Here are selected January 2010 rulings of the Supreme Court of the Philippines on criminal law and procedure:
1. Revised Penal Code
Malicious prosecution; elements. To entitle petitioners to damages for malicious prosecution, they needed to prove the following elements: (1) that the respondent had caused their prosecution; (2) that the criminal action ended in their acquittal; (3) that, in bringing the action, the respondent had no probable cause; and (4) that it was impelled by legal malice—an improper or a sinister motive. The burden in suits for malicious prosecution is being able to prove the complainant’s deliberate initiation of a criminal action knowing the charge to be false and groundless. Here, the complainant did not concoct from thin air the criminal charge for theft of electricity against petitioners. It filed the case based on the result of an investigation carried out at petitioner’s premises which indicated a tampering of the electric meter. It is not enough to say that, since the Supreme Court sustained the Secretary of Justice’s finding that no probable cause for electricity theft existed against petitioners, a case for malicious prosecution already exists against the respondent. Limanch-O Hotel and Leasing Corporation, et al. vs. City of Olongapo, et al., G.R. No. 185121, January 18, 2010.
Murder; exemplary damages. The Supreme Court modified appellant’s conviction for attempted murder and awarded P25,000 exemplary damages to the victim since the qualifying circumstance of treachery was proven even though this qualifying circumstance was not alleged in the information. If an aggravating circumstance, either qualifying or generic, accompanies the crime, an award of P25,000 as exemplary damages is justified under Article 2230 of the Civil Code. This serves as deterrent to serious wrong doings, and as vindication for undue sufferings and wanton invasion of the rights of an injured person or punishment for those guilty of outrageous conduct. Ronnie Sumbillo, et al. vs. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 167464, January 21, 2010.
Rape; defense. The victim’s failure to shout for help does not vitiate the credibility of her account as she was only 10 years old at the time of the rape and, thus, inexperienced in the ways of the world. Minors could be easily intimidated and cowed into silence even by the mildest threat against their lives. Although an older person may have shouted for help under the same circumstances, the young victim in the instant case might have been overcome by fear and was not able to shout for help. Indeed, AAA declared in open court that she was afraid when asked why she failed to shout when accused-appellant pulled down her underwear. Be that as it may, the absence of struggle or an outcry from the victim is immaterial to the rape of a child below 12 years of age. The law presumes that such a victim, on account of her tender age, does not and cannot have a will of her own. The People of the Philippines vs. Manuel Bagos, G.R. No. 177152, January 6, 2010.
Rape; defense. The sweetheart defense of the accused is shallow, if not, incredulous. For a young mother, to initiate sexual intercourse with a liquor-smelling man and then suggest eloping with him, thus leaving her two minor children behind, is contrary to the common nature and experience of man. No woman would concoct a story of defloration, allow an examination of her private parts, and thereafter pervert herself by being subjected to a public trial if she was not motivated solely by the desire to have the culprit apprehended. People of the Philippines vs. Christopher De Jesus, G.R. No. 181591, January 21, 2010.
Rape; qualifying circumstance. Appellant was not convicted of qualified rape but only of two counts of simple rape since the allegation in the Information that appellant is an uncle of the victim did not sufficiently satisfy the requirements of Art. 335 of the Revised Penal Code, i.e., it must be succinctly stated that appellant is a relative within the 3rd civil degree by consanguinity or affinity. It is immaterial that appellant admitted that the victim is his niece. In the same manner, it is irrelevant that “AAA” testified that appellant is her uncle. The circumstances under the amendatory provisions of Section 11 of R.A. No. 7659 are in the nature of qualifying circumstances which cannot be proved unless alleged in the information. People of the Philippines vs. Edgardo Estrada, G.R. No. 178318, January 15, 2010.
Rape; statutory. Sexual intercourse with a woman who is a mental retardate with the mental age of a child below 12 years old constitutes statutory rape, with or without the attendance of force, threat, or intimidation. In this case, the prosecution has established beyond reasonable doubt that Marlon had carnal knowledge with AAA, a demented person, through force, threat or intimidation. AAA was psychiatrically evaluated as an adult woman with the mental age of a 7- to 8-year old child and that she gave birth to a child despite her mental inability to give her consent to a sexual relationship. These facts support the allegation of sexual abuse. However, since the criminal information failed to allege the qualifying circumstance that Marlon knew of AAA’s mental disability, he can only be convicted of statutory or simple rape committed with the use of a deadly weapon, instead of qualified rape. People of the Philippines vs. Marlon Barsaga Abella, G.R. No. 177295, January 6, 2010.
Rape; voluntary surrender. In an attempt to lessen his liability for qualified rape, accused invokes his voluntary surrender as a mitigating circumstance. However, in order for one’s surrender to be considered as mitigating circumstance, surrender must be spontaneous and must clearly indicate the intent of the accused to submit himself unconditionally to the authorities either because he acknowledges his guilty or he wishes to save the authorities the trouble and expenses incidental to his search and capture. The following requisites should likewise be present: (1) the offender had not been actually arrested; (2) the offender surrendered himself to a person in authority or to the latter’s agent; (3) the surrender was voluntary; and (4) there is no pending warrant of arrest or information filed. In this case, the accused-appellant surrendered only after having been informed of the charge of rape against him or about two months from the commission of the alleged crime. He even denied the said charge upon his purported surrender. Therefore, the alleged surrender does not qualify as a mitigating circumstance. People of the Philippines vs. Herminigildo Salle Sobusa, G.R. No. 181083, January 21, 2010.
2. Special Laws
Dangerous Drugs Act; illegal sale of shabu. In a prosecution for illegal sale of dangerous drugs, the following elements must be duly established: (1) proof that the transaction or sale took place; and (2) the presentation in court of the corpus delicti or the illicit drug as evidence. Proof of the corpus delicti in a buy-bust situation requires evidence, not only that the transacted drugs actually exist, but evidence as well that the drugs seized and examined are the same drugs presented in court. This is a condition sine qua non for conviction as the drugs are the main subject of the illegal sale constituting the crime and their existence and identification must be proven for the crime to exist. People of the Philippines vs. Zaida Kamad y Ambing, G.R. No. 174198, January 19, 2010.
P.D. No. 957 Crime; malum prohibitum. PD 957 was enacted to regulate for the public good the sale of subdivision lots and condominiums. Section 5 of PD 957 prohibits such sale without the prior issuance of an HLURB license and punishes those who engage in the prohibited sale thereof. The crime is regarded as malum prohibitum since PD 957 is a special law designed to protect the welfare of society and ensure the carrying on of the purposes of civil life. It is the commission of that act as defined by law, not its character or effect, that determines whether or not its provisions have been violated. Malice or criminal intent is immaterial. In crimes that are mala prohibita, the forbidden acts might not be inherently immoral, but still they are punished because they are forbidden by law. With these crimes, the sole issue is whether the law has been violated. Victoria P. Cabral vs. Jacinto Uy, et al., G.R. No. 174584, January 22, 2010.
Appeal; factual findings. As a general rule, factual findings and conclusions of the trial court and the Court of Appeals are entitled to great weight and respect and will not be disturbed on appeal. However, if there is any indication that the trial court overlooked certain facts or circumstances which would substantially affect the disposition of the case, the Supreme Court will not hesitate to review the same. In this case, the Supreme Court reviewed the factual findings of the trial court because of inconsistencies in the testimonies of the prosecution witnesses on material points. Julius Cacao y Prieto vs. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 180870, January 22, 2010.
Dangerous Drugs Act; evidence. Does conviction for the sale and possession of methamphetamine hydrochloride (shabu) violate the accused’s constitutional right to be informed of the nature and causes of the accusations against him if the fact that was established and proven during trial was the sale and possession of ephedrine, a regulated drug?
The Supreme Court answered in the negative ruling that the chemical formula of ephedrine is C10 H15 NO, whereas that of methamphetamine is C10 H15 N. The only difference between ephedrine and methamphetamine is the presence of a single atom of oxygen in the former. The removal of the oxygen in ephedrine will produce methamphetamine. With ephedrine containing fifty percent (50%) of methamphetamine hydrochloride if the oxygen content in the former is removed, the nearly 680 grams of ephedrine seized from the appellant contains about 340 grams of methamphetamine hydrochloride.
The offenses designated in the Informations are for violations of Sections 15 and 16 of RA 6425, which define and penalize the crimes of illegal sale and possession of regulated drugs. The allegations in the Informations for the unauthorized sale and possession of “shabu” or methamphetamine hydrochloride are immediately followed by the qualifying phrase “which is a regulated drug”. Thus, it is clear that the designations and allegations in the Informations are for the crimes of illegal sale and illegal possession of regulated drugs. Ephedrine has been classified as a regulated drug by the Dangerous Drugs Board in Board Resolution No. 2, Series of 1988.
Sections 4 and 5, Rule 120 of the Rules of Court, can be applied by analogy in convicting the appellant of the offenses charged, which are included in the crimes proved. Under these provisions, an offense charged is necessarily included in the offense proved when the essential ingredients of the former constitute or form part of those constituting the latter. At any rate, a minor variance between the information and the evidence does not alter the nature of the offense, nor does it determine or qualify the crime or penalty, so that even if a discrepancy exists, this cannot be pleaded as a ground for acquittal. In other words, his right to be informed of the charges against him has not been violated because where an accused is charged with a specific crime, he is duly informed not only of such specific crime, but also of lesser crimes or offenses included therein. People of the Philippines vs. Joselito Noque y Gomez, G.R. No. 175319, January 15, 2010.
Dangerous Drugs Act; evidence. In prosecution of cases involving illegal possession of prohibited drugs, the prosecution must establish with moral certainty the elemental act of possession of a prohibited substance coupled with the fact that such possession is not authorized by law. Essential, however, in a drug-related case is that the identity of the dangerous drug be established beyond reasonable doubt. Since the dangerous drug constitutes the corpus delicti of the offense and the fact of its existence is vital to a judgment of conviction, it behooves upon the prosecution to establish and prove with certainty that the dangerous drug presented in court as evidence against the accused is the same item recovered from his possession. Julius Cacao y Prieto vs. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 180870, January 22, 2010.
Estafa; probable cause. Whether the facsimile message is admissible in evidence and whether the element of deceit in the crime of estafa is present are matters best ventilated in a full-blown trial, not during the preliminary investigation. A preliminary investigation is not the occasion for the full and exhaustive display of the prosecution’s evidence. The presence or absence of the elements of the crime is evidentiary in nature and is a matter of defense that may be passed upon after a full-blown trial on the merits. In fine, the validity and merits of a party’s defense or accusation, as well as the admissibility of testimonies and evidence, are better ventilated during trial proper than at the preliminary investigation level. Samuel Lee, et al. vs. KBC Bank N.V. (Formerly Kredietbank, N.V.), G.R. No. 164673, January 15, 2010.
Extra-judicial confession; admissibility. For confession to be admissible, it must be (a) voluntary; (b) made with the assistance of a competent and independent counsel; (c) express; and (d) in writing. These requirements were met in this case. A lawyer, not working with or not beholden to the police, assisted the accused during the custodial investigation. The police officer also testified that he saw the accused, before the taking of his statement, conversing with his counsel at the police station. People of the Philippines vs. Romulo Tuniaco, et al., (Accused) Alex Aleman (Appellant), G.R. No. 177727, January 19, 2010.
Jurisdiction; PD 957. The public prosecutor has the authority to file a criminal information for violation of Presidential Decree (PD) 957 and the Regional Trial Court has the power to hear and adjudicate the action, the penalty being a P20,000.00 fine and imprisonment of not exceeding 10 years or both such fine and imprisonment. This penalty brings the offense within the jurisdiction of the Regional Trial Court. Victoria P. Cabral vs. Jacinto Uy, et al., G.R. No. 174584, January 22, 2010.
Malicious prosecution; probable cause. The test in a malicious prosecution cas should be whether sufficient facts exist which show that, in bringing the criminal action, complainant acted without probable cause, defined as the existence of such facts and circumstances as would excite the belief in a reasonable mind that the person charged and prosecuted in a criminal case is probably guilty of the crime or wrongdoing. Limanch-O Hotel and Leasing Corporation, et al. vs. City of Ologapo, et al., G.R. No. 185121, January 18, 2010.
Murder; corpus delicti. Corpus delicti has been defined as the body, foundation, or substance of a crime. The evidence of a dead body with a gunshot wound on its back would be evidence that murder has been committed. Corpus delicti has two elements: (a) that a certain result has been established, for example, that a man has died, and (b) that some person is criminally responsible for it. The prosecution is burdened to prove corpus delicti beyond reasonable doubt either by direct evidence or by circumstantial or presumptive evidence. But corpus delicti need not be proved by an autopsy report of the dead victim’s body or even by the testimony of the physician who examined such body. While such report or testimony is useful for understanding the nature of the injuries the victim suffered, they are not indispensable proof of such injuries or of the fact of death. Nor is the presentation of the murder weapons also indispensable since the physical existence of such weapons is not an element of the crime of murder. People of the Philippines vs. Romulo Tuniaco, et al., (Accused) Alex Aleman (Appellant), G.R. No. 185710, January 19, 2010.
Murder; Probable cause. It is settled that, when confronted with a motion to withdraw an Information (on the ground of lack of probable cause to hold the accused for trial based on a resolution of the DOJ Secretary), the trial court has the duty to make an independent assessment of the merits of the motion. It may either agree or disagree with the recommendation of the Secretary. Reliance alone on the resolution of the Secretary would be an abdication of the trial court’s duty and jurisdiction to determine a prima facie case. The court must itself be convinced that there is indeed no sufficient evidence against the accused. Harold V. Tamargo vs. Romulo Awingan, Lloyd Antiporda and Licerio Antiporda, Jr., G.R. No. 177727, January 19, 2010.
Rape; evidence. By the distinctive nature of rape cases, conviction usually rests solely on the basis of the testimony of the victim, provided that such testimony is credible, natural, convincing, and consistent with human nature and the normal course of things. Accordingly, the Supreme Court has consistently adhered to the following guiding principles in the review of similar cases, to wit: (1) an accusation for rape can be made with facility; while the accusation is difficult to prove, it is even more difficult for the accused, though innocent, to disprove; (2) considering that, in the nature of things, only two persons are usually involved in the crime of rape, the testimony of the complainant must be scrutinized with extreme caution; and (3) 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. People of the Philippines vs. Felipe Ayade y Pulod, G.R. No. 188561, January 15, 2010.
(Lindy thanks Nuj Dumbrigue and Hann Sevilla for their help in preparing this post.)