Indeterminate Sentence Law, Act No. 4103: Explainer

SECTION 1. Hereafter, in imposing a prison sentence for an offense punished by acts of the Philippine Legislature, otherwise than by the Revised Penal Code, the court shall order the accused to be imprisoned for a minimum term, which shall not be less than the minimum term of imprisonment provided by law for the offense, and for a maximum term which shall not exceed the maximum fixed by law; and where the offense is punished by the Revised Penal Code, or amendments thereto, the court shall sentence the accused to such maximum as may, in view of attending circumstances, be properly imposed under the present rules of the said Code, and to a minimum which shall not be less than the minimum imprisonment period of the penalty next lower to that prescribed by said Code for the offense. Except as provided in section two hereof, any person who shall have been so convicted and sentenced and shall have served the minimum sentence imposed hereunder, may be released on parole in accordance with the provisions of this Act. (Act No. 4103 [1933], Indeterminate Sentence Law)
SEC. 2. This Act shall not apply to persons convicted of offenses punished with death penalty or life imprisonment; to those convicted of treason, conspiracy or proposal to commit treason; to those convicted of misprision of treason, sedition or espionage; to those convicted of piracy; to those who are habitual delinquents; to those who shall have escaped from confinement or evaded sentence; to those who having been granted conditional pardon by the Chief Executive shall have violated the terms thereof; to those whose maximum term of imprisonment does not exceed one year; nor to those already sentenced by final judgment at the time of approval of this Act except as provided in section five hereof. (Act No. 4103 [1933], Indeterminate Sentence Law)

The application of the Indeterminate Sentence Law is one of the more complicated and confusing topics in criminal law. It befuddles not a few students of law, legal scholars and members of the bench and of the bar. (People v. Temporada, En Banc, G.R. No. 173473, December 17, 2008, Per Corona, J., Separate Opinion)

The fundamental principle in applying and interpreting criminal laws, including the Indeterminate Sentence Law, is to resolve all doubts in favor of the accused. In dubio pro reo. When in doubt, rule for the accused. This is in consonance with the constitutional guarantee that the accused ought to be presumed innocent until and unless his guilt is established beyond reasonable doubt. (People v. Temporada, En Banc [2008], Per Corona, J., Separate Opinion)

Intimately intertwined with the in dubio pro reo principle is the rule of lenity. It is the doctrine that “a court, in construing an ambiguous criminal statute that sets out multiple or inconsistent punishments, should resolve the ambiguity in favor of the more lenient punishment.” (People v. Temporada, En Banc [2008], Per Corona, J., Separate Opinion)

Lenity becomes all the more appropriate when this case is viewed through the lens of the basic purpose of the Indeterminate Sentence Law “to uplift and redeem valuable human material, and prevent unnecessary and excessive deprivation of personal liberty and economic usefulness.”8 Since the goal of the Indeterminate Sentence Law is to look kindly on the accused, the Court should adopt an application or interpretation that is more favorable to the accused. (People v. Temporada, En Banc [2008], Per Corona, J., Separate Opinion)

Under the Indeterminate Sentence Law, in imposing a sentence, the court must determine two penalties composed of the “maximum” and “minimum” terms, instead of imposing a single fixed penalty.17 Hence, the indeterminate sentence is composed of a maximum term taken from the penalty imposable under the Revised Penal Code and a minimum term taken from the penalty next lower to that fixed in the said Code. (People v. Temporada, En Banc [2008], Per Corona, J., Separate Opinion)

The maximum term corresponds to “that which, in view of the attending circumstances, could be properly imposed under the rules of the [Revised Penal] Code.” Thus, “attending circumstances” (such as mitigating, aggravating and other relevant circumstances) that may modify the imposable penalty applying the rules of the Revised Penal Code is considered in determining the maximum term. Stated otherwise, the maximum term is arrived at after taking into consideration the effects of attendant modifying circumstances. (People v. Temporada, En Banc [2008], Per Corona, J., Separate Opinion)

On the other hand, the minimum term “shall be within the range of the penalty next lower to that prescribed by the [Revised Penal] Code for the offense.” It is based on the penalty prescribed by the Revised Penal Code for the offense without considering in the meantime the modifying circumstances. (People v. Temporada, En Banc [2008], Per Corona, J., Separate Opinion)

The Indeterminate Sentence Law is intended to favor the accused, particularly to shorten his term of imprisonment. The reduction of his period of incarceration reasonably helps “uplift and redeem valuable human material, and prevent unnecessary and excessive deprivation of personal liberty and economic usefulness.” The law, being penal in character, must receive an interpretation that benefits the accused. This Court already ruled that “in cases where the application of the law on indeterminate sentence would be unfavorable to the accused, resulting in the lengthening of his prison sentence, said law on indeterminate sentence should not be applied.” In the same vein, if an interpretation of the Indeterminate Sentence Law is unfavorable to the accused and will work to increase the term of his imprisonment, that interpretation should not be adopted. It is also for this reason that the claim that the power of this Court to lighten the penalty of lesser crimes carries with it the responsibility to impose a greater penalty for grave penalties is not only wrong but also dangerous. (People v. Temporada, En Banc [2008], Per Corona, J., Separate Opinion)

Nowhere does the Indeterminate Sentence Law prescribe that the minimum term of the penalty be no farther than one degree away from the maximum term. Thus, while it may be true that the minimum term of the penalty in an indeterminate sentence is generally one degree away from the maximum term, the law does not mandate that its application be rigorously and narrowly limited to that situation. (People v. Temporada, En Banc [2008], Per Corona, J., Separate Opinion)

People v. Temporada, En Banc, G.R. No. 173473, December 17, 2008, Per Ynares-Santiago, J.:

• While we affirm the conviction for the five (5) counts of estafa, we find, however, that the CA erroneously computed the indeterminate penalties therefor. The CA deviated from the doctrine laid down in People v. Gabres; hence its decision should be reversed with respect to the indeterminate penalties it imposed. The reversal of the appellate court’s Decision on this point does not, however, wholly reinstate the indeterminate penalties imposed by the trial court because the maximum terms, as determined by the latter, were erroneously computed and must necessarily be rectified.

• The prescribed penalty for estafa under Article 315, par. 2(d) of the RPC, when the amount defrauded exceeds P22,000.00, is prisión correccional maximum to prisión mayor minimum. The minimum term is taken from the penalty next lower or anywhere within prisión correccional minimum and medium (i.e., from 6 months and 1 day to 4 years and 2 months). Consequently, the RTC correctly fixed the minimum term for the five estafa cases at 4 years and 2 months of prisión correccional since this is within the range of prisión correccional minimum and medium.

• On the other hand, the maximum term is taken from the prescribed penalty of prisión correccional maximum to prisión mayor minimum in its maximum period, adding 1 year of imprisonment for every P10,000.00 in excess of P22,000.00, provided that the total penalty shall not exceed 20 years. However, the maximum period of the prescribed penalty of prisión correccional maximum to prisión mayor minimum is not prisión mayor minimum as apparently assumed by the RTC. To compute the maximum period of the prescribed penalty, prisión correccional maximum to prisión mayor minimum should be divided into three equal portions of time each of which portion shall be deemed to form one period in accordance with Article 65 of the RPC. Following this procedure, the maximum period of prisión correccional maximum to prisión mayor minimum is from 6 years, 8 months and 21 days to 8 years. The incremental penalty, when proper, shall thus be added to anywhere from 6 years, 8 months and 21 days to 8 years, at the discretion of the court.

• In computing the incremental penalty, the amount defrauded shall be subtracted by P22,000.00, and the difference shall be divided by P10,000.00. Any fraction of a year shall be discarded as was done starting with the case of People v. Pabalan in consonance with the settled rule that penal laws shall be construed liberally in favor of the accused. The doctrine enunciated in People v. Benemerito insofar as the fraction of a year was utilized in computing the total incremental penalty should, thus, be modified. In accordance with the above procedure, the maximum term of the indeterminate sentences imposed by the RTC should be as follows:

• In Criminal Case No. 02-208372, where the amount defrauded was P57,600.00, the RTC sentenced the accused to an indeterminate penalty of 4 years and 2 months of prisión correccional as minimum, to 9 years and 1 day of prisión mayor as maximum. Since the amount defrauded exceeds P22,000.00 by P35,600.00, 3 years shall be added to the maximum period of the prescribed penalty (or added to anywhere from 6 years, 8 months and 21 days to 8 years, at the discretion of the court). The lowest maximum term, therefore, that can be validly imposed is 9 years, 8 months and 21 days of prisión mayor, and not 9 years and 1 day of prisión mayor.

• In Criminal Case Nos. 02-208373, 02-208375, and 02-208376, where the amounts defrauded were P66,520.00, P69,520.00, and P69,520.00, respectively, the accused was sentenced to an indeterminate penalty of 4 years and 2 months of prisión correccional as minimum, to 10 years and 1 day of prisión mayor as maximum for each of the aforesaid three estafa cases. Since the amounts defrauded exceed P22,000.00 by P44,520.00, P47,520.00, and P47,520.00, respectively, 4 years shall be added to the maximum period of the prescribed penalty (or added to anywhere from 6 years, 8 months and 21 days to 8 years, at the discretion of the court). The lowest maximum term, therefore, that can be validly imposed is 10 years, 8 months and 21 days of prisión mayor, and not 10 years and 1 day of prisión mayor.

• Finally, in Criminal Case No. 02-208374, where the amount defrauded was P88,520.00, the accused was sentenced to an indeterminate penalty of 4 years and 2 months of prisión correccional as minimum, to 11 years and 1 day of prisión mayor as maximum. Since the amount defrauded exceeds P22,000.00 by P66,520.00, 6 years shall be added to the maximum period of the prescribed penalty (or added to anywhere from 6 years, 8 months and 21 days to 8 years, at the discretion of the court). The lowest maximum term, therefore, that can be validly imposed is 12 years, 8 months and 21 days of reclusión temporal, and not 11 years and 1 day of prisión mayor.

• Response to the dissent

• In the computation of the indeterminate sentence for estafa under Article 315, par. 2(a) of the Revised Penal Code (RPC), the Court has consistently followed the doctrine espoused in Pabalan and more fully explained in Gabres. The dissent argues that Gabres should be reexamined and abandoned.

• We sustain Gabres.

Related: People v. Temporada (2008)

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