Who are accomplices to a crime? As defined in the Revised Penal Code of the Philippines, they play a significant role in criminal acts. They are individuals who, with their knowledge and intent, cooperate or contribute in the commission of a crime.
Unlike principal offenders who directly commit the offense, accomplices aid, abet, or facilitate the perpetration of the crime without actually executing it themselves. Accomplices can face legal consequences and be held liable for their involvement, even if they did not directly commit the crime.
Who are accomplices to a crime?
When is a person be considered an accomplice? What is his participation in the commission of a crime? What is him criminal liability? This article aims to address these queries.
Accomplices are the persons who, not being included in Article 17, cooperate in the execution of the offense by previous or simultaneous acts.1
What are the requisites?
In order that a person may be considered an accomplice, the following requisites must concur:2
- that there be community of design; that is, knowing the criminal design of the principal by direct participation, he concurs with the latter in his purpose;3
- that he cooperates in the execution by previous or simultaneous act, with the intention of supplying material or moral aid in the execution of the crime in an efficacious way; and4
- that there be a relation between the acts done by the principal and those attributed to the person charged as accomplice.5
That there be community of design
In the commission of a crime, the accomplices do not decide whether the crime should be committed but they agree to the plan and cooperate in its accomplishment.6 Accomplices come to know about it after the principals have reached the decision, and only then do they agree to cooperate in its execution.7
To compare accomplice from conspirators, conspirators are the authors of a crime while accomplices are merely their instrument who perform acts not essential to the perpetration of the offense.8
In People vs. Corbes,9 Manuel was convicted as an accomplice and not as a conspirator. The court observed that he was only approached by one of the robbers who was tasked to look for a getaway vehicle. He was not with the robbers but he knew that the accused were committing robbery and he decided to provide his services.
That he cooperates in the execution by previous or simultaneous act
The accomplice acted by direct participation through assistance to the principal.
The cooperation that the law punishes is the assistance knowingly or intentionally rendered that cannot exist without previous cognizance of the criminal act intended to be executed, and the prosecution was able to prove such cooperation. The unity of purpose with that of the accused Que was also proven by the prosecution.10
Previous act is manifested when the person lends his gun, house as hideout, or his car as a getaway vehicle.
That there be a relation between the acts done by the principal and those attributed to the person charged as accomplice
It is necessary that the act has direct relationship to the act of the principal. The act of the accomplice is connected with the act of the principal. Thus, in People vs. Tamayo,11 the court ruled that:
“It is an essential condition to the existence of complicity, not only that there should be a relation between the acts done by the principal and those attribute to the person charged as accomplice, but it is furthermore necessary that the latter, with knowledge of the criminal intent, should cooperate with the intention of supplying material or moral aid in the execution of the crime in an efficacious way.”12
In a bank robbery, when a person outside the bank has agreed to wait and drive the getaway vehicle, his act of waiting outside the bank has a direct relationship with the act of the robbers which aided in perpetuation of the crime.
When is a lookout deemed an accomplice and when a conspirator?
Conspirators and accomplices have one thing in common: they know and agree with the criminal design. Conspirators, however, know the criminal intention because they themselves have decided upon such course of action. Accomplices come to know about it after the principals have reached the decision, and only then do they agree to cooperate in its execution.13
In other words, appellant’s presence was not innocuous. Knowing that Florendo intended to kill the victim and that the three co-accused were carrying weapons, he had acted as a lookout to watch for passersby. He was not an innocent spectator; he was at the locus criminis in order to aid and abet the commission of the crime. These facts, however, did not make him a conspirator; at most, he was only an accomplice.14
This is further illustrated by the following scenario:
Six individuals entered the Caloocan Consortium Corporation in Caloocan City on the morning of November 17, 1990 and stole P169,000 in cash and P4,500 from an employee. Additionally, they took the.38 caliber revolver from the security personnel they killed. The robbers ran towards Daniel Corbes and Manuel Vergel’s getaway car on the Eighth Avenue.
Vergel reported the incident to the Caloocan Police Station while denying prior knowledge of the robbery. He identified Danilo Corbes, who allegedly planned the robbery with the accused and persuaded him to drive for them. Corbes, when apprehended, implicated Benny as the mastermind behind the crime.
Corbes and six others were charged with conspiracy as principals. In his defense, Corbes acknowledged assisting Benny in his search for a rental jeep. He merely accompanied Benny and waited for Vergel, who consented to hire the jeep for P250, before departing.
The court gave credence to the testimony of the witnesses who stated that Vergel and Corbes participated in the robbery as the escape driver and the lookout. However, they argued that the evidence of conspiracy was insufficient because it could not be inferred from their bare presence at the crime scene.
The Supreme Court ruled that Corbes is an accomplice.
As regards appellant Danilo Corbes, there is similarly a lack of adequate evidence of conspiracy. The evidence merely points out that Corbes looked for a jeep to be used as getaway vehicle of the robbers and, to that end, he intentionally sought out and convinced Manuel Vergel to act as driver.15
Moreover, he went with Vergel and Benny to Caloocan City where the robbery was staged. We have also held that the liability of one whose participation was limited to looking for a banca and providing one to a gang of bank robbers, 10 or one who went with the actual perpetrators of a crime without conspiring with them, is only that of an accomplice.16
Where the quantum of proof required to establish conspiracy is lacking, the doubt created as to whether accused acted as principal or accomplice will always be resolved in favor of the milder form of liability, that of a mere accomplice.17
Besides, in several cases wherein the Court confirmed the existence of conspiracy, some accused were held liable as mere accomplices only because their role in the commission of the crime was not indispensable; in other words, minor.18
People vs. Tatlonghari
The Court was asked to resolve the responsibility of some appellants who “knowingly aid[ed] the actual killers by casting stones at the victim, and distracting his attention.” The Court ruled that they were accomplices and not co-conspirators, “in the absence of clear proof that the killing was in fact envisaged by them.”19
People vs. Balili
The Court convicted appellant as an accomplice, holding that “in going with them, knowing their criminal intention, and in staying outside of the house with them while the others went inside the store to rob and kill, [he] effectively supplied the criminals with material and moral aid, making him guilty as an accomplice.” The Court noted that there was no evidence that he “had conspired with the malefactors, nor that he actually participated in the commission of the crime.”20
People vs. Doble
The Court held that Cresencio Doble did not become a conspirator when he looked for a banca that was eventually used by the robbers.21 Thus:
“Neither would it appear that Joe Intsik wanted to draft Crescencio into his band of malefactors that would commit the robbery more than Just asking his help to look for a banca. Joe Intsik had enough men, all with arms and weapons to perpetrate the crime, the commission of which needed planning and men to execute the plan with full mutual confidence of each other, which [was] not shown with respect to appellants by the way they were asked to look and provide for a banca just a few hours before the actual robbery.”22
Saldua vs. People
Other than being present, it was not established what petitioner’s purpose was when he stood behind Vertudez bearing a firearm. By merely standing behind Vertudez, it cannot be ascertained whether petitioner had prior knowledge of the criminal design of the principal perpetrator or that he was there to give moral support. What was clear is that he was armed and he did not stop Vertudez from shooting the victim.23
The mere fact that a person is present when a crime is committed, when such presence does not have the purpose of encouraging the criminal and when there is no previous agreement between them as to the commission of the crime, will make the former responsible only as accomplice in the crime committed. This conclusion is in keeping with the principle that when there is doubt, such doubt should be resolved in favor of the accused.24
What is the liability of an accomplice?
It becomes relevant to determine the particular amount for which each accused is liable when they have different degrees of responsibility in the commission of the crime and, consequently, differing degrees of liability. When a crime is committed by many, each one has a distinct part in the commission of the crime and though all the persons who took part in the commission of the crime are liable, the liability is not equally shared among them. Hence, an accused may be liable either as principal, accomplice or accessory.25
The penalty of appellant as an accomplice is one degree lower than that of a principal, which in murder cases is reclusion temporal in its maximum period to death. He is also entitled to the benefits of the Indeterminate Sentence Law.26
The liability of the individuals involved for a crime committed depends on the degree of participation. An accomplice may or may not present in the commission of the crime. He may have previous knowledge or saw the commission of the crime and decided to cooperate. His cooperation may be in any form of assistance, moral aid, advice encouragement or agreement.
It is also not necessary that his act is identical to the action of the principal. Yet his participation thereof is connected or associated with that act of the principal. In cases decided by the Supreme Court, the penalty imposed on an accomplice is the penalty next lower than that ascribed to the principal.
- Article 18 of the Revised Penal Code
- Saldua vs. People, G.R. No. 210920, December 10, 2018
- People vs. De Vera, G.R. No. 128966, August 18, 1999
- G.R. No. 113470, March 26, 1997
- Apura vs. People, G.R. No. 222892, March 18, 2021
- G.R. No. L-18289, November 17, 1922
- Supra., People vs. De Vera
- Supra., People vs. De Vera
- Supra., People vs. Corbes
- G.R. No. L-22094, March 28, 1969
- G.R. No. L-14044, August 5, 1966
- G.R. No. L-30028, May 31, 1982
- G.R. No. L-30028, May 31, 1982
- Supra., Saldua vs. People
- People vs. Tampus, G.R. No. 181084, June 16, 2009
- Supra., People vs. De Vera