Liability attaches to accomplices, accessories in a crime

Persida Acosta

Persida Acosta

Dear PAO,
I want to inquire with you about the legal problem of my friend’s brother. He works in a small coffee shop in San Juan. He is now facing a case because his employer filed a complaint against him and the shop’s cashier. According to him, he was not the one who took the money. Is it possible for him to be held liable? He was there at the time of the incident but he had no direct participation in the taking of the money.

Dear Gena,
The crime of qualified theft may be committed in several ways. It may be committed by a domestic servant or a person with whom trust and confidence is reposed, by taking the personal property of another without the latter’s consent, with intent to gain, but without using violence or intimidation against persons or force upon things (Article 310 in relation to Article 308, Revised Penal Code [RPC]).

The crime of qualified theft may also be committed by any person who, without the consent of the owner, takes the latter’s motor vehicle, mail matter, large cattle, coconuts taken from the premises of the plantation, fish taken from the fishpond or fishery, or if property is taken on the occasion of fire, earthquake, typhoon, volcanic eruption, or any other calamity, vehicular accident or civil disturbance (Article 310, RPC).

In the situation that you have presented to us, it is necessary for the employer of your friend’s brother to establish that the latter participated in the commission of the crime of qualified theft in order to hold him liable thereto.

However, we want to emphasize that the liability to such crime does not only extend to the person who directly participates in the taking of the money. Criminal liability may also attach to those who served as accomplices and accessories, though the penalty that may be imposed insofar as they are concerned may be lesser than the principal offenders. As provided for under Article 18 of the RPC, “accomplices” are persons who cooperate in the execution of the offense by previous or simultaneous acts, although they do not take a direct part in the execution of the crime, directly force or induce others to commit it, or cooperate in such a way that without them, the crime would not have been accomplished.

On the other hand, “accessories” are those who have knowledge of the commission of the crime and have participated only in the following manners: (1) By profiting or assisting the offender to profit by the effects of the crime; (2) By concealing or destroying the body of the crime, or the effects or instruments thereof, in order to prevent its discovery; or (3) By harboring, concealing, or assisting in the escape of the principal of the crime, provided that he acts with abuse of public functions or when the author of the crime is guilty of treason, parricide, murder, or an attempt to take the life of the Chief Executive, or is known to be habitually guilty of some other crime (Article 19, RPC).

Accordingly, in order to relieve him of any criminal responsibility, your friend’s brother must clearly prove that he had no participation whatsoever in the commission of the crime of qualified theft, whether as a principal, as an accomplice or as an accessory thereto. In contrast, his employer must prove not only that your friend’s brother was there at the time of the incident but that he in fact participated in the commission of the said crime.

We hope that we were able to answer your queries. Please be reminded that this advice is based solely on the facts you have narrated and our appreciation of the same. Our opinion may vary when other facts are changed or elaborated.

Editor’s note: Dear PAO is a daily column of the Public Attorney’s Office. Questions for Chief Acosta may be sent to


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