Here are select September 2013 rulings of the Supreme Court of the Philippines on criminal law and procedure:
1. REVISED PENAL CODE
Estafa under Article 315(2)(d) of the Revised Penal Code; elements. In order to constitute estafa under Article 315(2)(d) of the Revised Penal Code, the act of postdating or issuing a check in payment of an obligation must be the efficient cause of the defraudation. This means that the offender must be able to obtain money or property from the offended party by reason of the issuance of the check, whether dated or postdated. In other words, the Prosecution must show that the person to whom the check was delivered would not have parted with his money or property were it not for the issuance of the check by the offender. The essential elements of this crime are the following: (a) a check is postdated or issued in payment of an obligation contracted at the time the check is issued; (b) lack or insufficiency of funds to cover the check; and (c) damage to the payee thereof. People of the Philippines v. Gilbert Reyes Wagas, G.R. No. 157943, September 4, 2013.
Estafa under Article 315(2)(d) of the Revised Penal Code; what the law punishes is fraud or deceit, not the mere issuance of a worthless check. In this case, the Prosecution established that Ligaray had released the goods to Cañada because of the postdated check the latter had given to him; and that the check was dishonored when presented for payment because of the insufficiency of funds. In every criminal prosecution, however, the identity of the offender, like the crime itself, must be established by proof beyond reasonable doubt. In that regard, the Prosecution did not establish beyond reasonable doubt that it was accused Wagas who had defrauded Ligaray by issuing the check. Firstly, Ligaray expressly admitted that he did not personally meet the person with whom he was transacting over the telephone. Even after the dishonor of the check, Ligaray did not personally see and meet whoever he had dealt with and to whom he had made the demand for payment, and that he had talked with him only over the telephone. Secondly, the check delivered to Ligaray was made payable to cash – this type of check was payable to the bearer and could be negotiated by mere delivery without the need of an indorsement. This rendered it highly probable that Wagas had issued the check not to Ligaray, but to somebody else like Cañada, his brother-in-law, who then negotiated it to Ligaray. Relevantly, Ligaray confirmed that he did not himself see or meet Wagas at the time of the transaction and thereafter, and expressly stated that the person who signed for and received the stocks of rice was Cañada. It bears stressing that the accused, to be guilty of estafa as charged, must have used the check in order to defraud the complainant. What the law punishes is the fraud or deceit, not the mere issuance of the worthless check. Wagas could not be held guilty of estafa simply because he had issued the check used to defraud Ligaray. The proof of guilt must still clearly show that it had been Wagas as the drawer who had defrauded Ligaray by means of the check. Thus, considering that the circumstances of the identification of Wagas as the person who transacted on the rice did not preclude a reasonable possibility of mistake, the proof of guilt did not measure up to the standard of proof beyond reasonable doubt demanded in criminal cases. People of the Philippines v. Gilbert Reyes Wagas, G.R. No. 157943, September 4, 2013.
Evident premeditation; requisites. In order for evident premeditation to be appreciated, the following requisites must concur: (1) the time when accused decided to commit the crime; (2) an overt act manifestly indicating that he has clung to his determination; and, (3) sufficient lapse of time between such a determination and the actual execution to allow the accused time to reflect upon the consequences of his act. In this case, the courts below based their finding of evident premeditation on the entries in the Dispatch Logbook, the alleged pretense made by the appellant and cohorts that they were going to conduct a police operation regarding illegal drugs, as well as the telephone call made by the victim to his friend Reyes before the incident. To the Supreme Court’s mind, however, these circumstances do not constitute clear and positive evidence of outward acts showing a premeditation to kill. At most, these circumstances are indicative only of conspiracy among the accused. Settled is the rule that when it is not shown how and when the plan to kill was hatched or how much time had elapsed before it was carried out, evident premeditation cannot be considered. It must appear not only that the accused decided to commit the crime prior to the moment of its execution but also that this decision was the result of meditation, calculation, reflection or persistent attempt. Notably, even the Office of the Solicitor General admitted that the lapse of time from the moment the victim was fetched until the shooting cannot be considered sufficient for appellant to reflect upon the consequences of his act. People of the Philippines v. SPO1 Alfredo Alawig, G.R. No. 187731, September 18, 2013.
Qualified rape; knowledge of the offender of the mental disability of the victim. Knowledge of the offender of the mental disability of the victim during the commission of the crime of rape qualifies and makes it punishable by death. However, such knowledge by the rapist should be alleged in the Information since “a crime can only be qualified by circumstances pleaded in the indictment. In this case, appellant’s knowledge of the mental disability of “AAA” at the time of the commission of the crime of rape was properly alleged in the Amended Information. As found by the lower courts, the prosecution proved beyond reasonable doubt that appellant was aware of the mental retardation of “AAA.” Appellant testified that he knew “AAA” and that he even used to reside with her and her relatives. He was treated as a member of their family. In fact, he regarded “AAA” as his niece. His boarding house was also a few minutes away from the residence of “AAA.” He also admitted that “AAA” was known to be mentally retarded in their community. The low intellect of “AAA” was easily noticeable to the trial court from the answers she gave to the questions propounded to her in the course of her testimony. Further, the Supreme Court stressed that from the filing of this case until its appeal, appellant did not assail “AAA’s” mental disability and even admitted knowledge of her intellectual inadequacy. Thus, appellant’s knowledge of “AAA’s” mental disability at the time of the commission of the crime qualifies the crime of rape. Appellant is therefore guilty of the crime of qualified rape. People of the Philippines v. Jojie Suansing, G.R. No. 189822, September 2, 2013.
Rape; the lack of lacerated wounds in the vagina is not a defense. In an effort to secure his exoneration from the charge of rape, Rivera pointed out that the records were bereft of evidence to prove that AAA suffered vaginal lacerations. The Supreme Court held that the lack of lacerated wounds in the vagina, however, does not negate sexual intercourse. Laceration of the hymen, even if considered the most telling and irrefutable physical evidence of sexual assault, is not always essential to establish the consummation of the crime of rape. In the context used in the Revised Penal Code, “carnal knowledge,” unlike its ordinary connotation of sexual intercourse, does not necessarily require that the vagina be penetrated or that the hymen be ruptured. Accordingly, granting arguendo that AAA did not suffer any laceration, Rivera would still be guilty of rape after it was clearly established that he did succeed in having carnal knowledge of her. At any rate, it has been repeatedly held that the medical examination of the victim is not indispensable in a prosecution for rape. Expert testimony is merely corroborative in character and not essential to a conviction. People of the Philippines v. Christopher Rivera y Royo, G.R. No. 200508, September 4, 2013.
Self-defense; burden of proof in self-defense. Appellant faults the Court of Appeals (CA) when it imposed on him the burden of proving the elements of self-defense. He claims it was PO3 Ventinilla who acted in self-defense and, therefore, it was incumbent upon the latter to establish such fact. He avers that his defense is denial as found by the trial court. Obviously, appellant was confused. It must be noted that he was the only witness who testified on the circumstances surrounding the tragic death of the victim. It was he who supplied the necessary evidence showing that there was unlawful aggression on the part of the victim. Contrary to the undisputed finding of Dr. Bernales that there are more than one assailant in view of the multiple bullet wounds on the body of the victim, appellant insists it was only PO3 Ventinilla who killed the victim. However, neither PO3 Ventinilla nor the victim could be resurrected from their graves to controvert appellant’s version of the story. Besides, in the Counter-Affidavit of SPO4 Miraples, appellant’s co-accused, he stated therein that appellant acted in self-defense when the victim allegedly went berserk. More important, in his Answer to the administrative complaint filed by the victim’s widow, appellant interposed self-defense by alleging that it was the victim who initiated the attack through unlawful aggression. Hence, the CA committed no error in imposing upon him the burden of proving the elements of self-defense. People of the Philippines v. SPO1 Alfredo Alawig, G.R. No. 187731, September 18, 2013.
2. SPECIAL PENAL LAWS
Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act; Section 3(e) offense; elements. In all, the petitioner failed to demonstrate that the Sandiganbayan committed reversible errors in finding him guilty of the violating section 3(e) of R.A. 3019. For the aforecited provision to lie against the petitioner, the following elements must concur: 1) The accused must be a public officer discharging administrative, judicial or official functions; 2) He must have acted with manifest partiality, evident bad faith or gross inexcusable negligence; and 3) That his action caused undue injury to any party, including the government, or giving any private party unwarranted benefits, advantage or preference in the discharge of his functions. Section 3(e) of R.A. 3019 may be committed either by dolo, as when the accused acted with evident bad faith or manifest partiality, or by culpa, as when the accused committed gross inexcusable negligence. Jovito C. Plameras v. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 187268, September 4, 2013.
Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act; Section 3(e) offense; elements. As correctly observed by the Sandiganbayan, certain established rules, regulations and policies of the Commission on Audit and those mandated under the Local Government Code of 1991 were knowingly sidestepped and ignored by the petitioner which enabled CKLEnterprises/Dela Cruz to successfully get full payment for the school desks and armchairs, despite non-delivery – an act or omission evidencing bad faith and manifest partiality. It must be borne to mind that any procurement or “acquisition of supplies or property by local government units shall be through competitive public bidding”. The petitioner admitted in his testimony that he is aware of such requirement, however, he proceeded just the same due to the alleged advice of the unnamed DECS representative that there was already a negotiated contract – a representation or misrepresentation he willfully believed in without any verification. As a Governor, he must know that negotiated contract can only be resorted to in case of failure of a public bidding. As it is, there is no public bidding to speak of that has been conducted. Intentionally or not, it is his duty to act in a circumspect manner to protect government funds. To do otherwise is gross inexcusable negligence, at the very least, especially so, that petitioner acted on his own initiative and without authorization from the Provincial School Board. Jovito C. Plameras v. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 187268, September 4, 2013.
Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act; Section 3(e) offense; elements. The same thing can be said about the act of petitioner in signing the sales invoice and the bank draft knowing that such documents would cause the withdrawal by CKL Enterprises/Dela Cruz of the corresponding amount covered by the Irrevocable Domestic Letter of Credit. It must be noted that any withdrawal with the Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) must be accompanied by the appropriate document evidencing deliveries. In signing the draft and sales invoice, petitioner made it possible for CKL Enterprises/Dela Cruz to withdraw the entire P5,666,600.00 without any delivery of the items. As the records would bear, the CKL Enterprises Invoice dated 16 April 1997, contains the signature of the accused as customer. Above the customer’s signature is the phrase: “Received and accepted the above items in good condition.” The significance of the customer’s signature on the invoice is that it initiates the process of releasing the payment to the seller. This is all that the LBP needs in order to release the money alloted for the purchase. Unfortunately, despite receipt of payment, it was almost a year after when delivery of the items was made on a piece meal basis-some of which were even defective. The Supreme Court, therefore, was not persuaded that petitioner deserves to be exonerated. On the contrary, evidence of undue injury caused to the Province of Antique and giving of unwarranted benefit, advantage or preference to CKL Enterprises/DelaCruz committed through gross inexcusable negligence was proven beyond reasonable doubt. Jovito C. Plameras v. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 187268, September 4, 2013.
Chain of custody rule; legal effect of failure to prove chain of custody. The chain of custody rule is a method of authenticating evidence which requires that the admission of an exhibit be preceded by evidence sufficient to support a finding that the matter in question is what the proponent claims it to be. In this case, the Supreme Court found reasonable doubt on the evidence presented to prove an unbroken chain of custody. First, it is not clear from the evidence that the marking, which was done in the police station, was made in the presence of the accused or his representative. Thus, there is already a gap in determining whether the specimens that entered into the chain were actually the ones examined and offered in evidence. Second, the prosecution failed to duly accomplish the Certificate of Inventory and to take photos of the seized items pursuant to the law. There is nothing in the records that would show at least an attempt to comply with this procedural safeguard; neither was there any justifiable reason propounded for failing to do so. Third, the Supreme Court found conflicting testimony and glaring inconsistencies that would cast doubt on the integrity of the handling of the seized drugs. The material inconsistency of who actually received the specimens in the Crime Laboratory creates a cloud of doubt as to whether the integrity and evidentiary value of the seized items were preserved. The gaps in the chain of custody creates a reasonable doubt as to whether the specimens seized from the accused were the same specimens brought to the laboratory and eventually offered in court as evidence. Without adequate proof of the corpus delicti, the conviction cannot stand. People of the Philippines v. Freddy Salonga y Afiado, G.R. No. 194948, September 2, 2013.
3. CRIMINAL PROCEDURE
Arraignment; purpose. Arraignment is indispensable in bringing the accused to court and in notifying him of the nature and cause of the accusations against him. The importance of arraignment is based on the constitutional right of the accused to be informed. It is at this stage that the accused, for the first time, is given the opportunity to know the precise charge that confronts him. It is only imperative that he is thus made fully aware of the possible loss of freedom, even of his life, depending on the nature of the imputed crime. Letecia I. Kummer v. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 174461, September 11, 2013.
Arraignment; the need for arraignment where the complaint or information is amended. The need for arraignment is equally imperative in an amended information or complaint. This, however, pertains only to substantial amendments and not to formal amendments that, by their very nature, do not charge an offense different from that charged in the original complaint or information; do not alter the theory of the prosecution; do not cause any surprise and affect the line of defense; and do not adversely affect the substantial rights of the accused, such as an amendment in the date of the commission of the offense. Further, an amendment done after the plea and during trial, in accordance with the rules, does not call for a second plea since the amendment is only as to form. The purpose of an arraignment, that is, to inform the accused of the nature and cause of the accusation against him, has already been attained when the accused was arraigned the first time. The subsequent amendment could not have conceivably come as a surprise to the accused simply because the amendment did not charge a new offense nor alter the theory of the prosecution. Applying these rules and principles to the prevailing case, the records of the case evidently show that the amendment in the complaint was from July 19, 1988 to June 19, 1988, or a difference of only one month. It is clear that consistent with the rule on amendments, the change in the date of the commission of the crime of homicide is a formal amendment – it does not change the nature of the crime, does not affect the essence of the offense nor deprive the accused of an opportunity to meet the new averment, and is not prejudicial to the accused. Further, the defense under the complaint is still available after the amendment, as this was, in fact, the same line of defenses used by the petitioner. Letecia I. Kummer v. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 174461, September 11, 2013.
Preliminary investigation; the conduct of preliminary investigation belongs to the public prosecutor. The well-established rule is that the conduct of preliminary investigation for the purpose of determining the existence of probable cause is a function that belongs to the public prosecutor. The prosecution of crimes lies with the executive department of the government whose principal power and responsibility is to see that the laws of the land are faithfully executed. Thus, the rule is that the Supreme Court (SC) will not interfere in the findings of the Department of Justice (DOJ) Secretary on the insufficiency of the evidence presented to establish probable cause unless it is shown that the questioned acts were done in a capricious and whimsical exercise of judgment evidencing a clear case of grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction. The party seeking the writ of certiorari must establish that the DOJ Secretary exercised his executive power in an arbitrary and despotic manner, by reason of passion or personal hostility, and the abuse of discretion must be so patent and gross as would amount to an evasion or to a unilateral refusal to perform the duty enjoined or to act in contemplation of law. In the present case, there was no clear evidence of grave abuse of discretion committed by the DOJ when it set aside its March 23, 2000 Resolution and reinstated the July 28, 1998 Resolution of the public prosecutor. The DOJ was correct when it characterized the complaint for attempted murder as already covered by two (2) other criminal cases. As to the other complaints, the SC agreed with the DOJ that they were weak and not adequately supported by credible evidence. Thus, the CA erred in supplanting the prosecutor’s discretion with its own. Evidently, the conclusions arrived at by the DOJ were neither whimsical nor capricious as to be corrected by certiorari. Even on the assumption that the DOJ Secretary made erroneous conclusions, this error alone would not subject his act to correction or annulment by the extraordinary remedy of certiorari. After all, not “every erroneous conclusion of law or fact is an abuse of discretion.” Rosalinda Punzalan, Randall Punzalan and Rainier Punzalan v. Michael Gamaliel J. Plata and Ruben Plata, G.R. No. 160316, September 2, 2013.
(Lindy thanks Isabel F. Serina, Elaine B. de los Santos, and Vincent C. Juan for assisting in the preparation of this post.)