Interpretation of penal laws – Criminal Law

1. Presumption of innocence

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall be presumed innocent until the contrary is proved. (Section 14[2], Article III, 1987 Constitution)

2. Pro reo principle

The fundamental principle in applying and interpreting criminal laws… 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. (J. Corona’s Separate Opinion in People v. Temporada, G.R. No. 173473, ____, citing Section 14 (2), Constitution)

3. Rule of lenity

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.” (Ibid., citing Black’s Law Dictionary, Eighth Edition [2004], p. 1359)

4. Strict interpretation against the State

In case of doubt, penal law is to be construed strictly against the state. (People v. Madrigal, En Banc, G.R. No. L-2873, 28 February 1950)

“Criminal and penal statutes must be strictly construed, that is, they cannot be enlarged or extended by intendment, implication, or by any equitable considerations. In other words, the language cannot be enlarged beyond the ordinary meaning of its terms in order to carry into effect the general purpose for which the statute was enacted. Only those persons, offenses, and penalties, clearly included, beyond any reasonable doubt, will be considered within the statute’s operation. They must come clearly within both the spirit and the letter of the statute, and where there is any reasonable doubt, it must be resolved in favor of the person accused of violating the statute; that is, all questions in doubt will be resolved in favor of those from whom the penalty is sought.” (Statutory Construction, Crawford, pp. 460-462, cited in People v. Madrigal, supra.)


⦁ Book I, Act No. 3815, Revised Penal Code

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