Act No. 4103,1 otherwise known as Indeterminate Sentence Law [ISLAW] is a Statute which generally favors persons convicted for the commission of a crime. The ISLAW applies to individuals convicted of crimes under the Revised Penal Code [RPC] and Special Law.
Although the same generally appears to be favorable with those convicted of crimes, it does not, however, tolerate commission of an offense. In its application, there are certain exceptions to which this law will not be applicable, just the same.
Hence, it clearly appears that, even though ISLAW considers that convict may reform and later become a better person for the society, it does not forsake the gravity of the crime committed and some other factors which show that a person is not capable of reformation.
In the determination of the minimum penalty, the law gives the court a wide discretion. This means that it is all up to the court to decide which among the periods, from where the minimum penalty will be reckoned, shall be imposed upon the accused.
In this article, few questions will be answered in connection with the Indeterminate Sentence Law.
Please bear in mind, incidentally, that:
Whenever the Revised Penal Code provides, prescribes, and imposes a penalty, that in itself is a DEGREE, as distinguished from a mere PERIOD [minimum, medium, maximum].
How does an indeterminate sentence work?
Indeterminate Sentence Law works in a sense that it favors the person convicted of a crime. It limits the highest possible penalty a convict could suffer, depending, of course, upon the penalty of the crime being committed. At the same time, it provides a possible lower penalty that a court may provide based on their discretion.
For instance, in a violation of a special law where the penalty is an imprisonment of one year and one day to five years. The court can impose an imprisonment from two years and one day to three years as the minimum term or three years and one day to five years as the maximum term.
In this situation, the maximum term does not exceed the maximum penalty prescribed by law and the minimum term is not less than what the law prescribes.
For a violation under Revised Penal Code, it is first needed to identify the penalty for the offense itself. Let us say that the penalty for an offense committed is reclusion temporal.
Such penalty is divisible in three periods and the maximum period of the penalty that can be imposed under indeterminate sentence law in the absence of any aggravating or mitigating circumstances is reclusion temporal in its medium period.
In determining the minimum penalty, it is the penalty one degree lower from the maximum penalty without considering any mitigating or aggravating circumstances.
These determinations would of course change when aggravating or mitigating circumstances attended the commission of the offense.
What is the purpose of indeterminate sentence law?
Indeterminate sentence law favoring the accused is supported by legal basis and principles. The first of these is the in dubio pro reo which means “when in doubt, rule for the accused”.
Likewise, the application of the rule of lenity which says that, when there exists an ambiguity in the interpretation of criminal law such that it sets out inconsistent punishment, the ambiguity should be resolved in favor of the of the more lenient punishment.
As discussed in the case of People of the Philippines vs. Beth Temporada:
“the basic purpose of Indeterminate Sentence Law is to uplift and redeem valuable human material, and prevent unnecessary and excessive deprivation of personal liberty and economic usefulness.”
It can be gleaned from this jurisprudence that the law still believes that persons even after having committed an offense or a crime, is still susceptible to reformation and can be a better person after serving his punishment.
Thus, with this view, when the law provides for a lesser penalty to be imposed, the court should consider the same.
Do you agree that indeterminate sentencing is bad? Why?
I personally don’t agree that indeterminate sentencing is bad or rather I would say that for me indeterminate sentencing is proper.
The law provides exceptions as to its application which shows that it does not completely favor persons committing an offense.
The law delineates in itself a standard where in it can determine whether a convict do have a possibility of reformation. It opens the door of new hope and brighter future for those persons who have committed an offense and are capable of changing.
In depth, it can be realized that the law considers convicts as persons who may change for the betterment of their lives and for the society.
In the same manner, persons who committed an offense who is punished with death or life imprisonment as penalty is exempted from its application.
Therefore, the law, in a similar fashion, considers the gravity of the offense which has been committed. In view of the foregoing, the law is well-balanced.
Is the application of indeterminate sentence law mandatory? Why?
Yes, the application of the Indeterminate Sentence Law is mandatory, Section 1 of Act No. 4103 otherwise known as Indeterminate Sentence Law provides:
“Section 1. Hereafter, in imposing a prison sentence for an offense punished by the Revised Penal Code, or its amendments, the court shall sentence the accused to an indeterminate sentence the maximum term of which shall be that which, in view of the attending circumstances, could be properly imposed under the rules of the said Code, and the minimum which shall be within the range of the penalty next lower to that prescribed by the Code for the offense; and if the offense is punished by any other law, the court shall sentence the accused to an indeterminate sentence, the maximum term of which shall not exceed the maximum fixed by said law and the minimum shall not be less than the minimum term prescribed by the same.”2
The use of the word shall in the statute renders its application mandatory. Hence, whenever a court would impose a prison sentence such imposition should be in accordance with the indeterminate sentence law if the law is application.
In the event that the special penal law adopts the penalties under the RPC, will the ISLAW apply just as it would in the felonies under the RPC?
The answer will be in the affirmative. When the Special Penal Law adopts the penalties from the Revised Penal Code, the Indeterminate Sentence Law will apply just the same.
The Supreme Court in Sanchez vs. People 588 SCRA 747,3 stressed that, although R.A. 7610 is a special law, the rules in the Revised Penal Code for graduating penalties by degrees or determining the proper period should be applied.
To repeat, the penalty for Other Acts of Child Abuse is prision mayor in its minimum period. This penalty is derived from, and defined in, the Revised Penal Code. Although R.A. No. 7610 is a special law, the rules in the Revised Penal Code for graduating penalties by degrees or determining the proper period should be applied. Thus, where the special law adopted penalties from the Revised Penal Code, the Indeterminate Sentence Law will apply just as it would in felonies.4
Under what circumstances is the indeterminate sentence law not applicable?
Section 2 of Act No. 41035 otherwise known as Indeterminate Sentence Law provides:
“Sec. 2. This Act shall not apply:6
3] “to those convicted of misprision of treason, rebellion, sedition or espionage;9
5] “to those who are habitual delinquents;11
6] “to those who have escaped from confinement or evaded sentence;12
7] “to those who having been granted conditional pardon by the Chief Executive shall have violated the terms thereof;13
8] “to those whose maximum term of imprisonment does not exceed one year, not to those already sentenced by final judgment at the time of approval of this Act, except as provided in Section 5 hereof”.14
Based on this provision, the law is not applicable to those specifically provided above.
First, the law says that persons punished with death penalty or life- imprisonment is exempted from the application of indeterminate sentence law. This means that the controlling penalty is the penalty imposed as punishment not the imposable penalty on the crime committed.
While the law forbids its application on habitual delinquents, it does not do the same on first recidivist. We have learned in our in our criminal law that a first recidivist is not necessarily habitual delinquent. Thus, a first-time recidivist is entitled to indeterminate sentence law.
Escaped from confinement means that a person breaks out from prison and that he was incarcerated in an imprisonment facility and not in a mental institution. Therefore, evading sentence and escaping from prison would actually mean the same. These instances would render the escapee not to be covered by indeterminate sentence law.
“Those who having been granted conditional pardon and shall have violated the terms thereof.” This means that a person who has been under a conditional pardon commits a crime. That act in itself may be a violation of the terms of the conditional pardon. Thus, he will not be eligible to avail the benefits of ISLAW just in case.
The law explicitly states that indeterminate sentence law would not apply to to penalty whose maximum period does not exceed one year. The reason is that the penalty is so minimal for ISLAW to apply.
What are the reasons why the maximum and the minimum term of the indeterminate sentence have to be fixed by the Court? How do you explain that?
The law provides that when an offense is punished by the Revised Penal Code, the maximum term which the court shall sentence shall be that which in view of the attending circumstances could be properly imposed under the rules of the Revised Penal Code. It is the minimum term which is left in the discretion of the court to impose. The reason for this is that the law explicitly confers upon the court such power.
“Whenever any prisoner shall have served the minimum penalty imposed on him, ad it shall appear to the Board of Indeterminate Sentence that such prisoner is fitted by his training for release that there is a reasonable probability that such prisoner will live and remain at liberty without violating the law, and that such release will not be incompatible with the welfare of the society, said Boar may authorize the release of such prisoner on parole, upon such terms and conditions as may be presented by the Board;15
“Whenever any prisoner released on parole shall, during the period of surveillance, violate any of the conditions of his parole, the Board of Indeterminate Sentence my issue an order for his re-arrest. In such case the prisoner so re-arrested shall serve the remining unexpired portion of the maximum portion of the maximum sentence for which he was originally committed to prison, unless the Board of Indeterminate Sentence shall, in its discretion, grant a new parole to the said prisoner.16
“Even if a prisoner has already served the minimum, but he is not fitted for release on parole, he shall continue to serve imprisonment until the end of the maximum.17
“The need for specifying the minimum and maximum periods of the indeterminate sentence is to prevent the unnecessary and excessive deprivation of liberty and to enhance the economic usefulness of the accused, since he may be exempted from serving the entire sentence, depending upon his behavior and his physical, mental, and moral record.”18
Is the ISLAW applicable if the penalty is destierro?
Destierro is the penalty wherein a person is prohibited to reside within a specified distance from the actual residence of the accused for a specified length of time. Although it is a penalty, it is not an imprisonment sentence.
Hence, indeterminate sentence law does not apply to this penalty since the statute explicitly provides that it only covers persons who are sentenced to imprisonment exceeding one year, unless excepted from coverage thereof.
How is the indeterminate sentence law applied in imposing a sentence?
In imposing a sentence, it is a rule that court must determine two penalties, referred to in the Indeterminate Sentence Act as the maximum and minimum term, instead of just imposing a single fixed penalty.
The law is applicable in ordering a prison sentence for a crime punishable either by special law or by the Revised Penal Code.
The court must always fixed the minimum sentence of the penalty. Let alone the court’s discretion in fixing the minimum penalty among the periods within a degree, however, the degree which will include the minimum penalty shall be the penalty next lower in degree from what is provided by the provision of the Revised Penal Code for a specific felony.
How do you apply the indeterminate sentence law if the penalty imposed is not the same as the penalties under the RPC?
If the penalty imposed is not the same as the penalties under the penalties under the RPC such as special law, the court shall still sentence the accused to an indeterminate penalty with two terms namely, maximum and minimum. The maximum term of which shall not exceed the maximum fixed by said law and the minimum term shall not be less than minimum prescribed by law, as stated in Sec. 1 of Act 4103.
What are the rules in arriving at the maximum and minimum term of the indeterminate sentence under the Special Laws?
The rule in arriving at the maximum and minimum term of indeterminate sentence under Special law is provided in Section 1 of Act. 4103.
It states that the maximum term of which shall not exceed the maximum fixed by said law and the minimum shall not be less than the minimum prescribed by the same.
Take for example a special law punishing a crime with imprisonment from one year and one day to five years. The court can impose an indeterminate sentence from two years and one day, as the minimum term and to 4 years as the maximum term.
Nevertheless, this only applies to the Special Penal Laws that do not adopt the penalties under the RPC.
How do you impose the indeterminate sentence when penalty is under the RPC? Cite the rules in determining the maximum and the minimum.
The rule in arriving at the maximum and minimum term of indeterminate sentence, when the crime is punishable under the Revised Penal Code, is that the maximum term of the same shall be that which, in view of the attending circumstances, could be properly imposed under rules of the Revised Penal Code.
As mentioned earlier, the minimum term of which shall be within the range of the penalty next lower to that prescribed by the Code for the offense, as mentioned in Section 1 of Act. No. 4103 otherwise known as Indeterminate Sentence Law.
In determining the maximum penalty, we have to first identify the penalty imposed by the Revised Penal Code. The penalty imposed by the Revised Penal Code will be the fist basis of maximum period. Then, divide it into three periods which are maximum, medium and minimum periods.
Basically, in the absence of any aggravating or mitigating circumstances, the maximum penalty under indeterminate sentence law will rest on the medium period.
If there is one or multiple presence of aggravating circumstances, the highest possible penalty for the maximum penalty would be the maximum period of the penalty.
Simply stated, despite the number of the aggravating circumstances present in the commission of an offense, the penalty imposed under indeterminate sentence law shall not be increase it to a higher degree.
In determining the minimum penalty, we just have to always remember the next lower in degree as it will be based on the discretion of the court which among these periods will they impose as the minimum penalty.
What is the meaning of “attending circumstances”? Are the rules of offsetting under the RPC applicable in determining the maximum of the indeterminate sentence?
Attending circumstances mean those circumstances that are present during the commission of the crime which could increase or lower the penalty. Circumstances that can be considered could be justifying exempting, mitigating and aggravating each of these circumstances has their own different effect on the crime committed.
Yes, the rule on offsetting based on the existence of mitigating circumstances naturally applies in the determination of maximum penalty and same do apply with the presence of aggravating circumstance.
Discuss “Prescribed Penalty”, “Imposable Penalty”, and “Incremental Penalty”
Prescribed penalty refers to the penalty that the law provides for the crime or offense committed. It is what the statute punishes. On the other hand, the imposable penalty refers to the maximum period of prescribed penalty to be imposed.
While the incremental penalty is the imprisonment added. The incremental rule penalty rule is a mathematical formula for computing the penalty to be actually imposed using the prescribed penalty as the starting point. This rule applies in estafa and theft.
What is the basis for fixing the minimum term of the prescribed penalty?
The law provides that the minimum penalty shall be within the range of the penalty next lower to that prescribed by the Code for the offense.
It follows that the next lower in degree must be based on the penalty prescribed by the Code for the offense, without first considering the modifying circumstances.
The determination of the minimum penalty is left entirely within the discretion of the court to fix it anywhere with the range of the penalty next lower and the law confers it upon the court.
One of the known jurisprudences related in the Indeterminate Sentence Law which states the purpose of the law is the case of People vs. Ducosin,19 59 Phil. 117 the doctrine states:
“We come now to the second aspect of the determination of the minimum penalty, namely, the considerations which should guide the court in fixing the term or duration of the minimum period of imprisonment.20
“Keeping in mind the basic purpose of the Indeterminate Sentence Law “to uplift and redeem valuable human material, and prevent unnecessary and excessive deprivation of personal liberty and economic usefulness” (Message of the Governor-General, Official Gazette No. 92, vol. XXXI, August 3, 1933), it is necessary to consider the criminal, first, as an individual and, second, as a member of society.21
“This opens up an almost limitless field of investigation and study which it is the duty of the court to explore in each case as far as is humanly possible, with the end in view that penalties shall not be standardized but fitted as far as is possible to the individual, with due regard to the imperative necessity of protecting the social order.22
In line with this, we can clearly see that the main purpose of the law is to apply it liberally in favor of the accused.
In sum, Indeterminate Sentence Law is an important legislation in our criminal law system. The law applies in both crimes punished by special and Revised Penal Code.
The law was enacted not solely for the benefits of those persons convicted of having committed a crime but at the same time it created a standard to which the law assumed are not capable of reformation and it considered the gravity of the crime committed.
Although the computation of the correct penalties to imposed is not an easy task, it can be mastered upon studying and understanding the basic rules on penalties.
- An Act to provide for an indeterminate sentence and the parole for all persons convicted of certain crimes by the courts of the Philippine Islands; to create a board of indeterminate sentence and to provide funds therefor; and for other purposes
- ISLAW, Act No. 4103
- G.R. No. 179090, June 5, 2009
- Ibid., G.R. No. 179090
- Supra., RA 4103
- Section 5, Act No. 4103
- Section 8, Id.
- Special Penal Laws, Criminal Law Reviewer, G. L. T. Festin
- Ibid., cited also in Batistis vs. People, 608 SCRA 335, December 6, 2009
- G.R. No. L-38332, December 14, 1933