempted and frustrated felonies.”18
In Jacinto vs. People,19 Jacinto was found guilty of Qualified Theft but the Supreme Court that he is guilty of Impossible Crime.
“x x x x From the above discussion, there can be no question that as of the time that petitioner took possession of the check meant for Mega Foam, she had performed all the acts to consummate the crime of theft, had it not been impossible of accomplishment in this case.”20
Impossible crime is a crime of las resort. The perpetrator has not committed an impossible crime if his or her actions will constitute a separate felony. Indeed, in this instance, an actual crime is perpetrated . Hence, if the criminal delivered enough poison to kill the victim, but the victim lived because he was immediately rushed to a hospital, the criminal is guilty of frustrated murder rather than an impossible crime.
From the above discussion, it may be argued that a person who commits an impossible crime, whether legally or physically impossible, will be held criminally accountable. There is no difference. As there is a clear purpose to break the laws of the land, the perpetrator will not be exempt from liability. Thus, he or she will bear the negative consequences of his or her acts. The law may be severe, but it is still the law.
- Article 4, Revised Penal Code[↩]
- Judge Alejandria. 2022. p. 27[↩]
- Jacinto vs. People, G.R. No. 162540, July 13, 2009[↩]
- Intod vs. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 103119, October 21, 1992[↩]
- Ibid.; People vs. Balmores, G.R. No. L-1896, February 16, 1950[↩]
- Supra., G.R. No. 162540, July 13, 2009[↩]
- Art. 4, par.2, RPC[↩]
- Guevara, Commentaries on the Revised Penal Code, 4th ed., page 15; decision, Supreme Court of Spain, November 26, 1879; 12 Jur. Crim., 343.[↩]
- Intod vs. Court of Appeals, Supra.[↩]
- Supra., G.R. No. 162540, July 13, 2009[↩]