Monday, January 26, 2009

Sample quiz questions in criminal law

When is malice not presumed in a libel case? [Choose one or more]
(a) When communication is made privately in the performance of duty.
(b) When the complainant is a public figure, but the action is based on a private act.
(c) When the defamatory statement is true.
(d) Fair comment on acts of a public officer.
(e) Fair comment on matters of public interest, including judicial proceedings.
(f) When the defamatory statement is made with reckless disregard of the truth.
(g) When the defamatory statement is made in lawful exercise of a right.

Correct answers: (a), (d), (e), (g). (a) and (d) are based on Art. 354, Revised Penal Code (RPC). (e), Borjal v CA. (g), because there is no mens rea, which is a justifying circumstance in Art. 11, RPC. The rest follows the general rule that malice is presumed even if the defamatory statement is true. Art. 354, RPC.
Classifications: Easy, Criminal, concepts

What is not fair comment in the context of the criminal laws on libel? [Choose those that apply]
(a) One made by a disinterested observer on a matter of public concern.
(b) One that is absolutely true but relates to something that is not a matter of public concern.
(c) When made by a “fighting journalist” who publicizes what is an “open secret” among those in power.
(d) One that, although false or mistaken, is based on established facts or might reasonably be inferred from the facts.
(e) None of the above

Correct answer: (b), by elimination. Fair comment is defined as a statement based on honest opinion about a matter of public concern. Black’s. (a) and (c) fit the definition of fair comment in (d), as implied in People v Velasco, as cited in Borjal v CA, 1999.
Classifications: Easy, Criminal, concepts

X, a columnist, published an article contending that Y, a famous movie star, is impotent because of sexually transmitted disease. X wrote the article because he had a personal feud with Y. In fact, Y is impotent because of old age. What liability, civil or criminal, attaches to X? [Choose one]
(a) None, because the article is considered privileged communication, and Y is a public figure. Under the jurisprudence, a public figure such as Y is “fair game” for the exercise of the right to free expression. Borjal v CA, citing NY Times v Sullivan.
(b) X is criminally and civilly liable because he committed libel when he imputed to Y a defect which tended to cause the latter’s dishonor. Art. 353, RPC.
(c) X is not criminally liable because of the justifying circumstance in Art. 11, paragraph 5, where the accused acted in fulfillment of a duty or in the lawful exercise of a right or office. X was merely exercising his occupation as a columnist, and besides, the public has a right to know, in case Y might spread disease to unknowing fans.
(d) X is not criminally liable but he is nonetheless civilly liable for damages for violating Y’s right to privacy.

Correct answer: (b). The matter is not properly one subject to the fair comment doctrine. As to incorrect answers: (a) is not correct because, although Y is a public figure, the defamatory article is not fair comment, defined as honest opinion on a matter of public concern. Here, Y’s sexual health is a private matter, and even public figures have a right to privacy. (c) is incorrect because the exercise of X’s right or office must be lawful for Art. 11 to apply. Besides, under the facts, X had malicious intent. (d) is wrong, because X is criminally liable.
Classifications: Easy, Criminal, rules

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