Here are select April 2012 rulings of the Supreme Court of the Philippines on criminal law and procedure:
1. REVISED PENAL CODE
Composite crime; defined. The felony of rape with homicide is a composite crime. A composite crime, also known as a special complex crime, is composed of two or more crimes that the law treats as a single indivisible and unique offense for being the product of a single criminal impulse. It is a specific crime with a specific penalty provided by law and differs from a compound or complex crime under Article 48 of the Revised Penal Code, which states that “[w]hen a single act constitutes two or more grave or less grave felonies, or when an offense is a necessary means for committing the other, the penalty for the most serious crime shall be imposed, the same to be applied in its maximum period. People v. Villaflores,G.R. No. 184926, April 11, 2012.
Composite crime and compound crime differentiated. There are distinctions between a composite crime, on the one hand, and a complex or compound crime under Article 48 of the Revised Penal Code, on the other hand. In a composite crime, the composition of the offenses is fixed by law; in a complex or compound crime, the combination of the offenses is not specified but generalized, that is, grave and/or less grave, or one offense being the necessary means to commit the other. For a composite crime, the penalty for the specified combination of crimes is specific; for a complex or compound crime, the penalty is that corresponding to the most serious offense, to be imposed in the maximum period. A light felony that accompanies a composite crime is absorbed; a light felony that accompanies the commission of a complex or compound crime may be the subject of a separate information. People v. Villaflores, G.R. No. 184926, April 11, 2012.
Criminal liability; effect of death pending appeal. On 29 July 2009, a Notice of Appeal was filed by Brillantes through counsel before the Supreme Court. While this case is pending appeal, the Prisons and Security Division Officer-in-Charge informed the Court that accused-appellant Brillantes died while committed at the Bureau of Corrections on 3 January 2012 as evidenced by a copy of death report signed by New Bilibid Prison Hospital’s Medical. Hence, the issue here is the effect of death pending appeal of the conviction of accused-appellant Brillantes with regard to his criminal and pecuniary liabilities. People of the Philippines v. Saturnino Dela Cruz, et al., G.R. No. 190610, April 25, 2012.
Criminal liability; effect of death pending appeal. The Revised Penal Code is instructive on the matter. It provides in Article 89(1) that criminal liability is totally extinguished by the death of the convict, as to the personal penalties; and as to pecuniary penalties, liability therefor is extinguished only when the death of the offender occurs before final judgment. It is plain that both the personal penalty of imprisonment and pecuniary penalty of fine of Brillantes were extinguished upon his death pending appeal of his conviction by the lower courts. There is no civil liability involved in violations of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002. No private offended party is involved as there is in fact no reference to civil liability in the decision of the trial court. The appeal of Brillantes culminating in the extinguishment of his criminal liability, however, does not have any effect on his co- accused De la Cruz who did not file a notice of appeal. People of the Philippines v. Saturnino Dela Cruz, et al., G.R. No. 190610, April 25, 2012.
Criminal liability; extinguishment by death. In a Decision dated May 9, 2006, the Court of Appeals affirmed appellant’s conviction with modification, increasing the award of indemnity from P40,000.00 to P50,000.00. It likewise awarded moral damages in favor of AAA in the amount of P50,000.00. However, appellant died on December 4, 2004. Nonetheless, the Public Attorney’s Office still appealed the aforesaid Court of Appeals Decision to the Supreme Court. Appellant’s death during the pendency of his appeal before the Court of Appeals extinguished not only his criminal liability for the crime of rape committed against AAA, but also his civil liability solely arising from or based on said crime. People of the Philippines v. Nelson Bayot y Satina, G.R. No. 200030, April 18, 2012.
Criminal liability; extinguishment by death. Article 89(1) of the Revised Penal Code, as amended, specifically provides the effect of death of the accused on his criminal, as well as civil, liability. It reads thus: “Criminal liability is totally extinguished: (1) By death of the convict, as to the personal penalties; and as to pecuniary penalties, liability therefor is extinguished only when the death of the offender occurs before final judgment. . .” It is clear that the death of the accused pending appeal of his conviction extinguishes his criminal liability, as well as the civil liability ex delicto. The rationale, therefore, is that the criminal action is extinguished inasmuch as there is no longer a defendant to stand as the accused, the civil action instituted therein for recovery of civil liability ex delicto is ipso facto extinguished, grounded as it is on the criminal case. People of the Philippines v. Nelson Bayot y Satina, G.R. No. 200030, April 18, 2012.
Murder; treachery. The stabbing of Alfredo by Samson was qualified by treachery. There is treachery when the offender commits any of the crimes against persons, employing means, methods, or forms in the execution, which tend directly and specially to insure its execution, without risk to the offender arising from the defense which the offended party might make. In order for treachery to be properly appreciated, two elements must be present: (1) at the time of the attack, the victim was not in a position to defend himself; and (2) the accused consciously and deliberately adopted the particular means, methods or forms of attack employed by him. The essence of treachery is the sudden and unexpected attack by an aggressor on the unsuspecting victim, depriving the latter of any chance to defend himself and thereby ensuring its commission without risk to himself. Here, while it is true that the attack on Alfredo was frontal, the same was so sudden and unexpected. Alfredo was completely unaware of the imminent peril to his life. Alfredo was walking to meet Samson, expecting that they would only talk. Alfredo was unarmed while Samson had a knife. Alfredo was deprived of the opportunity to defend himself and repel Samson’s attack. Clearly, treachery attended Samson’s stabbing to death of Alfredo, hence, qualifying the crime to murder. People of the Philippines v. Samson Escleto, G.R. No. 183706, April 25, 2012.
Qualified theft; elements. Theft is committed by any person who, with intent to gain, but without violence against, or intimidation of persons nor force upon things, shall take the personal property of another without the latter’s consent. If committed with grave abuse of confidence, the crime of theft becomes qualified. In précis, qualified theft punishable under Article 310 in relation to Articles 308 and 309 of the Revised Penal Code (RPC) is committed when the following elements are present: (1) taking of personal property; (2) that the said property belongs to another; (3) that the said taking be done with intent to gain; (4) that it be done without the owner’s consent; (5) that it be accomplished without the use of violence or intimidation against persons, nor of force upon things; and (6) that it be done with grave abuse of confidence. Here, the first and second elements are unquestionably present. The money involved is the personal property of Tria’s employer, PNB. Tria’s argument that the amount does not belong to PNB even if it is the depositary bank is erroneous since it is well established that a bank acquires ownership of the money deposited by its clients. The third element, intent to gain or animus lucrandi, is an internal act that is presumed from the unlawful taking by the offender of the thing subject of asportation. This element is immediately discernable from the circumstances narrated in the affidavits submitted by PNB’s employees. The fourth element of the crime clearly also exists. PNB did not consent to the issuance of the check and its eventual encashment—which both constitute the taking of personal property—as respondents had made sure that the bank was rendered inutile and incapable to give its consent. The fifth element is also undisputed here; while the last element, that the taking be done with grave abuse of confidence, is sufficiently shown by the affidavits of PNB and Tria’s own admission of the position he held at the Bank. A bank’s employees are entrusted with the possession of money of the bank due to the confidence reposed in them and as such they occupy positions of confidence. The Office of the City Prosecutor of Quezon City is ordered to file an Information charging Amelio C. Tria and Atty. Reyes/John Doe for Qualified Theft. Philippine National Bank v. Amelio Tria and John Doe, G.R. No. 193250, April 25, 2012.
Qualifying circumstance; treachery. The essence of treachery is the sudden and unexpected attack, without the slightest provocation on the part of the person attacked. Treachery is present when the offender commits any of the crimes against persons, employing means, methods or forms in the execution thereof, which tend directly and especially to insure its execution, without risk arising from the defense which the offended party might make. In the case at bar, the attack on Magdalino Olos was treacherous, because he was caught off guard and was therefore unable to defend himself, as testified to by the prosecution witnesses and as indicated by the wounds inflicted on him. The prosecution was able to sufficiently establish the attendance of treachery in this case. People v. Asilan, G.R. No. 188322, April 11, 2012.
Rape; elements. The crime of rape is defined in the Revised Penal Code as amended by the Anti-Rape Law of 1997. The essential elements that the prosecution must prove are, first, that a man succeeded in having carnal knowledge of a woman; and, second, that the act was accomplished through force, threat or intimidation. In this case, AAA positively testified to the presence of both elements. In her testimony, she recounted in detail her harrowing experience at the hands of Ganzan – how she and her friend, while on their way home from a disco, were intercepted by the appellant; how they were made to undress at gunpoint; how her friend was sent away so that the appellant would be left alone with her to fulfill his lewd designs; and how he actually succeeded in having carnal knowledge of her against her will while poking a knife against her neck. These accusations were further buttressed by the findings of Dr. Carlos Ray Sanchez, who concluded that there was a possibility of sexual abuse after he found fresh lacerations in her hymen and confirmed the presence of sperm in her vagina. In this case, the Supreme Court ruled that the prosecution has fulfilled its burden of establishing appellant’s guilt beyond reasonable doubt. People v. Ganzan, G.R. No. 193509, April 11, 2012.
Syndicated estafa; elements. Gilbert Guy, et al. should be charged for syndicated estafa in relation to Section 1 of PD No. 1689, which has the following elements: (a) estafa or other forms of swindling as defined in Artilce 315 and 316 of the Revised Penal Code is committed; (b) the estafa or swindling is committed by a syndicate of five or more persons; and (c) defraudation results in the misappropriation of moneys contributed by stockholders, or members of rural banks, cooperatives, samahang nayons, or farmers associations or of funds solicited by corporations/associations from the general public. Rafael H. Galvez and Katherine L. Guy v. Asia United Bank/Asia United Bank v. Gilbert Guy, et al./Gilbert Guy, et al. v. Asia United Bank, G.R. No. 187919/G.R. No. 187979 & G.R. No. 188030, April 25, 2012.
Syndicated estafa; elements. Here, five (5) accused, namely, Gilbert G. Guy, et al, were, (a) all involved in the formation of the entities used to defraud AUB; and (b) they were the officers and directors, both of RMSI and SPI, whose conformities paved the way for AUB to grant the letter of credit subject of this case, in AUB’s honest belief that SPI, as Gilbert Guy, et al. represented, was a mere division of RMSI. Furthermore, while these corporations were established presumably in accordance with law, it cannot be denied that Gilbert G. Guy, et al, used these corporations to carry out the illegal and unlawful act of misrepresenting SPI as a mere division of RMSI, and, despite knowing SPI’s separate juridical personality, applied for a letter of credit secured by SPI’s promissory note, knowing fully that SPI has no credit line with AUB. The circumstances of the creation of these entities and their dealings with the bank reveal this criminal intent to defraud and to deceive AUB. Lastly, the fact that the defraudation of AUB resulted to misappropriation of the money which it solicited from the general public in the form of deposits was substantially established. Thus, the Decision of the Court of Appeals finding probable cause against private respondents for the crime of estafa under Article 315, par 2 (a) of the Revised Penal Code is affirmed with modification such that Gilbert G. Guy, et al, be charged for syndicated estafa under Article 315 (2) (a) of the Revised Penal Code in relation to Section 1 of Presidential Decree No. 1689. Rafael H. Galvez and Katherine L. Guy v. Asia United Bank/Asia United Bank v. Gilbert Guy, et al./Gilbert Guy, et al. v. Asia United Bank, G.R. No. 187919/G.R. No. 187979 & G.R. No. 188030, April 25, 2012.
2. SPECIAL PENAL LAWS
Dangerous Drugs; buy bust operation; coordination with PDEA. On appeal, accused-appellant assailed his conviction by insisting that the buy bust operation conducted by the Philippine National Police (PNP) which was instrumental to his arrest was invalid because of alleged violation of Section 86 of R.A. 9165, requiring that the PNP maintain close coordination with the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) on all drug related matters. The Supreme Court ruled that accused-appellant’s contention is unmeritorious. It is settled that Section 86 of R.A. 9165 does not invalidate operations on account of the law enforcers’ failure to maintain close coordination with the PDEA. Section 86, as well as the Internal Rules and Regulations implementing the same, is silent as to the consequences of the failure on the part of the law enforcers to seek the authority of the PDEA prior to conducting a buy-bust operation. This “silence” [cannot] be interpreted as a legislative intent to make an arrest without the participation of PDEA illegal or evidence obtained pursuant to such an arrest inadmissible.” People v. Figueroa, G.R. No. 186141, April 11, 2012.
Dangerous Drugs; buy bust; required procedures. Given the nature of buy-bust operations and the resulting preventive procedural safeguards crafted in R.A. 9165, courts must tread carefully before giving full credit to the testimonies of those who conducted the operations. Although it has been ruled in the past that mere procedural lapses in the conduct of a buy-bust operation are not ipso facto fatal to the prosecution’s cause, so long as the integrity and the evidentiary value of the seized items have been preserved, courts must still thoroughly evaluate and differentiate those errors that constitute a simple procedural lapse from those that amount to a gross, systematic, or deliberate disregard of the safeguards drawn by the law. Accordingly, despite the presumption of regularity in the performance of the official duties of law enforcers, we stress that the step-by-step procedure outlined under R.A. 9165 is a matter of substantive law, which cannot be simply brushed aside as a simple procedural technicality. Here, the conduct of the buy-bust operations was peppered with defects, which raises doubts on the preservation of the integrity and evidentiary value of the seized items from accused-appellant. First, there were material inconsistencies in the marking of the seized items. Second, the SAID-SOTF failed to show genuine and sufficient effort to seek the third-party representatives enumerated under Section 21(1) of R.A. 9165. Third, the SAID-SOTF failed to duly accomplish the Certificate of Inventory and to take photos of the seized items pursuant to Section 21(1) of R.A. 9165. Accused-appellant Sammy Umipang y Abdul is therefore acquitted of the charges in Criminal Cases No. 14935-D-TG and No. 14936-D-TG on the ground of reasonable doubt. People of the Philippines v. Sammy Umipag y Abdul, G.R. No. 190321, April 25, 2012.
Dangerous Drugs; chain of custody and prescribed procedures. Non-compliance with the prescribed procedural requirements does not necessarily render the seizure and custody of the items void and invalid; the seizure may still be held valid, provided that (a) there is a justifiable ground for the non-compliance, and (b) the integrity and evidentiary value of the seized items are shown to have been properly preserved. These conditions, however, were not met in the present case as the prosecution did not even attempt to offer any justification for the failure of SPO4 Mendoza to follow the prescribed procedures in the handling of the seized items. As held in People v. De Guzman, the failure to follow the procedure mandated under RA 9165 and its Implementing Rules and Regulations must be adequately explained. The justifiable ground for the non-compliance must be proven as a fact. The Court cannot presume what these grounds are or that they even exist. In dubio pro reo. When moral certainty as to culpability hangs in the balance, acquittal on reasonable doubt inevitably becomes a matter of right. Petitioners Valentin Zafra y Dechosa and Eroll Marcelino y Reyes are acquitted for the failure of the prosecution to prove their guilt beyond reasonable doubt. Valentin Zafra y Dechosa and Eroll Marcelino y Reyes v. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 190749, April 25, 2012.
Dangerous Drugs; illegal possession of prohibited or regulated drugs; elements. Illegal possession of prohibited or regulated drugs is committed when the following elements concur: (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. All these elements were established beyond reasonable doubt in the cases against accused-appellant. The prosecution witnesses consistently and categorically testified that pursuant to a search warrant duly issued by a judge, they found and seized from accused-appellant’s house and actual possession a brick of marijuana leaves and heat-sealed sachets of methamphetamine hydrochloride or shabu. People v. Velazquez, G.R. No. 177244, April 11, 2012.
Dangerous Drugs; illegal sale of dangerous drugs. This appeal involves two distinct drug-related offenses, namely: illegal sale of dangerous drugs, and illegal possession of dangerous drugs. The successful prosecution of illegal sale of dangerous drugs requires: (a) proof that the transaction or sale took place, and (b) the presentation in court as evidence of the corpus delicti, or the dangerous drugs themselves. It is crucial that the Prosecution establishes the identity of the seized dangerous drugs in a way that the integrity thereof has been well preserved from the time of seizure or confiscation from the accused until the time of presentation as evidence in court. Nothing less than a faithful compliance with this duty is demanded of all law enforcers arresting drug pushers and drug possessors and confiscating and seizing the dangerous drugs and substances from them. Here, the Prosecution failed to demonstrate a faithful compliance by the arresting lawmen of the rule on chain of custody. Further, the State did not establish the identity of the dangerous drugs allegedly seized from petitioner with the same exacting certitude required for a finding of guilt. Although PO2 Payumo declared that he was the one who had received the sachet of shabu (“RRS-1”) from petitioner and who had confiscated the two sachets of shabu (“RRS-2”) from petitioner, all of which he had then sealed, nothing more to support the fact that the evidence thus seized had remained intact was adduced. Also, the Prosecution did not show to whom the seized articles had been turned over following the conduct of the laboratory examination, and how the seized articles had been kept in a manner that preserved their integrity until their final presentation in court as evidence of the corpus delicti. Such lapses of the Prosecution were fatal to its proof of guilt because they demonstrated that the chain of custody did not stay unbroken, thereby raising doubt on the integrity and identity of the dangerous drugs as evidence of the corpus delicti of the crimes charged. Petitioner is acquitted of the crimes charged in Criminal Case No. 05-234564 and Criminal Case No. 05-234565. Rogelio S. Reyes v. The Hon. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 180177, April 18, 2012.
Dangerous Drugs; illegal sale of dangerous drugs. For the successful prosecution of offenses involving the illegal sale of drugs under Section 5, Article II of R.A. 9165, the following elements must be proven: (1) the identity of the buyer and seller, object and 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 actually took place, coupled with the presentation in court of evidence of the corpus delicti. After a careful examination of the records of this case, the Supreme Court was convinced that that the prosecution’s evidence established Abedin’s guilt beyond reasonable doubt. The prosecution was able to prove the existence of all the essential elements of the illegal sale of shabu. Abedin was positively identified by the prosecution witnesses as the person who sold and possessed the shabu. People v. Abedin, G.R. No. 179936, April 11, 2012.
3. CRIMINAL PROCEDURE
Evidence; circumstantial evidence. Circumstantial evidence may prove the guilt of appellant and justify a conviction if the following requisites concur: (a) there is more than one circumstance; (b) the facts from which the inferences are derived are proven; and (c) the combination of all the circumstances is such as to produce a conviction beyond reasonable doubt. In other words, for circumstantial evidence to be sufficient to support conviction, all circumstances must be consistent with each other, consistent with the hypothesis that the accused is guilty and at the same time inconsistent with the hypothesis that he is innocent, and with every other rational hypothesis except that of guilt. Here, the circumstances– accused-appellant (i) was the legal secretary and liaison officer of private complainant, (ii) was tasked to process land titles of private complainant’s clients, (iii) was confidently given considerable amounts of cash without need of receipts by private complainant, (iv) submitted handwritten ‘padded’ liquidation statements because her reported expenses turned out to be higher than what she actually spent and the ‘official’ receipts she submitted to private complainant were fake, and (v) did not specifically deny her submitting altered or fake receipts, and (vi) suddenly disappeared leaving some of her tasks, unfinished– lead to the reasonable conclusion that appellant took amounts of money from Rebecca. People of the Philippines v. Remedios Tanchanco y Pineda, G.R. No. 177761, April 18, 2012.
Evidence in Rape; credibility of witness. There can be no question that the testimony of a child who has been a victim in rape is normally given full weight and credence. Judicial experience has enabled the courts to accept the verity that when a minor says that she was raped, she says in effect all that is necessary to show that rape was committed against her. The credibility of such a rape victim is surely augmented where there is absolutely no evidence that suggests the possibility of her being actuated by ill-motive to falsely testify against the accused. Truly, a rape victim’s testimony that is unshaken by rigid cross-examination and unflawed by inconsistencies or contradictions in its material points is entitled to full faith and credit. AAA’s failure to shout for help although she knew that her father was tending to the family store just downstairs was not a factor to discredit her or to diminish the credibility of her evidence on the rape. She explained her failure by stating that Taguilid had threatened to harm her should she shout. She thereby commanded credence, considering that she was not expected to easily overcome her fear of him due to her being then a minor just under 13 years of age at the time of the rape. People v. Taguilid, G.R. No. 181544, April 11, 2012.
Preliminary investigation; no vested right to file a reply. According to petitioner, he was denied his right to due process when he was not given a copy of the: (i) Counter-affidavit, (ii) Asst. Prosecutor’s 10 September 2008 Resolution, and (iii) 17 February 2009 Resolution of the Office of the Ombudsman. He also claims he was deprived of due process because he was not able to file his Reply to the Counter-affidavit. However, a complainant in a preliminary investigation does not have a vested right to file a Reply—this right should be granted to him by law. P/Insp. Ariel S. Artillero v. Orlando C. Casimiro, etc., et al, G.R. No. 190569, April 25, 2012.
Preliminary investigation; no vested right to file a reply. There is no provision in Rule 112 of the Rules of Court that gives the Complainant or requires the prosecutor to observe the right to file a Reply to the accused’s counter-affidavit. To illustrate the non-mandatory nature of filing a Reply in preliminary investigations, Section 3 (d) of Rule 112 gives the prosecutor, in certain instances, the right to resolve the Complaint even without a counter-affidavit, viz: “(d) If the respondent cannot be subpoenaed, of if subpoenaed, does not submit counter-affidavits within the ten (10) day period, the investigating officer shall resolve the complaint based on the evidence presented by the complainant.” On the other hand, petitioner was entitled to receive a copy of the Counter-affidavit filed by Aguillon. P/Insp. Ariel S. Artillero v. Orlando C. Casimiro, etc., et al, G.R. No. 190569, April 25, 2012.
Preliminary investigation; non-receipt of counter-affidavit. The procedural defect of not having received a copy of the Counter-affidavit, however, was cured when petitioner filed a Motion for Reconsideration. Provincial Prosecutor Dusaban had the duty to send petitioner a copy of Aguillon’s Counter-affidavit. Section 3(c), Rule 112 of the Revised Rules on Criminal Procedure, grants a complainant this right, and the Provincial Prosecutor has the duty to observe the fundamental and essential requirements of due process in the cases presented before it. That the requirements of due process are deemed complied with in the present case because of the filing of an MR by Complainant was simply a fortunate turn of events for the Office of the Provincial Prosecutor. P/Insp. Ariel S. Artillero v. Orlando C. Casimiro, etc., et al, G.R. No. 190569, April 25, 2012.
Probable cause. A finding probable cause needs only to rest on evidence showing that more likely than not a crime has been committed and there is enough reason to believe that it was committed by the accused. It need not be based on clear and convincing evidence of guilt, neither on evidence establishing absolute certainty of guilt. A finding of probable cause merely binds over the suspect to stand trial. It is not a pronouncement of guilt. The term does not mean “actual and positive cause” nor does it import absolute certainty. It is merely based on opinion and reasonable belief. Probable cause does not require an inquiry into whether there is sufficient evidence to procure a conviction. Cruz v. Hon. Gonzales, et al, G.R. No. 173844, April 11, 2012.
Probable cause. In this case, the Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the Court of Appeals in line with the principle of non-interference with the prerogative of the Secretary of Justice to review the resolutions of the public prosecutor in the determination of the existence of probable cause. The Secretary of Justice found sufficient evidence to indict petitioner. It was adequately established by DBP and found by the Secretary of Justice that the funds would not have been released pursuant to the subsidiary loan agreement if HSLBI had no sub-borrowers/Investment Enterprises to speak of. As it turned out, not only were the collaterals submitted inexistent, all the purported sub-borrowers/Investment Enterprises were also fictitious and inexistent. In fact, the signatures of the sub-borrowers and the supporting documents submitted to DBP by petitioner and her co-respondents were all forged. The findings of probable cause against petitioner was based on the document showing that petitioner’s opinion was instrumental in the deceit committed against DBP. Cruz v. Hon. Gonzales, et al, G.R. No. 173844, April 11, 2012.
(Lindy thanks Nuj Dumbrigue for assisting in the preparation of this post.)