Understanding Crimes Involving Moral Turpitude

07 Feb


One of the requirement before one can be admitted to practice of law is a satisfactory evidence of good moral character and not having been filed any charge against him involving moral turpitude in any Philippine Court (Section 2, Rule 138, Rules of Court). But what precisely, if not exactly is moral turpitude?

One of the Supreme Court jurisprudence that I recommend is the concurring opinion of Associate Justice Arturo Brion in the case of  Teves vs. COMELEC (G.R. No. 180363. April 28, 2009). There, Justice Brion discussed a brief (legislative) history of the term. Its roots can be traced from US immigration laws as early as 17th century. Since then, there was a gradual qualification of felony, offenses and crimes to be associated with “moral turpitude”, and fraudulent conduct was a controlling factor in associating it.

In the early editions of Black’s Law Dictionary, it defines moral turpitude as:

[An] act of baseness, vileness, or the depravity in private and social duties which man owes to his fellow man, or to society in general, contrary to the accepted and customary rule of right and duty between man and man. xxx  Act or behavior that gravely violates moral sentiment or accepted moral standards of community and is a morally culpable quality held to be present in some criminal offenses as distinguished from others. xxx The quality of a crime involving grave infringement of the moral sentiment of the community as distinguished from statutory mala prohibita.

In a case which involved a lawyer (In Re Basa, 1920) having committed abduction with consent, the Supreme Court (of the Philippines) through Justice Malcolm have spoken:

“Moral turpitude,” it has been said, “includes everything which is done contrary to justice, honesty, modesty, or good morals.” (Bouvier’s Law Dictionary, cited by numerous courts.) Although no decision can be found which has decided the exact question, it cannot admit of doubt that crimes of this character involve moral turpitude. The inherent nature of the act is such that it is against good morals and the accepted rule of right conduct.

Since then, some of the identified crimes involving moral turpitude were identified as follows:

  1. Abduction with consent
  2. Seduction under promise of marriage
  3. Bigamy
  4. Concubinage
  5. Adultery
  6. Smuggling
  7. Rape
  8. Estafa through falsification of a document
  9. Attempted Bribery
  10. Profiteering
  11. Robbery
  12. Murder, whether consummated or attempted
  13. Estafa
  14. Theft
  15. Blackmail
  16. Illicit Sexual Relations with a Fellow Worker
  17. Violation of BP Blg. 22
  18. Falsification of Document
  19. Mutilation of public records
  20. Fabrication of evidence
  21. Making fraudulent proof of loss on insurance contract
  22. Offenses against pension laws
  23. Evasion of income tax
  24. Intriguing against Honor
  25. Violation of the Anti-Fencing Law
  26. Violation of Dangerous Drugs Act of 1972 (Drug-pushing)
  27. Criminal conspiracy to smuggle opium
  28. Perjury
  29. Forgery
  30. Libel
  31. Direct Bribery
  32. Frustrated Homicide
  33. Arson
  34. Barratry
  35. Dueling
  36. Embezzlement

 On the other hand, the following crimes were ruled out not to be involving moral turpitude:

  1. Minor transgressions of the law (i.e., conviction for speeding)
  2. Illegal recruitment
  3. Slight physical injuries
  4. Carrying of deadly weapon (Illegal possession of firearms)
  5. Indirect Contempt

There were three (3) approaches to determine if the any crime, not previously identified, may be considered as crime involving moral turpitude:

First approach: (objective approach) involvement of moral turpitude where an act is intrinsically immoral, regardless of whether it is punishable by law or not. The Court emphasized that moral turpitude goes beyond being merely mala prohibita; the act itself must be inherently immoral.  Thus, this approach requires that the committed act itself be examined, divorced from its characterization as a crime.

Second approach: look at the act committed through its elements as a crime.  The Court recognized that as a “general rule, all crimes of which fraud is an element are looked on as involving moral turpitude.”  This is the same conclusion that the U.S. Supreme Court, that crimes requiring fraud or intent to defraud always involve moral turpitude.

Third approach: (subjective approach) essentially takes the offender and his acts into account in light of the attendant circumstances of the crime: was he motivated by ill will indicating depravity?

For the three approaches, the defining question is: Is it contrary to the accepted rules of right and duty, justice, honesty and good morals? To be able to be cleared and ruled out of the definition of “moral turpitude”, all three must be answered in the negative.

BTW, in the cited case, the SC ruled:

WHEREFORE, the petition is GRANTED. The assailed Resolutions of the Commission on Elections dated May 11, 2007 and October 9, 2007 disqualifying petitioner Edgar Y. Teves from running for the position of Representative of the 3rd District of Negros Oriental, are REVERSED and SET ASIDE and a new one is entered declaring that the crime committed by petitioner (violation of Section 3(h) of R.A. 3019) did not involve moral turpitude.

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Posted by on February 7, 2013 in Legal Ethics


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