Blog Lecture No. 21: Participation in a Crime

Ok class! Now we will discuss the liability of a person in a crime according to his participation in it.

Some of you may already know this but not the finer details…

According to participation, a person may be liable as a principal, accomplice or as an accessory.

Who are principals to a crime?

They are defined by the Revised Penal Code:

Art. 17. Principals. — The following are considered principals:
1. Those who take a direct part in the execution of the act;
2. Those who directly force or induce others to commit it;
3. Those who cooperate in the commission of the offense by another act without which it would not have been accomplished.

Who are accomplices to a crime?

Again, from the Revised Penal Code:

Art. 18. Accomplices. — Accomplices are those persons who, not being included in Art. 17, cooperate in the execution of the offense by previous or simultaneous acts.

Who, then are accessories?

Art. 19. Accessories. — Accessories are those who, having knowledge of the commission of the crime, and without having participated therein, either as principals or accomplices, take part subsequent to its commission in any of the following manners:
1. By profiting themselves 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.
3. By harboring, concealing, or assisting in the escape of the principals of the crime, provided the accessory acts with abuse of his public functions or whenever 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.

I’m confused with all this legal mumbo-jumbo. Can you explain to me the concept of principals to a crime in simpler terms?


There are basically three types of principals to any crime:

1. A principal by direct participation- this is a person who directly commits the crime, or takes a direct part in the execution of the crime.

Example: A gunman in a murder, the actual person who falsified election returns in an election operation

Please note that in a finding of conspiracy, all conspirators are guilty of principals by direct participation because “the act of one it the act of all.”

2. A principal by inducement- this is a person who does not take a direct part in the execution of a crime, but induced or forced another to commit it. Force is not necessary. Inducement can be done by a promise of some sort of payment (in legal terms, “for a consideration”)

Example: The person who paid the gunman to kill another, a person who, at gunpoint, forced an election official to falsify election returns, etc.

3. A principal by indispensable cooperation- this refers to a person who does another act (not directly connected with the crime) but without it the act could not accomplished.

Classic Example: Two killers wanted to do a job on a remote island accessible only by a small boat. They approached the boat owner (“pilot”) and told him their plan. Without agreeing to the plan, the boat owner nevertheless agreed to take them to island where the two killers succeeded in their mission.

While the boat owner did not agree to the plan (no conspiracy, hence not liable as principal by direct participation), he nevertheless took them to the victim, an act indispensable to the crime. Hence, the boat owner is guilty of murder (or homicide, the difference I will teach you in the future) as principal by indispensable cooperation.

Hey! How about accomplices?

These are people who cooperate in the execution of the offense by previous or simultaneous acts. These acts, however, should not be indispensable to the commission of the crime and these people should not have any part in the conspiracy. Otherwise, these people are guilty as principals.

Example: People who block the escape of a fleeing victim in a killing, etc.

No can you go to accessories?

Of course.

The three kinds of accessories are:

1. Those who profit from the fruits of the crime

Example: The fence or a buyer who knows it was stolen property

2. Those who conceal or destroy the body, effects or instruments of the crime

Example: Persons who bury the body to prevent discovery, destroyed the murder weapons, the excess election returns, certificates of canvass and other election gismos, etc.

3. Those who harbor or aid the escape of pricipals, provided:

a. He abused their public positions
b. The principal is guilty of treason, parricide, murder or attempt on the life of the President
c. The principal is a habitual criminal

I don’t think you need examples for this…

Why is this principal, accomplice, accessory distinction important?

A principal to a crime gets the full penalty. The accomplice gets the penalty one degree lower than the principal and the accessory one degree lower than the accomplice (or two degrees lower than the principal).

We will go to stages of execution of a crime (attempted, frustrated, consumated) later…


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