Here are select April 2013 rulings of the Supreme Court of the Philippines on criminal law and procedure:
1. REVISED PENAL CODE
Conspiracy; conspiracy may be inferred from the acts of the accused-appellants before, during and after the commission of the crime which indubitably point to a joint purpose, concerted action and community of interest. Spouses Betty and Monico were among the ten accused convicted by the trial court for kidnapping a certain Albert Yam for ransom. Although Betty and Monico did not participate in actually abducting Albert, it was in their abandoned house where Albert was brought to by the eight other accused. Also, Betty and Monico twice visited the safehouse where Albert was brought, with Betty serving food for Albert and Monico assisting the latter in climbing up and down the stairs. The Supreme Court considered them as co-conspirators. In a conspiracy to commit the crime of kidnapping for ransom, the place where the victim is to be detained is logically a primary consideration. In the case of Betty and Monico, it can be reasonably inferred that the house fitted the purpose of the kidnappers. Albert’s detention was accomplished not solely by reason of the restraint exerted upon him by the presence of guards in the safehouse, but by the circumstance of being put in a place where escape became highly improbable. In other words, Betty and Monico were indispensable in the kidnapping of Albert because they knowingly and purposely provided the venue to detain Albert. The spouses’ ownership of the safehouse, Monico’s presence therein during Albert’s arrival on the evening of April 7, 2002 and Betty’s visits to bring food reasonably indicate that they were among those who at the outset planned·, and thereafter concurred with and participated in the execution of the criminal design. The conviction of Betty and Monico was affirmed. People of the Philippines v. Betty Salvador y Tabios, et al, G.R. No. 201443, April 10, 2013.
Rape; the accused may be convicted solely on the basis of the testimony of the victim. The accused was charged and convicted for raping his 13-year old daughter. On appeal, the accused reiterated his defense that the testimony of the victim was highly incredible and illogical. The Supreme Court disagreed with the contention of the accused. The victim was able to describe in detail how accused mounted her, undressed her, and successfully penetrated her against her will, one night in April 1998. The testimony being frank, probable, logical and conclusive, the Court gave credence to it. There is a plethora of cases which tend to disfavor the accused in a rape case by holding that when a woman declares that she has been raped, she says in effect all that is necessary to show that rape has been committed and, where her testimony passes the test of credibility, the accused can be convicted on the basis thereof. Furthermore, the Court has repeatedly declared that it takes a certain amount of psychological depravity for a young woman to concoct a story which would put her own father to jail for the rest of his remaining life and drag the rest of the family, including herself, to a lifetime of shame. For this reason, courts are inclined to give credit to the straightforward and consistent testimony of a minor victim in criminal prosecutions for rape. Hence, the Supreme Court sustained the conviction of the accused. People of the Philippines v. Edmundo Vitero, G.R. No. 175327, April 3, 2013.
Robbery with homicide; all felonies committed by reason of or on the occasion of the robbery are integrated into felony of robbery with homicide. The accused were charged with the crime of robbery with homicide, after accosting sisters AA and BB along a street in Olongapo City one evening, taking the bag of AA which contained money and fatally stabbing BB. On appeal, the accused argued that robbery was not sufficiently proved and that they should only be convicted for homicide. The Supreme Court ruled that in robbery with homicide, the original criminal design of the malefactor is to commit robbery, with homicide perpetrated on the occasion or by reason of the robbery. The intent to commit robbery must precede the taking of human life. The homicide may take place before, during or after the robbery. It is only the result obtained, without reference or distinction as to the circumstances, causes or modes or persons intervening in the commission of the crime that has to be taken into consideration. The actions of the three accused, from the deprivation of the AA of her personal belongings by one of the accused to the stabbing of the victim BB by the other two accused are clear and indubitable proofs of a concerted effort to deprive AA and BB of their personal belongings, and that by reason or on the occasion of the said robbery, stabbed and killed victim BB. People of the Philippines v. Welvin Diu y Kotsesa, et al., G.R. No. 201449, April 3, 2013.
Self-defense; no self-defense where there is no unlawful aggression. The accused alleged that he stabbed the victim out of self-defense, i.e., after the latter took hold of a soldering iron, but was nonetheless convicted for the crime of homicide. That the victim indeed attempted to attack him using the soldering iron was however belied by two witnesses of the prosecution. The Supreme Court did not give credence to the allegation of self-defense and affirmed his conviction. For the first element of unlawful aggression to be present, jurisprudence dictates that there must be an actual physical assault, or at least a threat to inflict real imminent injury, upon a person. It presupposes actual, sudden, unexpected or imminent danger — not merely threatening and intimidating action. It is present only when the one attacked faces real and immediate threat to one’s life. Having failed to prove that the victim attacked him with the soldering iron, the accused cannot be said to have acted in self-defense when he stabbed the victim. Sergio Sombol v. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 194564, April 10, 2013.
2. SPECIAL PENAL LAWS
P.D. 1612 (Anti-Fencing Law); presentation of sales invoice or receipt provides proof of a legitimate transaction which is disputable. The accused was charged with violation of P.D. 1612, otherwise known as the Anti-Fencing Law, after he was found, in a buy-bust operation, to have possessed 13 of the 38 Firestone tires stolen from the owner AA. In his defense, accused alleged that he bought the tires from a certain store named Gold Link, as evidenced by a sales invoice issued in his name. The Supreme Court ruled that the defense of legitimate transaction is disputable and has in fact been disputed in this case. The validity of the issuance of the receipt was disputed, and the prosecution was able to prove that Gold Link and its address were fictitious. Ong failed to overcome the evidence presented by the prosecution and to prove the legitimacy of the transaction. Thus, he was unable to rebut the prima facie presumption under section 5 of P.D. 1612. Jaime Ong y Ong v. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 190475, April 10, 2013.
R. A. 6426; Dangerous Drugs Act of 1972; the crime of unlawful sale of marijuana necessarily includes the crime of unlawful possession thereof. The accused invoked on appeal his constitutional right to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation against him because the trial court convicted him for the crime of unlawful possession of marijuana under section 8 of R.A. 6426, although the information had charged him for unlawful sale of marijuana under section 4 of R.A. 6426. The Supreme Court held that the crime of illegal sale of marijuana implied prior possession of the marijuana. As such, the crime of illegal sale included or absorbed the crime of illegal possession. The right of the accused to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation against him was not violated simply because the information had precisely charged him with selling, delivering, giving away and distributing more or less 750 grams of dried marijuana leaves. Thus, he had been sufficiently given notice that he was also to be held to account for possessing more or less 750 grams of dried marijuana leaves. People of the Philippines v. Chad Manansala y Lagman, G.R. No. 175939, April 3, 2013.
R.A. 9165; Dangerous Drugs Law; chain of custody must be proved for a charge of illegal sale of dangerous drugs to succeed. The Supreme Court reversed the conviction of the accused where the prosecution failed to prove the chain of custody of the dangerous drugs alleged to have been sold by the accused to the poseur buyer. Although the police officer testified that he had marked the sachet of shabu with his own initials following arrest of the accused, he did not explain, either in his court testimony or in the joint affidavit of arrest, whether his marking had been done in the presence of the accused, or done immediately upon the arrest of the accused. Nor did he show by testimony or otherwise who had taken custody of the sachet of shabu after he had done his marking, and who had subsequently brought the sachet of shabu to the police station, and, still later on, to the laboratory. Given the possibility of just anyone bringing any quantity of shabu to the laboratory for examination, there is now no assurance that the quantity presented here as evidence was the same article that had been the subject of the sale by the accused. The indeterminateness of the identities of the individuals who could have handled the sachet of shabu after the police officer’s marking broke the chain of custody, and tainted the integrity of the shabu ultimately presented as evidence to the trial court. People of the Philippines v. Alberto Gonzales y Santos aka Takyo, G.R. No. 182417, April 3, 2013.
R.A. No. 9165; Dangerous Drugs Law; presence of the barangay captain or any elected official not required during the buy-bust operation, but only during the physical inventory conducted immediately thereafter. The accused argued on appeal that the trial court failed to consider the procedural flaws committed by the arresting officers in the seizure and custody of drugs as embodied in Section 21, paragraph 1, Article II, of R.A. 9165. Among others, accused alleged that the barangay captain, was not present during the alleged buy-bust operation. He was only asked to sign the inventory of the seized items shortly after his arrival at the scene of the buy-bust operation. Thus, he has no personal knowledge as to whether the drugs allegedly seized from the accused were indeed recovered from them. The Supreme Court ruled that it is enough that the barangay captain is present during the physical inventory immediately conducted after the seizure and confiscation of the drugs and he signs the copies of the inventory and is given a copy thereof. Also, the barangay captain, not only positively identified both accused, but also identified the items contained in the inventory receipt. Such testimony clearly established compliance with the requirement of Section 21with regard to the presence and participation of the elected public official. People of the Philippines v. Gerry Octavio y Florendo and Reynaldo Cariño y Martir, G.R. No. 199219, April 3, 2013.
R.A. 9165; Dangerous Drugs Law; where noncompliance of the chain of custody rule is justified. The accused argued that the chain of custody of the illegal drug, which was confiscated upon her arrest, was not strictly followed. Specifically, the illegal drug was marked only in the police station, not in the place where the buy-bust operation took place. The prosecution explained that the police officers did not have the opportunity to mark the illegal drug in the place where accused was arrested because the latter had become hysterical and had caused a commotion. The Supreme Court ruled that while the procedural guidelines laid out in section 21(1), Article II of R.A. 9165 were not strictly complied with, the integrity and the evidentiary value of the illegal drugs used in evidence in this case were duly preserved in consonance with the chain of custody rule. The arresting officer was justified in marking the seized plastic sachet of shabu at the police station, instead of at the scene of the buy-bust operation because he had no choice but to immediately extricate himself and the accused from the crime scene in order to forestall a potentially dangerous situation. Thereafter, the arresting officer turned the illegal drug over to the investigating officer, who then had it tested in the Crime Laboratory Office of the Manila Police District. Substantial compliance with the procedural aspect of the chain of custody rule does not necessarily render the seized drug items inadmissible. The conviction of the accused was affirmed. People of the Philippines v. Lolita Quesido y Badarang, G.R. No. 189351, April 10, 2013.
R.A. 9165; Dangerous Drugs Law; where seized items deemed admissible in evidence despite failure of arresting officers to comply strictly with the procedural requirements relative to the seizure and custody of the drugs. The accused argued on appeal that the trial court failed to consider the procedural flaws committed by the arresting officers in the seizure and custody of drugs as embodied in section 21, paragraph 1, Article II, of R.A. 9165. Among others, accused allege that no photograph was taken of the items seized from them. In dismissing the appeal of the accused, the Supreme Court held that even if the arresting officers failed to take a photograph of the seized drugs as required, such procedural lapse is not fatal and will not render the items seized inadmissible in evidence. What is of utmost importance is the preservation of the integrity and evidentiary value of the seized items, as the same would be utilized in the determination of the guilt or innocence of the accused. For as long as the chain of custody remains unbroken, as in this case, even though the procedural requirements provided for in section 21 of R.A. No. 9165 was not faithfully observed, the guilt of the accused will not be affected. People of the Philippines v. Gerry Octavio y Florendo and Reynaldo Cariño y Martir, G.R. No. 199219, April 3, 2013.
3. CRIMINAL PROCEDURE
Appellate review; the trial court’s factual findings are accorded great respect and even conclusive effect; these factual findings and conclusions assume greater weight if they are affirmed by the Court of Appeals. The accused were charged with the crime of robbery with homicide, after accosting sisters AA and BB along a street in Olongapo City one evening, taking the bag of AA which contained money and fatally stabbing BB. On appeal, the accused attacked the credibility of AA as a witness by citing the alleged inconsistencies in her testimony. In finding against the accused, the Supreme Court reiterated the doctrine that findings of the trial court on such matters involving the credibility of witnesses cannot be disturbed on appeal unless some facts or circumstances of weight have been overlooked, misapprehended or misinterpreted so as to materially affect the disposition of the case. AA is more than just an eyewitness, she is a surviving victim of the crime. Her testimony, as described by the RTC, was “categorical and straightforward.” AA had positively identified all the accused. There is therefore no reason to disturb the factual findings of the trial court. People of the Philippines v. Welvin Diu y Kotsesa, et al., G.R. No. 201449, April 3, 2013.
Information; aggravating and qualifying circumstances must be alleged. In this case, accused was convicted by the trial court for carnapping with homicide, aggravated by the circumstance that the offense was committed by a member of an organized or syndicated crime group under Article 62 of the Revised Peanal Code, as amended by RA 7659, although the said aggravating circumstance was not alleged in the information. As a result, on appeal, the Supreme Court held that since there is no allegation in the information that accused was a member of a syndicate or that he and his companions “had formed part of a group organized for the general purpose of committing crimes for gain, which is the essence of a syndicated or organized crime group,” the same cannot be appreciated as an aggravating circumstance against him. The Supreme Court thus modified the judgment by not considering the said aggravating circumstance. People of the Philippines v. Arnel Nocum, et al, G.R. No. 179041, April 1, 2013.
Information; aggravating and qualifying circumstances must be alleged. Under Rule 110, Section 8 of the Rules of Court, all aggravating and qualifying circumstances must be alleged in the information. This new rule took effect on December 1, 2000, but applies retroactively to pending cases since it is favorable to the appellant. People of the Philippines v. Arnel Nocum, et al, G.R. No. 179041, April 1, 2013.
Witness Protection, Security and Benefit Act; requirements under R.A. No. 6981. A certain Kenny Dalandag was admitted into the Witness Protection Program of the Department of Justice (DOJ) under R.A. 6981, otherwise known as The Witness Protection, Security and Benefit Act, in connection with the prosecution of the crime of murder filed against 196 accused in what became aptly known as the Maguindanao massacre. Petitioner, one of the accused, wrote to respondent Secretary of Justice Leila De Lima and Assistant Chief State Prosecutor Richard Fadullon to request the inclusion of Dalandag in the informations for murder considering that Dalandag had already confessed his participation in the massacre through his two sworn declarations. After the DOJ denied his request, petitioner filed a case for mandamus seeking to compel respondents to include Dalandag in the informations. The RTC denied the petition. In affirming the decision of the RTC, the Supreme Court held that there is no requirement under R.A. 6981 for the prosecution to first charge a person in court as one of the accused in order for him to qualify for admission into the Witness Protection Program. The admission as a state witness under R.A. 6981 also operates as an acquittal, and said witness cannot subsequently be included in the criminal information except when he fails or refuses to testify. The immunity for the state witness is granted by the DOJ, not by the trial court. Should such witness be meanwhile charged in court as an accused, the public prosecutor, upon presentation to him of the certification of admission into the Witness Protection Program, shall petition the trial court for the discharge of the witness. The Court shall then order the discharge and exclusion of said accused from the information. Datu Andal Ampatuan, Jr. v. Sec. Leila De Lima, as Secretary of the Department of Justice, et al, G.R. No. 197291, April 3, 2013.
(Lindy thanks Izabel Serina, Elaine delos Santos and Vincent Juan for their assistance in the preparation of this post.)