Here are selected July 2011 rulings of the Supreme Court of the Philippines on criminal law and procedure:
1. CRIMINAL LAW
Qualifying circumstance; treachery. The Supreme Court affirmed the findings of the trial court that the qualifying circumstance of treachery attended the commission of the crime. Milan’s act of closing the door facilitated the commission of the crime, allowing Carandang to wait in ambush. The sudden gunshots when the police officers pushed the door open illustrate the intention of appellants and Carandang to prevent any chance for the police officers to defend themselves. Treachery is thus present in the case at bar, as what is decisive for this qualifying circumstance is that the execution of the attack made it impossible for the victims to defend themselves or to retaliate. People of the Philippines v. Restituto Carandang, et al, G.R. No. 175926, July 6, 2011.
2. SPECIAL PENAL LAWS
Dangerous drugs; chain of custody. The Supreme Court upheld the conviction of the accused by ruling that the failure of the policemen to make a physical inventory and photograph the two plastic sachets containing the shabu subject of this case do not render the confiscated items inadmissible in evidence. Likewise, the failure of the policemen to mark the two plastic sachets containing shabu at the place of arrest does not render the confiscated items inadmissible in evidence. In People v. Resurreccion, G.R. No. 186380, 12 October 2009, 603 SCRA 510, it was held that “the failure of the policemen to immediately mark the confiscated items does not automatically impair the integrity of chain of custody.” Francisco Imson y Adriano vs. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 193003, July 13, 2011.
Dangerous drugs; chain of custody. The failure to strictly comply with Section 21(1), Article II of RA 9165 does not necessarily render an accused’s arrest illegal or the items seized or confiscated from him inadmissible. What is of utmost importance is the preservation of the integrity and the evidentiary value of the seized items, as these would be utilized in the determination of the guilt or innocence of the accused. The presumption is that the policemen performed their official duties regularly. In order to overcome this presumption, the accused must show that there was bad faith or improper motive on the part of the policemen, or that the confiscated items were tampered. In this case, the accused failed to do so. Francisco Imson y Adriano vs. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 193003, July 13, 2011.
Dangerous Drugs; illegal possession; elements. Under section 11, Article II of RA 9165, the elements of the offense of illegal possession of dangerous drugs 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. Here, all of these elements were duly proven. PO1 Soreta properly identified appellant as the one he transacted with in the buy-bust operation and later arrested after the sale took place. After being arrested in flagrante delicto, the police officers found in appellant’s possession two small transparent plastic sachets each containing 0.04 gram of shabu, a prohibited drug, which appellant was not authorized to possess. People of the Philippines vs. Joel Gaspar y Wilson, G.R. No. 192816, July 6, 2011.
Illegal sale of dangerous drugs; elements. Jurisprudence has firmly entrenched that in the prosecution of illegal sale of dangerous drugs, the following essential elements must be established: (1) the transaction or sale took place; (2) the corpus delicti or the illicit drug was presented as evidence; and (3) the buyer and seller were identified. Implicit in all these is the need for proof that the transaction or sale actually took place, coupled with the presentation in court of the confiscated prohibited or regulated drug as evidence. People of the Philippines vs. Jaime Gatlabayan y Batara, G.R. No. 186467, July 13, 2011.
Illegal sale of dangerous drugs; elements. The elements necessary for the prosecution of illegal sale of drugs are: (1) the identity of the buyer and seller, the object, and the consideration; and (2) the delivery of the thing sold and the payment. People of the Philippines vs. Rolando Laylo y Cepres, G.R. No. 192235, July 6, 2011.
Ombudsman; administrative investigation. The provisions of Section 20(5) are merely directory. Section 20 of R.A. 6770 does not prohibit the Ombudsman from conducting an administrative investigation after the lapse of one year reckoned from the time the alleged act was committed. Without doubt, even if the administrative case was filed beyond the one year period stated in Section 20(5), the Ombudsman was well within its discretion to conduct the administrative investigation. However, while the Ombudsman is not precluded by Section 20(5) of R.A. 6770 from conducting the investigation, the Ombudsman can no longer institute an administrative case against Andutan because the latter was not a public servant at the time the case was filed. Office of the Ombudsman vs. Uldarico P. Andutan Jr., G.R. No. 164679, July 27, 2011.
Sandiganbayan; jurisdiction. The jurisdiction of the Sandiganbayan over petitioner Ambil Jr. is beyond question. The same is true as regards petitioner Apelado Sr. As to him, a Certification from the Provincial Government Department Head of the HRMO shows that his position as Provincial Warden is classified as Salary Grade 22. Nonetheless, it is only when none of the accused are occupying positions corresponding to salary grade “27” or higher shall exclusive jurisdiction be vested in the lower courts. Here, petitioner Apelado Sr. was charged as a co-principal with Governor Ambil Jr., over whose position the Sandiganbayan has jurisdiction. Accordingly, he was correctly tried jointly with said public officer in the proper court which had exclusive original jurisdiction over them – the Sandiganbayan. Ruperto A. Ambil Jr. vs. Sandiganbayan and People of the Philippines/Alexandrino R. Apelado Sr. vs. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 175457/G.R. No. 175482, July 6, 2011.
Sexual abuse. The elements of sexual abuse under Section 5, Article III of RA 7610 are: 1) the accused commits the act of sexual intercourse or lascivious conduct; 2) the said act is performed with a child exploited in prostitution or subjected to other sexual abuse; and 3) the child, whether male or female, is below 18 years of age. Under Section 32, Article XIII of the Implementing Rules and Regulations of RA 7610, lascivious conduct is defined as “the intentional touching, either directly or through clothing, of the genitalia, anus, groin, breast, inner thigh, or buttocks, or the introduction of any object into the genitalia, anus or mouth, of any person, whether of the same or opposite sex, with the intent to abuse, humiliate, harass, degrade, or arouse or gratify the sexual desire of any person, bestiality, masturbation, lascivious exhibition of the genitals or pubic area of a person.” A child is deemed subject to other sexual abuse when the child is the victim of lascivious conduct under the coercion or influence of any adult. In lascivious conduct under the coercion or influence of any adult, there must be some form of compulsion equivalent to intimidation which subdues the free exercise of the offended party’s free will. In this case, the prosecution established that Garingarao touched AAA’s breasts and inserted his finger into her private part for his sexual gratification. Moreover, it was proved that Garingarao coerced AAA into submitting to his lascivious acts by pretending that he was examining her. Jojit Garingarao vs. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 192760, July 20, 2011.
Suspension of sentence; minority. The appellant was 17 years old when the buy-bust operation took place or when the said offense was committed, but was no longer a minor at the time of the promulgation of the RTC’s Decision. It must be noted that RA 9344 took effect on May 20, 2006, while the RTC promulgated its decision on this case on September 14, 2005, when said appellant was no longer a minor. In People v. Sarcia (G.R. No. 169641, September 10, 2009, 599 SCRA 20), it was held that while Section 38 of RA 9344 provides that suspension of sentence can still be applied even if the child in conflict with the law is already eighteen (18) years of age or more at the time of the pronouncement of his/her guilt, Section 40 of the same law limits the said suspension of sentence until the child reaches the maximum age of 21. Hence, the appellant, who is now beyond the age of 21 years can no longer avail of the provisions of Sections 38 and 40 of RA 9344 as to his suspension of sentence, because this has already become moot and academic. People of the Philippines vs. Allen Udtojan Mantalaba, G.R. No. 186227, July 20, 2011.
3. CRIMINAL PROCEDURE
Criminal cases; burden of proof. Well-settled is the rule in criminal cases that the prosecution has the burden of proof to establish the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt. However, once the accused admits the commission of the offense charged but raises a justifying circumstance as a defense, the burden of proof is shifted to him. He cannot rely on the weakness of the evidence for the prosecution for even if it is weak, it cannot be doubted especially after he himself has admitted the killing. This is because a judicial confession constitutes evidence of a high order. People of the Philippines vs. Bingky Campos, et al, G.R. No. 176061, July 4, 2011.
Criminal procedure; mandatory institution of civil and criminal actions in the Sandiganbayan. In their Rule 65 petition for certiorari before the Supreme Court, petitioners contend that the Regional Trial Court or any other court no has jurisdiction to try Civil Case No. 00-00089 given that in cases cognizable by Sandiganbayan, there is a mandatory simultaneous institution and joint determination of the civil liability with the criminal action and the express prohibition to file the said civil action separately from the criminal action as provided under Section 4 of R.A. 8249. In dismissing the petition, the Supreme Court ruled that the subject civil case (i.e., Civil Case No. 00-00089) does not fall within the purview of Section 4 of R.A. No. 8249. P/Chief Inspector Fernando Billedo, et al vs. Wilhemina Wagan, et al, G.R. No. 175091, July 13, 2011.
Criminal procedure; mandatory institution of civil and criminal actions in the Sandiganbayan. Section 4 of R.A. No. 8249 contemplates only two (2) situations and these were correctly pointed out by the public respondent as follows: First, a criminal action has been instituted before the Sandiganbayan or the appropriate courts after the requisite preliminary investigation, and the corresponding civil liability must be simultaneously instituted with it; and second, the civil case, filed ahead of the criminal case, is still pending when the criminal action was filed, in which case, the civil case should be transferred to the court trying the criminal case for consolidation and joint determination. Evidently, Section 4 of R.A. No. 8249 finds no application in this case since no criminal action has been filed before the Sandiganbayan or any appropriate court. Thus, there is no appropriate court to which the subject civil case can be transferred or consolidated as mandated by the said provision. P/Chief Inspector Fernando Billedo, et al vs. Wilhemina Wagan, et al, G.R. No. 175091, July 13, 2011.
Criminal procedure; mandatory institution of civil and criminal actions in the Sandiganbayan. It is also illogical to consider the civil case as abandoned simply because the criminal cases against petitioners were dismissed at the preliminary stage. A reading of the latter part of Section 4 of R.A. No. 8294 suggests that the civil case will only be considered abandoned if there is a pending criminal case and the civil case was not transferred to the court trying the criminal case for joint determination. The criminal charges against petitioners might have been dismissed at the preliminary stage for lack of probable cause, but it does not mean that the civil case instituted prior to the filing of the criminal complaints is already baseless as the complainants can prove their cause of action in the civil case by mere preponderance of evidence. P/Chief Inspector Fernando Billedo, et al vs. Wilhemina Wagan, et al, G.R. No. 175091, July 13, 2011.
Evidence; credibility of rape victim’s testimony. Due to its intimate nature, rape is usually a crime bereft of witnesses, and, more often than not, the victim is left to testify for herself. Thus, in the resolution of rape cases, the victim’s credibility becomes the primordial consideration. It is settled that when the victim’s testimony is straightforward, convincing, and consistent with human nature and the normal course of things, unflawed by any material or significant inconsistency, it passes the test of credibility, and the accused may be convicted solely on the basis thereof. Inconsistencies in the victim’s testimony do not impair her credibility, especially if the inconsistencies refer to trivial matters that do not alter the essential fact of the commission of rape. The trial court’s assessment of the witnesses’ credibility is given great weight and is even conclusive and binding. People of the Philippines vs. Noel Dion, G.R. No. 181035, July 4, 2011.
Evidence; positive identification. An eyewitness account established that the petitioner’s vehicle actually hit Rochelle Lanete. Eyewitness identification is vital evidence, and, in most cases, decisive of the success or failure of the prosecution. One of the prosecution witnesses, Victor Soriano, unfortunately for the petitioner’s cause, saw the incident in its entirety; Victor thus provided direct evidence as eyewitness to the very act of the commission of the crime. Victor positively identified the petitioner as the person who drove the car that ramped on an island divider along Governor Forbes corner G. Tuazon Street, and hit Rochelle. The positive identification in this case, coupled with the failure of the defense to impute any ill-motive on the eyewitness works to dispel reasonable doubt on the fact that the petitioner’s car had in fact hit Rochelle. The eyewitness account provides the necessary link between the petitioner’s failure to exercise precaution in operating his vehicle and Rochelle Lanete’s death. Edwin Tabao y Perez vs. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 187246, July 20, 2011.
Appeal of criminal case; extent of review. An appeal in criminal case opens the entire case for review on any question, including one not raised by the parties. The Supreme Court cited the ruling in U.S. v. Abijan, 1 Phil 83 (1902), now embodied in Section 11, Rule 124 of the Rules of Court, which provides: “The Court of Appeals may reverse, affirm, or modify the judgment and increase or reduce the penalty imposed by the trial court, remand the case to the Regional Trial Court for new trial or retrial, or dismiss the case.” The reason behind this rule is that when an accused appeals from the sentence of the trial court, he waives the constitutional safeguard against double jeopardy and throws the whole case open to the review of the appellate court, which is then called upon to render such judgment as law and justice dictate, whether favorable or unfavorable to the appellant. People of the Philippines vs. Felipe Mirandilla Jr., G.R. No. 186417, July 27, 2011.
(Lindy thanks Nuj Dumbrigue and Janette Ancog for their assistance in the preparation of this post.)