Complex and Special Complex Crime in Criminal Law

COMPLEX CRIME AND SPECIAL COMPLEX CRIME

One of the difficult areas in the study of criminal law is the concept on complex crime. Many law students (or even bar reviewees) fail to distinguish complex crimes from special complex crimes. And this is one of the favorite sources of bar exam questions.

What is complex crime? What are the two kinds of complex crime? How does this differ from special complex crimes?

Complex crime

It is provided in Article 48 of our Revised Penal Code that when a single act constitutes two or more grave or less grave felonies or when an offense is a necessary means for committing the other, the penalty for the most serious crime shall be imposed, the same to be applied in its maximum period. Article 48 is a procedural device allowing single prosecution of multiple felonies falling under either of two categories: (1) when a single act constitutes two or more grave or less grave felonies (thus excluding from its operation light felonies); and (2) when an offense is a necessary means for committing the other. The legislature crafted this procedural tool to benefit the accused who, in lieu of serving multiple penalties, will only serve the maximum of the penalty for the most serious crime. In a complex crime, although two or more crimes are actually committed, they constitute only one crime in the eyes of the law as well as in the conscience of the offender. Hence, there is only one penalty imposed for the commission of a complex crime.

There are two kinds of complex crimes:

(a) Compound crime. There is a compound crime when a single act constitutes two or more grave or less grave felonies. The classic example of the first of kind is when a single bullet results in the death of two or more persons, or the single act of throwing a grenade resulting in the death of another person and injuring four others produced the complex crime of murder and multiple attempted murders.

(b) Complex crime proper. There is a complex crime proper when an offense is a necessary means for committing the other. This refers to a situation that the offender commits a crime to insure and facilitate the commission of another crime. The first crime is resorted to give way to another crime. While there may be two component crimes, both felonies are animated by and result from one and the same criminal intent for which there is only one criminal liability. That is the concept of a complex crime. In other words, while there are two crimes, they are treated only as one, subject to a single criminal liability. The case of estafa through falsification of public document would illustrate this point. While a conviction for estafa through falsification of public document requires that the elements of both estafa and falsification exist, it does not mean that the criminal liability for estafa may be determined and considered independently of that for falsification. The two crimes of estafa and falsification of public documents are not separate crimes but component crimes of the single complex crime of estafa and falsification of public documents.

Special Complex Crime (also called Composite Crimes)

Where the law provides a single penalty for two or more component offenses, the resulting crime is called a special complex crime. It is composed of two or more crimes but is treated by law as a single indivisible and unique offense for being the product of one criminal impulse. composite crimes are neither of the same legal basis as nor subject to the rules on complex crimes in Article 48 of the Revised Penal Code, since they do not consist of a single act giving rise to two or more grave or less grave felonies (compound crimes) nor do they involve an offense being a necessary means to commit another (complex crime proper). However, just like the regular complex crimes, only a single penalty is imposed for each of such composite crimes although composed of two or more offenses.

Distinctions

There are three distinctions:

First, as to composition of the crimes. In a composite crime, the composition of the offenses is fixed by law, but in a complex or compound crime, the combination of the offenses is not specified but generalized, that is, grave and/or less grave, or one offense being the necessary means to commit the other.

Second, as to penalty. In a composite crime, the penalty for the specified combination of crimes is specific, but in a complex or compound crime the penalty is that corresponding to the most serious offense, to be imposed in the maximum period.

Third, as to the treatment of light felony. A light felony that accompanies the commission of a complex or compound crime may be made the subject of a separate information, but a light felony that accompanies a composite crime is absorbed.

Illustration

Pedro, a jilted suitor of Maria, abducted the latter. In the course of captivity, he made a last-ditch attempt to win her heart. However, his efforts were futile. Then, he raped her three times. What crime was committed by Pedro? He committed the complex crime of Forcible Abduction with Rape and two (2) counts of rape. In this complex crime, any subsequent intercourse is a separate crime. In the first rape, the crime of forcible abduction is already consummated, so that each of the succeeding rape is a separate crime.

On the other hand, if Pedro abducted Maria for purposes of demanding ransom from her family, and in the course of captivity, he raped her three times. Pedro committed the crime of Kidnapping with rape only. What about the two rapes? They will be absorbed in the Kidnapping with rape. Why? In special complex crime, no matter how many rapes had been committed, the resultant crime is only one kidnapping with rape. This is because these composite acts are regarded as a single indivisible crime and the law punishes it with only one single penalty.

How do you know whether the abduction constitutes the crime of Forcible Abduction, on one hand, and Kidnapping, on the other?

Simple. In abduction, there is always an element of lewd design which is not so in kidnapping. Lewd design is an element that characterizes all crimes against chastity, apart from the felonious or criminal intent of the offender.

So, next time, find out whether lewd design attended the abduction. In so doing, you will be able to know if the crime is a complex or special complex one.

Reference: Criminal Law Concepts and Jurisprudence, Book 1, Nojara, 2020 Edition. Central Bookstore. P11-S20

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