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[Legal Opinion | Review] Fracture (2007)

 Legal opinion based on the movie Fracture (2007)

“Knowledge is pain, I’m used to that. Not that I don’t get some little pleasures in return for the pain, mind you.” – Theodore Crawford (Fracture, 2007).

Knowledge, like love and passion, is a double-edged sword. At one hand, an individual may utilize it to inflict pain whether for retribution or for some other purposes. On the other, the sword may ingrain itself on its bearer, wounding him as well.

The case revolves on passion, love, and revenge as embodied by the characters involved in the issue at hand. Theodore Crawford is a wealthy aeronautical engineer married to Jennifer Crawford. After discovering her illicit affair with her paramour, police detective Robert Nunally, meeting each other as Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Theodore confronted Jennifer and eventually shot her point blank, seriously wounding her. Robert Nunally came to the scene of the crime and Crawford immediately confessed his deed after laying down their respective guns. Nunally was shocked to see Jennifer lying on the pool of her own blood and immediately rushed to her aid.

At trial, Crawford waived his right to be provided for a defense lawyer and acted as his own attorney instead. Crawford’s confession was ruled by the court inadmissible on the ground that it was a “fruit of the poisonous tree” since Nunally, the paramour of his wife, was the one who took his confession. Moreover, William Beachum, the prosecutor, was unable to get a hold of an evidence as the gun found at the scene was not the one used to shoot Jennifer as it was never been fired and the shells on the scene did not match the gun. Beachum’s failure to procure more evidence and/or to find new witnesses led Crawford to raise a motion for acquittal on the ground that the facts presented were unable to prove that he had done anything wrong. Beachum had no other choice but to concede, and thus, the motion for judgment of acquittal was granted.

After some time, Beachum was able to figure out the mystery behind the murder weapon. It turned out that Crawford deliberately switched his and Nunally’s guns prior the commission of the crime. Crawford also specifically sought for Nunally to admit his confession and also for the purpose of switching back their guns when Nunally was distracted by Jennifer’s almost lifeless body on the floor. These actions clearly illustrate that there was evident premeditation on the part of Crawford. After being acquitted, Crawford also sought for a restraining order against Beachum and asked the doctor to pull out the life support of Jennifer, notwithstanding the court order Beachum was able to obtain to preserve the life of Crawford’s wife. As a result, Jennifer died.

The issue at hand is whether or not Theodore Crawford may still be prosecuted for murder after being acquitted for attempted murder based on the same facts and circumstances.

Philippine Jurisprudence on Double Jeopardy

Article III Section 21 of the 1987 Constitution states that,

“No person shall be twice put in jeopardy of punishment for the same offense. If an act is punished by a law and an ordinance, conviction or acquittal under either shall constitute a bar to another prosecution for the same act.”1

This provision in the bill of rights guarantees every one of the right against double jeopardy. To raise the defense of double jeopardy, three requisites must be present: (1) a first jeopardy must have attached prior to the second; (2) the first jeopardy must have been validly terminated; and (3) the second jeopardy must be for the same offense as that in the first (People v. Tac-an)2. Legal jeopardy only attaches only (a) upon a valid indictment, (b) before a competent court, (c) after arraignment, (d) a valid plea having been entered; and (e) the case was dismissed or otherwise terminated without the express consent of the accused (People v. Tac-an, citing People v. Ylagan)3. 

In examining the details of the case, it would seem that prosecuting Theodore Crawford for murder will constitute a double jeopardy considering that 1) the first jeopardy of attempted murder has validly attached since a) there was a valid indictment b) before a competent court c) after arraignment d) with a valid plea entered by Crawford and e) the case was not dismissed or terminated with his express consent as a judgment has already been made. Following this, 2) the case was also validly terminated, and ultimately, 3) the jeopardy of murder is necessarily the same offense of attempted murder since Rule 117 Section 7 of the Rules of Court provides that,

“When an accused has been convicted or acquitted, or the case against him dismissed or otherwise terminated without his express consent by a court of competent jurisdiction, upon a valid complaint or information or another formal charge sufficient in form and substance to sustain a conviction and after the accused had pleaded to the charge, the conviction or acquittal of the accused or the dismissal of the case shall be a bar to another prosecution for the offense charged, or for any attempt to commit the same or frustration thereof, or for any offense which necessarily includes or is necessarily included in the offense charged in the former complaint or information.” (emphasis supplied)4

From the foregoing facts, it would make sense that, indeed, Theodore Crawford’s contention that he cannot be prosecuted for the same offense arising from the same act must be followed. However, every rule has its own exceptions and the rule on double jeopardy is not exempted from this. In fact, Rule 117 Section 7 of the Rules of Court further provides that,

However, the conviction of the accused shall not be a bar to another prosecution for an offense which necessarily includes the offense charged in the former complaint or information under any of the following instances:
(a)   the graver offense developed due to supervening facts arising from the same act or omission constituting the former charge;
(b)  the facts constituting the graver charge became known or were discovered only after a plea was entered in the former complaint or information; or
(c)   the plea of guilty to the lesser offense was made without the consent of the prosecutor and of the offended party except as provided in section 1 (f) of Rule 116.”5

This provision must be construed in such a manner that former prosecution for the same offense shall not necessarily be a bar to another prosecution of a similar offense when either of the circumstances enumerated in the provision is present. The first circumstance illustrates the doctrine of supervening event. Under this doctrine, the accused may be prosecuted for the same offense provided that subsequent events or acts imputable to the accused arising from the same crime change the character of the first indictment of the accused, such as a prior conviction of physical injuries to prosecution for homicide when the victim dies (Melo v. People)6.

In the issue at hand, the prior indictment of the accused of attempted murder is not a bar for prosecution of murder because the graver offense of murder developed due to the supervening events traceable to the acts of Crawford. These events are as follows: 1) Crawford’s act of obtaining a restraining order against Beachum who was diligently looking after his wife in hopes of her waking up to testify against Theodore, and 2) Crawford’s act of pulling the plug to ensure that his wife could not testify against him anymore, notwithstanding the court order that Beachum was able to secure. These acts may be considered as those arising from the same act of attempted murder in the former charge; were it not for Theodore’s attempt to kill his wife, he would have no need to obtain a restraining order against Beachum and he would have no need to ensure the death of his wife by pulling out the life support. Such is the case, Theodore Crawford cannot invoke the defense of double jeopardy in the Philippine setting. Although there is no double jeopardy, Crawford still cannot be prosecuted for murder if the laws of the Philippines are to be applied.

Murder vs. Parricide

In the current case, Crawford is being prosecuted for the crime of murder. The Revised Penal Code defines murder as,

“Art. 248. Murder. — Any person who, not falling within the provisions of Article 246 shall kill another, shall be guilty of murder and shall be punished by reclusion temporal in its maximum period to death if committed with any of the following attendant circumstances:
1. With treachery, taking advantage of superior strength, with the aid of armed men, or employing means to weaken the defense or of means or persons to insure or afford impunity.
2. In consideration of a price, reward, or promise.
3. By means of inundation, fire, poison, explosion, shipwreck, stranding of a vessel, derailment or assault upon a street car or locomotive, fall of an airship, by means of motor vehicles, or with the use of any other means involving great waste and ruin.
4. On occasion of any of the calamities enumerated in the preceding paragraph, or of an earthquake, eruption of a volcano, destructive cyclone, epidemic or other public calamity.
5. With evident premeditation.
6. With cruelty, by deliberately and inhumanly augmenting the suffering of the victim, or outraging or scoffing at his person or corpse.”7

Otherwise stated, the elements of murder are 1) that a person was killed, 2) that the accused killed him or her, 3) that the killing was attended by any of the qualifying circumstance mentioned in the RPC as stated above, and 4) that the killing is not parricide or infanticide (People v. Gabrino, citing People v. Dela Cruz)8. It is clear that by pulling out the life support (the legality of which is still highly debatable in the absence of laws governing assisted suicide or euthanasia), Crawford has killed his wife thereby satisfying the first two elements of murder. There was also an evident premeditation on Theodore’s part as illustrated by his acts. The last element of murder, however, was not met. Article 246 of the Revised Penal Code states that,

“Art. 246. Parricide. — Any person who shall kill his father, mother, or child, whether legitimate or illegitimate, or any of his ascendants, or descendants, or his spouse, shall be guilty of parricide and shall be punished by the penalty of reclusion perpetua to death.”9

Following this provision, there is parricide when 1) a person is killed, 2) the deceased is killed by the accused, and 3) the deceased is the father, mother, or child, whether legitimate or illegitimate, or a legitimate other ascendant or other descendant, or the legitimate spouse of the accused (People v. Castro)10. Since Theodore is the legitimate spouse of Jennifer, their relationship effectively qualified the nature of the crime as parricide and since the crime of murder expressly excludes in its definition those offenses falling in Article 246 of the Code, it necessarily follows that Theodore Crawford cannot be prosecuted for murder in the Philippine setting.

Although there is no bar for another prosecution, in the absence of a double jeopardy, Theodore Crawford may still not be prosecuted for murder as provided for in the Revised Penal Code of the Philippines.

Sources:
1 Article III Section 21 1987 Constitution
2 People v. Tac-an, G.R. No.  148000. February 27, 2003
3 People v. Tac-an, G.R. No.  148000. February 27, 2003, citing People v. Ylagan, 58 Phil. 851
4 Rule 117 Section 7 Rules of Court
5 Rule 117 Section 7 Rules of Court
6 Melo v. People, G.R. No. L-3580, 22 March 1950
7 Article 248 Revised Penal Code
8 People v. Gabrino, G.R. No. 189981, March 9, 2011; citing People v. Dela Cruz, G.R. No. 188353, February 16, 2010
9 Article 246 Revised Penal Code
10 People v. Castro, G.R. No. 172370, October 6, 2008

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