December 2010 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Criminal Law and Procedure

Here are selected December 2010 rulings of the Supreme Court of the Philippines on criminal law and procedure:

CRIMINAL LAW

1. Revised Penal Code

Civil liability if death results. When death occurs due to a crime, the following may be recovered: (1) civil indemnity ex delicto for the death of the victim; (2) actual or compensatory damages; (3) moral damages; (4) exemplary damages; (5) attorney’s fees and expenses of litigation; and (6) interest, in proper cases. In People vs. Tubongbanua, interest at the rate of 6% was ordered to be applied on the award of damages. This rule would be subsequently applied by the Supreme Court in several cases such as Mendoza vs. People, People vs. Buban, People vs. Guevarra, and People vs. Regalario. The rule was likewise adopted in this case. Thus, interest of 6% per annum should be imposed on the award of civil indemnity and all damages, i.e., actual or compensatory damages, moral damages and exemplary damages, from the date of finality of judgment until fully paid. People of the Philippines vs. Jose Pepito Combate, G.R. No. 189301, December 15, 2010.

Death of accused; criminal and civil liability extinguished. Death of the accused pending appeal of his conviction extinguishes his criminal liability as well as the civil liability based solely thereon. In this regard, Justice Regalado opined: “[T]he death of the accused prior to final judgment terminates his criminal liability and only the civil liability directly arising from and based solely on the offense committed, i.e., civil liability ex delicto in senso strictiore.” Dante Datu y Hernandez vs. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 169718, December 13, 2010.

Death of accused; civil liability survives if separate civil action can be filed. Corollarily, the claim for civil liability survives notwithstanding the death of the accused, if the same may also be predicated on a source of obligation other than delict. Article 1157 of the Civil Code enumerates these other sources of obligation from which the civil liability may arise as a result of the same act or omission: law, contracts, quasi-contracts, quasi-delicts. Where the civil liability survives, an action for recovery therefor may be pursued but only by way of filing a separate civil action and subject to Section 1, Rule 111 of the 1985 Rules on Criminal Procedure as amended. This separate civil action may be enforced either against the executor/administrator or the estate of the accused, depending on the source of obligation upon which the same is based as explained above.  Dante Datu y Hernandez vs. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 169718, December 13, 2010.

Death of accused; civil liability survives if separate civil action can be filed. Finally, the private offended party need not fear a forfeiture of his right to file this separate civil action by prescription, in cases where during the prosecution of the criminal action and prior to its extinction, the private-offended party instituted together therewith the civil action. In such case, the statute of limitations on the civil liability is deemed interrupted during the pendency of the criminal case, conformably with the provisions of Article 1155 of the Civil Code, that should thereby avoid any apprehension on a possible privation of right by prescription. Dante Datu y Hernandez vs. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 169718, December 13, 2010.

Murder; treachery. The Supreme Court agreed that treachery attended the commission of the crime. The accused lulled the victim into believing that he was being pursued by somebody.  Believing in the tale being spun by the appellant, the victim even offered appellant the security and protection of his house.  However, accused reciprocated the victim’s trust and hospitality by suddenly hacking him on the head and stabbing him on the waist.  The settled rule is that treachery can exist even if the attack is frontal, as long as the attack is sudden and unexpected, giving the victim no opportunity to repel it or to defend himself. What is decisive is that the execution of the attack, without the slightest provocation from an unarmed victim, made it impossible for the victim to defend himself or to retaliate. People of the Philippines vs. Rodriguez Lucero y Paw-as alias “Kikit”, G.R. No. 17904, December 6, 2010.

Rape; damages. The award of P50,000.00 as civil indemnity and another P50,000.00 as moral damages in favor of the victim is in accordance with prevailing jurisprudence. However, in addition, “AAA” is entitled to an award of exemplary damages. The qualifying circumstance that appellant was the common-law spouse of “AAA’s” mother was duly established during trial although it was not properly alleged in the Information.  Although appellant may not be convicted of qualified rape, said circumstance however may be taken into account in the award of exemplary damages. Jurisprudence dictates that exemplary damages in the amount of P30,000.00 be further awarded to “AAA.” People of the Philippines vs. Manuel “Awil” Pojo, G.R. No. 183709, December 6, 2010.

Rape; damages. The Supreme Court affirmed the ruling of the Court of Appeal (CA) with regard to the amount of civil indemnity and moral damages awarded.  The amount of P75,000.00 as civil indemnity, despite the reduction of the penalty imposed on appellant from death to reclusion perpetua, was sustained by the Supreme Court. In People v. Victor, the Supreme Court explained that the award does not depend upon the imposition of the death penalty; rather, it is awarded based on the fact that qualifying circumstances warranting the imposition of the death penalty attended the commission of the offense. The Supreme Court also found proper the CA’s ruling increasing the award of moral damages from P50,000.00 to P75,000.00.  Moral damages are awarded without need of proof for mental, physical and psychological suffering undeniably sustained by a rape victim because it is assumed that a rape victim has actually suffered moral injuries entitling her to such award. However, the Supreme Court increased the amount of exemplary damages awarded from P25,000.00 to P30,000.00 in line with prevailing jurisprudence on the matter.  The Supreme Court, in People v. Lorenzo Layco Sr., awarded exemplary damages to set a public example, to serve as deterrent to elders who abuse and corrupt the youth, and to protect the latter from sexual abuse. People of the Philippines vs. Gilbert Castro y Aguilar, G.R. No. 188901, December 15, 2010.

Rape; penalty. The trial court correctly imposed upon him the penalty of death since a rape committed while the victim was still under 18 years of age by an offender who is her parent merits no less than the imposition of capital punishment under Article 266-B of the Revised Penal Code. It is clear from the birth certificate of “AAA” that she was only 14 years old when she was ravished by the appellant, her biological father.  In view, however, of the passage of Republic Act No. 9346, which prohibits the imposition of the penalty of death, the penalty of reclusion perpetua, without eligibility for parole, should be imposed. Thus, appellant was sentenced to reclusion perpetua without eligibility of parole for each count of rape. People of the Philippines vs. Felipe Nachor y Omayan, G.R. No. 177779, December 14, 2010.

Rape; penalty when victim is mentally challenged. Article 266-B of the Revised Penal Code, as amended by the Anti-Rape Law of 1997, provides that the death penalty shall also be imposed if the crime of rape is committed when the offender knew of the mental disability, emotional disorder and/or physical handicap of the offended party at the time of the commission of the crime. The information in this case alleges that AAA is a mental retardate and such fact was known to the appellant at the time of the commission of the crime.  These allegations were duly established by the prosecution during trial.  The trial court which had the opportunity to observe the demeanor and conduct of the witnesses during the trial was convinced that indeed herein accused had carnal knowledge of AAA, an 18-year-old woman with a weak mind that her mental age was only that of a five and a half (5 ½) year old child. Her abnormality as a retardate was known to their neighborhood, including the accused, an immediate neighbor. With the enactment of R.A. 9346 on June 24 2006, however, the imposition of death penalty has been prohibited. Pursuant to Section 2 thereof, the property penalty to be imposed on appellant is reclusion perpetua.  RA 9346 should  be applied even if the crime was committed prior to the enactment of the law in view of the principle in criminal law that favorabilia sunt amplianda adiosa restrigenda.  Penal laws which are favorable to the accused are given retroactive effect. In addition, appellant shall not be eligible for parole.  Under Section 3 of RA 9346, persons convicted with reclusion perpetua, or those whose sentences will be reduced to reclusion perpetua, by reason of the Act, accused shall not be eligible for parole under Act No. 4103, otherwise known as the Indeterminate Sentence Law, as amended. People of the Philippines vs. Gilbert Castro y Aguilar, G.R. No. 188901, December 15, 2010.

Rape; penalty when committed in the presence of parents. Under Article 266-B of the Revised Penal Code, when rape is committed in full view of the parent, the penalty to be imposed is death. Both the Regional Trial Court (RTC) and the Court of Appeals found that the prosecution was able to sufficiently prove the qualifying circumstance that the accused raped AAA in full view of her mother. It is indisputable that when the accused raped AAA, he committed such act in full view of BBB, AAA’s mother.  Hence, the RTC was correct in imposing upon the accused the penalty of death as it found accused guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of qualified rape. However, although the crime of qualified rape is punishable by death under the Death Penalty Law, Republic Act No. 9346, which took effect on June 24, 2006, prohibits the imposition of the death penalty.  Under this Act, the proper penalty to be imposed upon Flores in lieu of the death penalty is reclusion perpetua without eligibility for parole. People of the Philippines vs. Montano Flores y Paras, G.R. No. 177355, December 15, 2010.

Rape; principles in review of judgments of conviction. In reviewing rape cases, the Court is guided by the four well-established principles: (1) an accusation for rape can be made with facility; (2) it is difficult to prove but more difficult for the person accused, though innocent, to disprove; (3) [considering] the intrinsic nature of the crime of rape where only two persons are usually involved, the testimony of the complainant must be scrutinized with extreme caution; and, (4) the evidence for the prosecution must stand or fall on its own merits and cannot be allowed to draw strength from the weakness of the evidence for the defense.”  Thus, “the primordial consideration in a determination concerning the crime of rape is the credibility of the private complainant’s testimony.” People of the Philippines vs. Eminiano Barcela y Medina, G.R. No. 179948, December 8, 2010.

Rape; proof of age of victim. The Supreme Court ruled that AAA’s age was not proven with certainty. For minority to be considered as a qualifying circumstance in the crime of rape, it must not only be alleged in the Information, but it must also be established with moral certainty. People of the Philippines vs. Montano Flores y Paras, G.R. No. 177355, December 15, 2010.

Rape; proof of age of victim.  Noting the divergent rulings on the proof required to establish the age of the victim in rape cases, People vs. Pruna set out the following guidelines in appreciating age, either as an element of the crime or as a qualifying circumstance: (A) The best evidence to prove the age of the offended party is an original or certified true copy of the certificate of live birth of such party. (B) In the absence of a certificate of live birth, similar authentic documents such as baptismal certificate and school records which show the date of birth of the victim would suffice to prove age. (C) If the certificate of live birth or authentic document is shown to have been lost or destroyed or otherwise unavailable, the testimony, if clear and credible, of the victim’s mother or a member of the family either by affinity or consanguinity who is qualified to testify on matters respecting pedigree such as the exact age or date of birth of the offended party pursuant to Section 40, Rule 130 of the Rules on Evidence shall be sufficient under the following circumstances: [i] if the victim is alleged to be below 3 years of age and what is sought to be proved is that she is less than 7 years old; [ii] if the victim is alleged to be below 7 years of age and what is sought to be proved is that she is less than 12 years old; [iii] if the victim is alleged to be below 12 years of age and what is sought to be proved is that she is less than 18 years old. (D) In the absence of a certificate of live birth, authentic document, or the testimony of the victim’s mother or relatives concerning the victim’s age, the complainant’s testimony will suffice provided that it is expressly and clearly admitted by the accused. (E) It is the prosecution that has the burden of proving the age of the offended party.  The failure of the accused to object to the testimonial evidence regarding age shall not be taken against him. People of the Philippines vs. Montano Flores y Paras, G.R. No. 177355, December 15, 2010.

Rape; proof of age of victim.  In the case at bar, not only did the prosecution fail to present AAA’s birth certificate, but BBB, the victim’s mother herself, gave contradictory statements on the true age of her daughter.  At one time she said that AAA was 13 years old, and yet when asked about the year of AAA’s birthday, she declared that it was 1982.  AAA herself did not know the exact year she was born.  The Certification from the Municipal Civil Registrar of General Luna, Quezon that both parties offered as evidence of AAA’s age has no probative value because it was not a certification as to the true age of AAA but as to the fact that the records of birth filed in their archives included those registered from 1930 up to the time the certificate was requested, and that records for the period of 1930 – June 23, 1994 were razed by fire. People of the Philippines vs. Montano Flores y Paras, G.R. No. 177355, December 15, 2010.

2.  Special Laws

BP 33. A single underfilling constitutes an offense under BP 33, as amended by PD 1865, which clearly criminalizes these offenses.  B.P. Blg. 33, as amended, criminalizes illegal trading, adulteration, underfilling, hoarding, and overpricing of petroleum products.  Under this general description of what constitutes criminal acts involving petroleum products, the DOE Circular No. 2000-06-010 merely lists the various modes by which the said criminal acts may be perpetrated, namely: no price display board, no weighing scale, no tare weight or incorrect tare weight markings, no authorized LPG seal, no trade name, unbranded LPG cylinders, no serial number, no distinguishing color, no embossed identifying markings on cylinder, underfilling LPG cylinders, tampering LPG cylinders, and unauthorized decanting of LPG cylinders.  These specific acts and omissions are obviously within the contemplation of the law, which seeks to curb the pernicious practices of some petroleum merchants. The Court made it clear that a violation, like underfilling, on a per cylinder basis falls within the phrase of any act as mandated under Sec. 4 of BP 33, as amended.  Ineluctably, the underfilling of one LPG cylinder constitutes a clear violation of BP 33, as amended.  The finding of underfilling by LPG Inspector Navio of the LPGIA, as aptly noted by Manila Assistant City Prosecutor Catalo who conducted the preliminary investigation, was indeed not controverted by petitioners. Arnel U. Ty, et al vs. National Bureau of Investigation Supervising Agent Marvin E. De Jemil,et al, G.R. No. 182147, December 15, 2010.

Dangerous Drugs; proof of sale of illegal drugs. To successfully prosecute an accused for selling illegal drugs, the prosecution has to prove: (1) the identities of the buyer and the seller, the object, and the consideration; and (2) the delivery of the thing sold and the payment for it. People of the Philippines vs. Efren Ditona y Montefalcon, et al, G.R. No. 189841, December 15, 2010.

CRIMINAL PROCEDURE

Evidence; alibi. Among the accused, Webb presented the strongest alibi. To establish alibi, the accused must prove by positive, clear, and satisfactory evidence that (a) he was present at another place at the time of the perpetration of the crime, and (b) that it was physically impossible for him to be at the scene of the crime. In this case, accused Webb supported his alibi by presenting documentary and testimonial evidence showing that he was in the U.S. at the time of the perpetration of the crime, i.e., among others, his travel preparation to the U.S., details of his U.S. sojourn, and several immigration records. The courts below held that, despite his evidence, Webb was actually in Parañaque when the Vizconde killings took place; he was not in the U.S. from March 9, 1991 to October 27, 1992; and if he did leave on March 9, 1991, he actually returned before June 29, 1991, committed the crime, erased the fact of his return to the Philippines from the records of the U.S. and Philippine Immigrations, smuggled himself out of the Philippines and into the U.S., and returned the normal way on October 27, 1992.  But this ruling practically makes the death of Webb and his passage into the next life the only acceptable alibi in the Philippines.  Courts must abandon this unjust and inhuman paradigm. If one is cynical about the Philippine system, he could probably claim that Webb, with his father’s connections, can arrange for the local immigration to put a March 9, 1991 departure stamp on his passport and an October 27, 1992 arrival stamp on the same.  But this is pure speculation since there had been no indication that such arrangement was made.  Besides, how could Webb fix a foreign airlines’ passenger manifest, officially filed in the Philippines and at the airport in the U.S. that had his name on them?  How could Webb fix with the U.S. Immigration’s record system those two dates in its record of his travels as well as the dates when he supposedly departed in secret from the U.S. to commit the crime in the Philippines and then return there?  No one has come up with a logical and plausible answer to these questions. Antonio Lejano vs. People of the Philippines/People of the Philippines vs. Hubert Jeffrey P. Webb, et al, G.R. No. 176389/G.R. No. 176864, December 14, 2010.

Evidence; alibi. The trial court and the Court of Appeals expressed marked cynicism over the accuracy of travel documents like the passport as well as the domestic and foreign records of departures and arrivals from airports.  They claim that it would not have been impossible for Webb to secretly return to the Philippines after he supposedly left it on March 9, 1991, commit the crime, go back to the U.S., and openly return to the Philippines again on October 26, 1992.  Travel between the U.S. and the Philippines, said the lower courts took only about twelve to fourteen hours. If the Supreme Court were to subscribe to this extremely skeptical view, it might as well tear the rules of evidence out of the law books and regard suspicions, surmises, or speculations as reasons for impeaching evidence.  It is not that official records, which carry the presumption of truth of what they state, are immune to attack.  They are not.  That presumption can be overcome by evidence.  Here, however, the prosecution did not bother to present evidence to impeach the entries in Webb’s passport and the certifications of the Philippine and U.S.’ immigration services regarding his travel to the U.S. and back.  The prosecution’s rebuttal evidence is the fear of the unknown that it planted in the lower court’s minds. Antonio Lejano vs. People of the Philippines/People of the Philippines vs. Hubert Jeffrey P. Webb, et al, G.R. No. 176389/G.R. No. 176864. December 14, 2010.

Evidence; conspiracy. Conspiracy exists when two or more persons come to an agreement concerning the commission of a felony and decide to commit it. Where all accused acted in concert at the time of the commission of the offense, and it was shown by such acts that they had the same purpose or common design and were united in its execution, conspiracy is sufficiently established. In this case, the Supreme Court ruled that the records clearly prove that there was conspiracy in the commission of the crime. The initial hacking by the accused followed by the multiple stabbing by his co-accused proves that they acted in concert at the time of the brutal killing. The fact that each one of them carried a deadly bladed weapon shows that they acted pursuant to the singular purpose of killing the victim.  It is not important who delivered the fatal blow.  In conspiracy, it matters not who among the accused actually killed the victim.  The act of one is the act of all. Each of the accused is equally guilty of the crime committed. People of the Philippines vs. Alex Lingasa, et al, G.R. No. 192187, December 15, 2010.

Evidence; corpus delicti in drug cases. To successfully prosecute an accused for selling and/or possession of illegal drugs, the State has to prove as well the corpus delicti, the body of the crime. It must be shown that the suspected substance the police officers seized from the accused is the same thing presented in court during the trial.  Thus, the chain of custody rule is essential to ensure that doubts regarding the identity of the evidence are removed through the monitoring and tracking of the movements of the seized drugs from the accused, to the police, to the forensic chemist, and finally to the court. The witnesses should be able to describe these movements to ensure that there had been no change in the condition of the item and that no one who did not belong in the chain had access to the same. People of the Philippines vs. Efren Ditona y Montefalcon, et al, G.R. No. 189841, December 15, 2010.

Evidence; credibility of testimony. The Supreme Court ruled that Jessica Alfaro’s testimony as eyewitness, describing the crime and identifying accused Webb, Lejano, Gatchalian, Fernandez, Estrada, Rodriguez, and two others as the persons who committed it, is not entitled to belief. There is another thing about a lying witness: her story lacks sense or suffers from inherent inconsistencies.  An understanding of the nature of things and the common behavior of people will help expose a lie.  And it has an abundant presence in this case.

First, in her (Alfaro’s) desire to implicate Gatchalian, Fernandez, Estrada, Rodriguez, and Filart, who were supposed to be Webb’s co-principals in the crime, Alfaro made it a point to testify that Webb proposed twice to his friends the gang-rape of Carmela who had hurt him.  And twice, they (including, if one believes Alfaro, her own boyfriend Estrada) agreed in a chorus to his proposal.  But when they got to Carmela’s house, only Webb, Lejano, Ventura, and Alfaro entered the house. Gatchalian, Fernandez, Estrada, and Rodriguez supposedly stayed around Alfaro’s car, which was parked on the street between Carmela’s house and the next.  Some of these men sat on top of the car’s lid while others milled on the sidewalk, visible under the street light to anyone who cared to watch them, particularly to the people who were having a drinking party in a nearby house.  Obviously, the behavior of Webb’s companions out on the street did not figure in a planned gang-rape of Carmela.

Second, Ventura, Alfaro’s dope supplier, introduced her for the first time in her life to Webb and his friends in a parking lot by a mall.  So why would she agree to act as Webb’s messenger, using her gas, to bring his message to Carmela at her home.  More inexplicably, what motivated Alfaro to stick it out the whole night with Webb and his friends? They were practically strangers to her and her boyfriend Estrada.  When it came to a point that Webb decided with his friends to gang-rape Carmela, clearly, there was nothing in it for Alfaro.  Yet, she stuck it out with them, as a police asset would, hanging in there until she had a crime to report, only she was not yet an “asset” then.  If, on the other hand, Alfaro had been too soaked in drugs to think clearly and just followed along where the group took her, how could she remember so much details that only a drug-free mind can?

Third, when Alfaro went to see Carmela at her house for the second time, Carmella told her that she still had to go out and that Webb and his friends should come back around midnight.  Alfaro returned to her car and waited for Carmela to drive out in her own car.  And she trailed her up to Aguirre Avenue where she supposedly dropped off a man whom she thought was Carmela’s boyfriend.  Alfaro’s trailing Carmela to spy on her unfaithfulness to Webb did not make sense since she was on limited errand.  But, as a critical witness, Alfaro had to provide a reason for Webb to freak out and decide to come with his friends and harm Carmela.

Fourth, according to Alfaro, when they returned to Carmela’s house the third time around midnight, she led Webb, Lejano, and Ventura through the pedestrian gate that Carmela had left open.  Now, this is weird.  Webb was the gangleader who decided what they were going to do.  He decided and his friends agreed with him to go to Carmela’s house and gang-rape her.  Why would Alfaro, a woman, a stranger to Webb before that night, and obviously with no role to play in the gang-rape of Carmela, lead him and the others into her house?  It made no sense.  It would only make sense if Alfaro wanted to feign being a witness to something she did not see.

Fifth, Alfaro went out of the house to smoke at the garden. After about twenty minutes, a woman exclaimed, “Sino yan?”  On hearing this, Alfaro immediately walked out of the garden and went to her car.  Apparently, she did this because she knew they came on a sly.  Someone other than Carmela became conscious of the presence of Webb and others in the house.  Alfaro walked away because, obviously, she did not want to get involved in a potential confrontation.  This was supposedly her frame of mind: fear of getting involved in what was not her business. But if that were the case, how could she testify based on personal knowledge of what went on in the house?  Alfaro had to change that frame of mind to one of boldness and reckless curiosity.  So that is what she next claimed.  She went back into the house to watch as Webb raped Carmela on the floor of the master’s bedroom.  He had apparently stabbed to death Carmela’s mom and her young sister whose bloodied bodies were sprawled on the bed.  Now, Alfaro testified that she got scared (another shift to fear) for she hurriedly got out of the house after Webb supposedly gave her a meaningful look. Alfaro quickly went to her car, not minding Gatchalian, Fernandez, Estrada, Rodriguez, and Filart who sat on the car or milled on the sidewalk.  She did not speak to them, even to Estrada, her boyfriend.  She entered her car and turned on the engine but she testified that she did not know where to go.  This woman who a few minutes back led Webb, Lejano, and Ventura into the house, knowing that they were decided to rape and harm Carmela, was suddenly too shocked to know where to go!  This emotional pendulum swing indicates a witness who was confused with her own lies.  Antonio Lejano vs. People of the Philippines/People of the Philippines vs. Hubert Jeffrey P. Webb, et al, G.R. No. 176389/G.R. No. 176864, December 14, 2010.

Evidence; credibility of witness. Truth-telling witnesses are not expected to give flawless testimonies, considering the lapse of time and the treachery of human memory.  The Court has stated time and again that minor inconsistencies in the narration of witnesses do not detract from their essential credibility as long as their testimonies on the whole are coherent and intrinsically believable.  Inaccuracies may in fact suggest that the witnesses are telling the truth and have not been rehearsed. Instead, they may even serve to strengthen their credibility as they negate any suspicion that their testimonies have been fabricated or rehearsed. People of the Philippines vs. Alex Lingasa, et al, G.R. No. 192187, December 15, 2010.

Evidence; credibility of witness. Etched in Philippine jurisprudence is the doctrine that a victim of a savage crime cannot be expected to mechanically retain and then give an accurate account of every lurid detail of a frightening experience – a verity born out of human nature and experience.  This is especially true with a rape victim who is required to utilize every fiber of her body and mind to repel an attack from a stronger aggressor. It is only human for AAA to not be able to readily narrate the exact details of her experience when questioned.  People of the Philippines vs. Rene Celocelo, G.R. No. 173798, December 15, 2010.

Evidence; credibility of witness. The Supreme Court has in the past observed that it would not really be unusual for one to recollect a good number of things about an eventful incident but what should be strange is when one can put to mind everything. This error cannot impair the credibility of AAA especially since first, the imputed inconsistency or incredible testimony was later explained and clarified by no less than the RTC itself, and second, the RTC, who was in the best position to determine if AAA were indeed credible, believed her to be so. The Supreme Court once again reiterate the time-honored maxim that the trial court’s assessment of the credibility of witnesses is entitled to the highest respect.  People of the Philippines vs. Rene Celocelo, G.R. No. 173798, December 15, 2010.

Evidence; failure to present DNA evidence. Accused Webb filed a motion before the Supreme Court asking his outright acquittal given the government’s failure to produce the semen specimen that the NBI found on Carmela’s cadaver, thus depriving him of evidence that would prove his innocence. In his motion, Webb cited the case of Brady vs. Maryland, contending that he is entitled to outright acquittal on the ground of violation of his right to due process given the State’s failure to produce on order of the Court either by negligence or willful suppression the semen specimen taken from Carmela. The Supreme Court ruled that Webb is not entitled to acquittal solely for the reason that the State failed to produce the semen specimen at this late stage of the proceedings.  For one thing, the ruling in Brady vs. Maryland that he cited has long been overtaken by the decision in Arizona vs. Youngblood, where the U.S. Supreme Court held that due process does not require the State to preserve the semen specimen although it might be useful to the accused unless the latter is able to show bad faith on the part of the prosecution or the police.  Here, the State presented a medical expert who testified on the existence of the specimen and Webb in fact sought to have the same subjected to DNA test. For, another, when Webb raised the DNA issue, the rule governing DNA evidence did not yet exist, the country did not yet have the technology for conducting the test, and no Philippine precedent had as yet recognized its admissibility as evidence.  Consequently, the idea of keeping the specimen secure even after the trial court rejected the motion for DNA testing did not come up.  Indeed, neither Webb nor his co-accused brought up the matter of preserving the specimen in the meantime. Parenthetically, after the trial court denied Webb’s application for DNA testing, he allowed the proceeding to move on when he had on at least two occasions gone up to the Court of Appeals or the Supreme Court to challenge alleged arbitrary actions taken against him and the other accused. They raised the DNA issue before the Court of Appeals but merely as an error committed by the trial court in rendering its decision in the case.  None of the accused filed a motion with the appeals court to have the DNA test done pending adjudication of their appeal.  This, even when the Supreme Court had in the meantime passed the rules allowing such test.  Considering the accused’s lack of interest in having such test done, the State cannot be deemed put on reasonable notice that it would be required to produce the semen specimen at some future time. Antonio Lejano vs. People of the Philippines/People of the Philippines vs. Hubert Jeffrey P. Webb, et al, G.R. No. 176389/G.R. No. 176864, December 14, 2010.

Evidence; inadmissibility. Acting on a tip from a concerned citizen that a pot session was being conducted in the house of one of the accused, the police officers raided the house and arrested the accused herein. However, the Court acquitted the accused on the ground that the prosecution failed to prove their guilt, one of the principal reasons being that the evidence against the accused were inadmissible as they proceeded from an illegal warrantless arrest. The Supreme Court ruled a warrantless arrest based solely on an informer’s tips is insufficient to support probable cause to effect a warrantless arrest since the instant case did not involve a buy-bust operation or drugs in transit. The apprehending officers should have first conducted a surveillance considering that the identity and address of one of the accused were already ascertained. After conducting the surveillance and determining the existence of probable cause, then a search warrant should have been secured prior to effecting arrest and seizure. It has been held that personal knowledge of facts in arrests without warrant must be based upon probable cause, which means an actual belief or reasonable grounds of suspicion. The grounds of suspicion are reasonable when the suspicion, that the person to be arrested is probably guilty of committing an offense, is based on actual facts, that is, supported by circumstances sufficiently strong in themselves to create the probable cause of guilt of the person to be arrested.  The arrest being illegal, the ensuing search as a result thereof is likewise illegal. Evidence procured on the occasion of an unreasonable search and seizure is deemed tainted for being the proverbial fruit of a poisonous tree and should be excluded. The subject items seized during the illegal arrest are thus inadmissible. The drug, being the very corpus delicti of the crime of illegal possession of dangerous drugs, its inadmissibility thus precludes conviction, and calls for the acquittal of the accused. People of the Philippines vs. Arnold Martinez y Angeles, et al, G.R. No. 191366, December 13, 2010.

Evidence; inconsistency of testimony with physical evidence. The Supreme Court did not give much weight to the alleged inconsistency between the physical evidence and AAA’s version of the rape incident.  The Supreme Court noted that Dr. Edaño was able to examine AAA only on December 10, 2001, two days after the rape.  During cross-examination, Dr. Edaño explained that the two old lacerations she found on AAA’s vagina could have happened several weeks or days before the examination.  Hence, the old lacerations could still have been caused by and is not irreconcilably inconsistent with the rape of AAA two days earlier.  As the Court of Appeals observed, the improbabilities or inconsistencies cited by accused-appellant refer to minor details that do not directly pertain to the elements of the crime of rape or to the identification of accused-appellant as the rapist; and do not detract from the proven fact that accused-appellant had sexual intercourse with AAA through force, intimidation, and grave abuse of authority. People of the Philippines vs. Andres Fontillas alias Anding, G.R. No. 184177, December 15, 2010.

Evidence; use of evidence obtained through a search warrant in another. The Rules of Court provides that “a search warrant shall not issue except upon probable cause in connection with one specific offense to be determined personally by the judge after examination under oath or affirmation of the complainant and the witnesses he may produce, and particularly describing the place to be searched and things to be seized which may be anywhere in the Philippines.” Thus, a search warrant may be issued only if there is probable cause in connection with only one specific offense alleged in an application on the basis of the applicant’s personal knowledge and his or her witnesses.  Accordingly, petitioner cannot, therefore, utilize the evidence seized by virtue of the search warrants issued in connection with the case of Robbery in a separate case of Qualified Theft, even if both cases emanated from the same incident. Romer Sy Tan vs. Sy Tiongs, et al, G.R. No. 174570, December 15, 2010.

Information, motion to quash. The Supreme Court ruled that the trial court committed grave abuse of discretion when it quashed the Information on the ground that the elements of Bigamy were rendered incomplete after respondent presented documents to prove a fact, which the trial court believed would negate the allegation in the Information that there was a first valid marriage, i.e.,  the respondent presented proof that he later obtained a judicial declaration of nullity of the first union following the celebration of a subsequent marriage. According to the Court, the motion to quash filed by respondent was a hypothetical admission of the facts alleged in the Information for which reason, thus the trial court cannot consider allegations contrary to those appearing on the face of the information. The documents showing that: (1) the court has decreed that the marriage of petitioner and respondent is null and void from the beginning; and (2) such judgment has already become final and executory and duly registered with the Municipal Civil Registrar of Naval, Biliran are pieces of evidence that seek to establish a fact contrary to that alleged in the Information that a first valid marriage was subsisting at the time the respondent contracted a subsequent marriage. These should not have been considered at all because matters of defense cannot be raised in a motion to quash. Myrna P. Antone vs. Leo Beronillar, G.R. No. 183824, December 8, 2010.

Judgment; when rendered by judge other than the original trial court judge. Accused contends further that the judge who penned the appealed decision is different from the judge who heard the testimonies of the witnesses and was, thus, in no position to render a judgment, as he did not observe firsthand their demeanor during trial. The Supreme Court did not agree ruling that the fact that the trial judge who rendered judgment was not the one who had the occasion to observe the demeanor of the witnesses during trial, but merely relied on the records of the case, does not render the judgment erroneous, especially where the evidence on record is sufficient to support its conclusion. The circumstance that the Judge who rendered the judgment was not the one who heard the witnesses, does not detract from the validity of the verdict of conviction. Even a cursory perusal of the Decision would show that it was based on the evidence presented during trial and that it was carefully studied, with testimonies on direct and cross examination as well as questions from the Court carefully passed upon. Further, the transcripts of stenographic notes taken during the trial were extant and complete. Hence, there was no impediment for the judge to decide the case. People of the Philippines vs. Ricky Alfredo y Norman, G.R. No. 188560, December 15, 2010.

Mandamus; filing of information. The Rules provided that mandamus will lie if (1) any tribunal, corporation, board, officer, or person unlawfully neglects the performance of an act which the law enjoins as a duty resulting from an office, trust or station; or unlawfull excludes another from the use and enjoyment of a right or office to which such other is entitled; and (2) there is no plain, speedy and adequate remedy in the ordinary course of law other than the remedy of mandamus being invoked. In the present case, petitioners insist that mandamus is proper since Villordon committed grave abuse of discretion by unreasonably refusing to file an information despite the fact that the evidence indicates otherwise. The Supreme Court disagreed with petitioners. The matter of deciding who to prosecute is a prerogative of the prosecutor. In Hipos v. Judge Bay, the Supreme Court held that the remedy of mandamus, as an extraordinary writ, lies only to compel an officer to perform a ministerial duty, not a discretionary one. Mandamus will not issue to control the exercise of discretion by a public officer where the law imposes upon him the duty to exercise his judgment in reference to any manner in which he is required to act, because it is his judgment that is to be exercised and not that of the court. The only time the discretion of the prosecutor will stand review by mandamus is when the prosecutor gravely abuses his discretion. Ernesto Marcelo, Jr. and Lauro Llames vs. Rafael R. Villordon, Assistant City Prosecutor of Quezon City, G.R. No. 173081, December 15, 2010.

(Lindy thanks Nuj Dumbrigue and Hann Sevilla for their help in preparing this post.)

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