May 2009 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Criminal Law and Legal/Judicial Ethics

Here are selected May 2009 decisions of the Supreme Court on criminal law and legal/judicial ethics.

Criminal Law

Dangerous Drugs Act; sale of illegal drugs. In order to successfully prosecute an accused for illegal sale of drugs, the prosecution must be able to prove the following elements: (1) identities of the buyer and seller, the object, and the consideration; and (2) the delivery of the thing sold and the payment therefor. What is material to the prosecution for illegal sale of dangerous drugs is the proof that the transaction or sale or had actually taken place, coupled with the presentation in court of evidence of corpus delicti.

Otherwise stated, in illegal possession of dangerous drugs, the elements are: (1) the accused is in possession of an item or object which is identified to be a prohibited drug; (2) such possession is not authorized by law; and (3) the accused freely and consciously possessed the said drug. Similarly, in this case, the evidence of the corpus delicti must be established beyond doubt.

Section 21(1) of R.A. No. 9165 mandates that the apprehending team having initial custody and control of the drugs shall, immediately after seizure and confiscation, physically inventory and photograph the same in the presence of the accused or the person/s from whom such items were confiscated and/or seized, or his/her representative or counsel, a representative from the media and the Department of Justice (DOJ), and any elected public official who shall be required to sign the copies of the inventory and be given a copy thereof.

In People v. Obmiranis, appellant was acquitted due to the flaws in the conduct of the post-seizure custody of the dangerous drug allegedly recovered from appellant, taken together with the failure of the key persons who handled the same to testify on the whereabouts of the exhibit before it was offered in evidence in court. In Bondad v. People, the Supreme Court held that the failure to comply with the requirements of the law compromised the identity of the items seized, which is the corpus delicti of each of the crimes charged against appellant, hence his acquittal is in order. And in People v. De la Cruz, the apprehending team’s omission to observe the procedure outlined by R.A. No. 9165 in the custody and disposition of the seized drugs significantly impairs the prosecution’s case. The People of the Philippines vs. Edwin Partoza y EvoraG.R. No. 182418, May 8, 2009.

Homicide; elements
. To successfully prosecute the crime of homicide, the following elements must be proved beyond reasonable doubt: (1) that a person was killed; (2) that the accused killed that person without any justifying circumstance; (3) that the accused had the intention to kill, which is presumed; and (4) that the killing was not attended by any of the qualifying circumstances of murder, or by that of parricide or infanticide. Moreover, the offender is said to have performed all the acts of execution if the wound inflicted on the victim is mortal and could cause the death of the victim without medical intervention or attendance.

On the other hand, the essential elements of a frustrated felony are as follows: (1) The offender performs all the acts of execution; (2) all the acts performed would produce the felony as a consequence; (3) but the felony is not produced; and (4) by reason of causes independent of the will of the perpetrator. People of the Philippines vs. Bonifacio Badriago, G.R. No. 183566, May 8, 2009.

Illegal recruitment;  elements.   The elements of illegal recruitment are (1) the offender has no valid license or authority required by law to lawfully engage in the recruitment and placement of workers; and (2) he undertakes any activity within the meaning of “recruitment and placement” defined under Article 13(b) of the Labor Code. Recruitment and placement is “any act of canvassing, enlisting, contracting, transporting, utilizing, hiring or procuring workers; and includes referrals, contact services, promising or advertising for employment, locally or abroad, whether for profit or not: Provided, that any person or entity which, in any manner, offers or promises for a fee employment to two or more persons shall be deemed engaged in recruitment and placement. People of the Philippines vs. Erlinda Abordo and Vina CabanlongG.R. No. 179934,  May 21, 2009.

Libel; elements. Libel is defined as “a public and malicious imputation of a crime, or of a vice or defect, real or imaginary, or any act, omission, condition, status, or circumstance tending to cause the dishonor, discredit, or contempt of a natural person or juridical person, or to blacken the memory of one who is dead.” Any of these imputations is defamatory and under the general rule stated in Article 354 of the Revised Penal Code, every defamatory imputation is presumed to be malicious. The presumption of malice, however, does not exist in the following instances:

1.     A private communication made by any person to another in the performance of any legal, moral, or social duty; and

2.     A fair and true report, made in good faith, without any comments or remarks, of any judicial, legislative, or other official proceedings which are not of confidential nature, or of any statement, report, or speech delivered in said proceedings, or of any other act performed by public officers in the exercise of their functions.

We note that the publications or articles in question are neither private communications nor true reports of official proceedings without any comments or remarks. However, this does not necessarily mean that the questioned articles are not privileged. The enumeration under Art. 354 is not an exclusive list of qualified privileged communications since fair commentaries on matters of public interest are likewise privileged and constitute a valid defense in an action for libel or slander. The rule on privileged communication had its genesis not in the nation’s penal code but in the Bill of Rights of the Constitution guaranteeing freedom of speech and of the press. As early as 1918, in United States v. Cañete, this Court ruled that publications which are privileged for reasons of public policy are protected by the constitutional guaranty of freedom of speech.

In the instant case, there is no denying that the questioned articles dealt with matters of public interest. These are matters about which the public has the right to be informed, taking into account the very public character of the election itself. For this reason, they attracted media mileage and drew public attention not only to the election itself but to the candidates. As one of the candidates, petitioner consequently assumed the status of a public figure within the purview of Ayers Productions Pty. Ltd. v. Capulong. Hector C. Villanueva vs. Philippine Daily Inquirer, Inc., et al. G.R. No. 164437,  May 15, 2009

Murder; Incomplete Self-Defense. In incomplete self-defense, the indispensable requisite is unlawful aggression. What is missing is either reasonable necessity of the means employed to prevent or repel it or lack of sufficient provocation on the part of the persons defending themselves. In the instant case, accused-appellant’s self-serving claim of self-defense coupled with the fact that he did not sustain any injuries from his supposed attacker, Adrian, fails to support any claim of unlawful aggression, the crucial requisite to his defense. As the appellate court noted, there was no clear, credible, and convincing evidence that Adrian was the one who instigated the fight and that accused-appellant was merely fending off an attack. Unlawful aggression by the victim must be clearly shown.  People of the Philippines vs. Bonifacio Badriago, G.R. No. 183566, May 8, 2009.

Murder; lack of intention to commit so grave a wrong. Under Article 13(3) of the Revised Penal Code, the circumstance that the offender had no intention to commit so grave a wrong as that committed mitigates criminal liability. This mitigating circumstance addresses itself to the intention of the offender at the particular moment when the offender executes or commits the criminal act. Looking at the victims’ wounds, however, we cannot count the circumstance in accused-appellant’s favor. Adrian suffered a hacking wound on his left forearm that caused near amputation, and another one on his lumbar area. These wounds would have been fatal were it not for timely medical assistance. Oliver, on the other hand, bore the brunt of the attack with eleven (11) different stab wounds, including one on the skull and on the chest. The number, location, and nature of these stab wounds belie accused-appellant’s claim of lack of intention to commit so grave a wrong against his victim.  People of the Philippines vs. Bonifacio Badriago, G.R. No. 183566, May 8, 2009.

Murder; self defense. One who admits killing or fatally injuring another in the name of self-defense bears the burden of proving: (1) unlawful aggression on the part of the victim; (2) reasonable necessity of the means employed to prevent or repel it; and (3) lack of sufficient provocation on the part of the person claiming self-defense. By invoking self defense, the burden is placed on the accused to prove its elements clearly and convincingly. While all three elements must concur, self-defense relies first and foremost on proof of unlawful aggression on the part of the victim. If no unlawful aggression is proved, no self-defense may be successfully pleaded. Accused-appellant has failed to discharge his burden of proving unlawful aggression. His version of the events is uncorroborated, and his testimony has been found to be less credible by the trial court. The victim was not in the process of attacking accused-appellant from behind, but rather had been seated at a table during a birthday celebration. Accused-appellant was the instigator, not the victim, Gaudencio. As the element of unlawful aggression on the part of the victim is absent, accused-appellant’s claim of self-defense must fail.   People of the Philippines vs. Bienvenido Mara y Bolaqueña alias “Loloy”G.R No. 184050, May 8, 2009.

Murder; treachery. The essence of treachery is a deliberate and sudden attack, offering an unarmed and unsuspecting victim no chance to resist or to escape. There is treachery even if the attack is frontal if it is sudden and unexpected, with the victims having no opportunity to repel it or defend themselves, for what is decisive in treachery is that the execution of the attack made it impossible for the victims to defend themselves or to retaliate. The records show that Adrian was suddenly attacked with a bolo, and the most he could do at that moment was to shield himself somehow from the blow with his arm. Another blow to Adrian’s back showed the vulnerability of his position as he had his back turned to accused-appellant and was not able to flee from attack. Treachery may also be appreciated even if the victims were warned of the danger to their lives where they were defenseless and unable to flee at the time of the infliction of the coup de grace.  People of the Philippines vs. Bonifacio Badriago, G.R. No. 183566, May 8, 2009.

Murder; treachery. The essence of treachery is the sudden and unexpected attack by the aggressors on unsuspecting victims, depriving the latter of any real chance to defend themselves, thereby ensuring its commission without risk to the aggressors, and without the slightest provocation on the part of the victims. From the evidence gleaned by the trial court, the facts are enough to show the treachery employed by accused-appellant. The attack was sudden, as testified by the witnesses, and unexpected, considering it happened at a birthday celebration, without any warning. No provocation was proved on the part of the victim, as the testimony of accused-appellant that the victim was about to attack him was uncorroborated and not given weight by the trial court. Thus, the victim had no inkling that an attack was forthcoming and had no opportunity to mount a defense.  People of the Philippines vs. Bienvenido Mara y Bolaqueña alias “Loloy”G.R No. 184050, May 8, 2009.

Murder; voluntary surrender. For the mitigating circumstance of voluntary surrender to be appreciated, the surrender must be spontaneous and in a manner that shows that the accused made an unconditional surrender to the authorities, either based on recognition of guilt or from the desire to save the authorities from the trouble and expenses that would be involved in the accused’s search and capture. Moreover, it is imperative that the accused was not actually arrested, the surrender is before a person in authority or an agent of a person in authority, and the surrender was voluntary.

None of these requisites are present in accused-appellant’s case. In fact, jurisprudence holds that merely reporting the incident cannot be considered voluntary surrender within contemplation of the law. By accused-appellant’s own admission, he only went to the authorities to inform them that Adrian was injured. What is more, accused-appellant claims he had nothing to do with the murder of Oliver. Even if we were to consider voluntary surrender as mitigating, this would only apply to the injury inflicted on Adrian. Accused-appellant denies culpability in Oliver’s death and this negates any acknowledgement of guilt.  People of the Philippines vs. Bonifacio Badriago, G.R. No. 183566, May 8, 2009.

Parricide; elements. The elements of the crime of parricide are: (1) a person is killed; (2) the deceased is killed by the accused; and (3) the deceased is the father, mother or child, whether legitimate or illegitimate, of the accused or any of his ascendants or descendants, or his spouse. All the above elements were sufficiently proven by the prosecution. People of the Philippines vs. Luis Antonio GarchitorenaG.R. No. 184172, May 8, 2009.

Reckless imprudence; elements. Imprudence connotes a deficiency of action. It implies a failure in precaution or a failure to take the necessary precaution once the danger or peril becomes foreseen. Thus, something more than mere negligence in the operation of a motor vehicle is necessary to constitute the offense of reckless driving, and a willful and wanton disregard of the consequences is required. Willful, wanton or reckless disregard for the safety of others within the meaning of reckless driving statutes has been held to involve a conscious choice of a course of action which injures another, either with knowledge of serious danger to others involved, or with knowledge of facts which would disclose the danger to any reasonable person.

Hence, in prosecutions for reckless imprudence resulting in damage to property, whether or not one of the drivers of the colliding automobiles is guilty of the offense is a question that lies in the manner and circumstances of the operation of the motor vehicle, and a finding of guilt beyond reasonable doubt requires the concurrence of the following elements, namely, (1) that the offender has done or failed to do an act; (2 that the act is voluntary; (3) that the same is without malice; (4) that material damage results; and (5) that there has been inexcusable lack of precaution on the part of the offender.

Among the elements constitutive of the offense, what perhaps is most central to a finding of guilt is the conclusive determination that the accused has exhibited, by his voluntary act without malice, an inexcusable lack of precaution because it is that which supplies the criminal intent so indispensable as to bring an act of mere negligence and imprudence under the operation of the penal law. This, because a conscious indifference to the consequences of the conduct is all that that is required from the standpoint of the frame of mind of the accused, that is, without regard to whether the private offended party may himself be considered likewise at fault. Larry V. Caminos, Jr. vs. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 147437, May 8, 2009.

Legal/Judicial Ethics

Misconduct. In preparing and notarizing the illegal lease contracts, respondent violated the Attorney’s Oath and several canons of the Code of Professional Responsibility. One of the foremost sworn duties of an attorney-at-law is to “obey the laws of the Philippines.” This duty is enshrined in the Attorney’s Oath and in Canon 1, which provides that “(a) lawyer shall uphold the constitution, obey the laws of the land and promote respect for law and legal processes.” Rule 1.02 under Canon 1 states: “A lawyer shall not counsel or abet activities aimed at defiance of the law or at decreasing confidence in the legal systems.” Willem Kupers vs. Atty. Johnson B. Hontanosas, A.C. No. 5704, May 8, 2009.

Misconduct. The rule clearly requires that the sheriff executing writs shall provide an estimate of the expenses to be incurred, and such estimated amount must be approved by the court. Upon approval, the interested party shall then deposit the amount with the clerk of court and ex-officio sheriff. The expenses shall be disbursed to the assigned deputy sheriff to execute the writ, subject to liquidation upon the return of the writ. Any amount unspent shall be returned to the interested party.

In this case, Sheriff Lindo failed to comply with the prescribed rule. His act of receiving an amount for expenses to be incurred in the execution of the writ, without having made an estimate and without securing prior approval of the court, is a violation of the prescribed rule. Sheriff Lindo should not have received from Aprieto any money without having submitted the expenses for approval of the court. He did not even advise Aprieto that he was not authorized to receive any amount from her and that the money for expenses should be deposited with the clerk of court. Virginia L. Aprieto vs. Noel C. Lindo, A.M. No. P-07-2356, May 21, 2009.