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Covering criminal proceedings in Philippine courts is not an easy task, among other reasons because of the legal jargon used inside the courtroom. It does not help that the judge, lawyers, and even the court staff seem to speak in a language of their own. Court proceedings go through with simultaneous motions that may be difficult to follow. Journalists may get “lost” during exchanges between the lawyers, witnesses, and judge. This chapter aims to provide an overview of the different stages of criminal proceedings and discuss some legal remedies most often used and prone to abuse by the parties. While the discussion on criminal proceedings is not comprehensive, it is hoped this chapter will be able to give additional information helpful to a journalist assigned to cover criminal proceedings. The Court To understand why and how a court decides the way it decides, it is important to know its characteristics. Among its characteristics that influence proceedings are: 1. It is a passive body 2. It is a Court of Records Further, it must be stressed that the Philippine judiciary has not adopted the jury system and that for municipal and regional trial courts, the sole authority is the presiding judge, while the Court of Appeals and Supreme Court normally function in divisions of three to five justices when resolving a case or a legal matter. Taking advantage Lawyers may—and many do—take advantage of the fact that ours are Courts of Records by making statements regarding matters they believe would result in a resolution in their favor. This is done through manifestations made in open court or inserting such matters during oral arguments. Such statements or manifestations, even if untrue or without proof, will be recorded in the TSN and will form part of judicial records. Judicial records are usually given weight and may be used in other proceedings. The other party must be quick to comment and/or make a counter-manifestation against such manifestations, especially if the latter is done in bad faith or with malice.
The reading of selected contents of a document may be prevented based on the concept that “the best evidence is the document itself.” If the court nonetheless allows the reading of the selected parts, the other party may also move to have the significant parts of the document read. Under Sec. 40, Rule 132 of the Rules of Court (ROC), evidence not admitted by the court may still be put on record. Called Tender of Excluded Evidence, this remedy is available to the party offering said evidence. The rationale is to give the higher courts the chance to study whether the non-admission of said evidence was improper. Tips: The journalist’s role in reporting what happened in the courtroom is important. • Keenly follow the proceedings by listening to the arguments in order to know the following: Which evidence was admitted and made part of court records The nature of the testimony Understand the reason a testimony and/or a piece of evidence is being blocked by the other party • Criminal trials are usually public; reporting matters that were blocked from or put on record is part of truthful or factual reporting not covered by the sub judice rule. • Coverage of court proceedings should extend all the way up to the highest court of the land, especially since decisions of the Supreme Court (SC) become part of the law of the land pursuant to Art. 8 of the New Civil Code. Philippine Criminal Law The Philippine legal system may be considered a hybrid, as it is influenced by elements of Roman civil law from Spain, Anglo-American common law introduced by the United States, and the customs of Philippine ethnic minorities. Among the primary characteristics that influence Philippine Criminal Law are: 1. “No law, no crime” 2. Territorial jurisdiction 3. Proof beyond reasonable doubt Parties in a case In criminal cases, there are usually three parties:
1. The State – it is affected because every crime is a threat to the peace and order of
society; this is why criminal cases are generally titled “People of the Philippines versus...” 2. The Victim – also known as the private complainant who was directly injured or affected by the crime 3. The Accused
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Almost all crimes have an accompanying civil aspect. This is because the victim or private complainant may claim damages based on the injury or loss caused by the crime. But not all crimes have a civil aspect. This is because there are crimes where there is no direct victim; an example is the crime of illegal possession of firearms.
Types of accused On the part of the accused, according to law, there are different possible penalties based on the kind of role the accused played in the commission of the crime. There are three kinds of accused:
1. The Principal 2. The Accomplice or accomplices 3. The Accessory or accessories
In turn, there are three types of Principal Accused:
1. The Principal by inducement 2. The Principal by direct participation 3. The Principal by indispensable cooperation
Criminal Proceedings While Philippine criminal law is largely influenced by the Spanish penal code, Philippine evidentiary rules are mostly adopted from the American system. Although no research-based data supports this conclusion, it is likely that the interplay of Spanish influence on our criminal law and American influence on our evidentiary rules often lead to ironic results such as prolonged proceedings despite the emphasis on speedy trials. The fact that the Philippines did not adopt the American criminal jury system most likely also adds to the mix-up. Criminal proceedings in general are governed by the Rules of Court (ROC) under the Revised Rules on Criminal Procedure from Rule 110 to Rule 127. The Revised Rules on Evidence govern the presentation of evidence in court. Supreme Court decisions as well as other ROC provisions also govern or serve as guide in the criminal proceedings.
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In the beginning Everything starts with a crime. If the author of the crime is caught in flagrante delicto, the following will take place: 1. He may be arrested without a warrant of arrest. o At this point, the author of the crime is called a suspect (not an accused). o In flagrante delicto means being caught in the act: about to commit, is committing, or has just committed the crime. o This arrest may be accompanied by a search even without a search warrant; such search is deemed a lawful one pursuant to a lawful arrest. 2. An inquest follows. No investigation is conducted. 3. After the inquest, an Information containing the criminal charges against the suspect is filed before the court. 4. The suspect may move for a preliminary investigation, but must waive his right to file a case under Art. 125 of the Revised Penal Code (RPC). What happens if the suspect was not caught in the act? Then the following is observed: 1. The victim files a complaint in the office of the fiscal or public prosecutor. Such complaint serves as basis for the conduct of a preliminary investigation. 2. Preliminary investigation is conducted, which may be resolved either way: o No probable cause is found. The complaint is dismissed. (Another complaint may be filed if there is new or additional evidence found by the victim.) o Probable cause is found, and an Information is filed in court. 3. Upon filing of Information, court now determines probable cause for the issuance of a warrant of arrest against the author of the crime, now called the accused. Case in court At this stage where a case has been filed in court, there are various remedies available to the accused. Among these are:
1. 2. 3. 4. 5.
File a Motion for Bill of Particulars File a Motion to Quash File a Petition for Review at the office of the Secretary of the Department of Justice File a Motion for Reinvestigation File a Petition for Certiorari
Arrest warrant issued At the point when the court has issued a warrant of arrest, among the remedies available to the accused are:
1. File a Motion for Determination of Probable Cause with Motion to Quash Warrant 2. File a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus
Arraignment and Plea After the arrest of the accused, the next stage would be his arraignment. At this stage, the following take place:
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1. The nature of the charges against him will be read in court in a language that the
accused understands. 2. After the reading, the accused enters a plea of guilty or not guilty plea. The accused may also refuse to enter a plea, in which case the court shall enter the plea of not guilty for the accused. The arraignment is considered a crucial turning point in criminal proceedings. It is at this point that the jurisdiction of the court is completed as it acquires jurisdiction over the person of the accused. Should the accused escape after the arraignment– either from detention or by jumping bail – the proceedings will still continue with the accused in absentia. This is likely one of the reasons the accused often exerts much effort to prevent or delay his arraignment. Plea and plea bargaining If the accused pleads guilty competently, the prosecution must present evidence for the court to determine his or her liability. During arraignment, parties may enter into plea bargaining during which the accused pleads guilty to a lower offense. 1. The lower offense must be included in the offense charged. 2. All parties must consent to a plea bargaining. Right to bail At this point, the accused may post bail which, as a general rule, is a matter of right. 1. To avail of bail in crimes punishable by reclusion perpetua or life imprisonment, accused must file a Petition for Bail. 2. Bail proceedings follow. • Prosecution must present strong evidence of guilt to oppose bail. • Evidence presented in opposition to bail is deemed reproduced during trial and adopted as part of evidence-in-chief against the accused. Pre-trial Before trial, the following takes place: 1. Preliminary conference: admissions, issues and evidence are manifested by parties. 2. Pre-trial conference: Respective pieces of evidence of the parties are pre-marked. Witnesses are also revealed at this stage. (Plea bargaining can also take place at this stage.) 3. Pre-trial Order: Based on the preliminary and pre-trial conferences, the judge issues said order. As per Supreme Court issuance of AM No. 03-1-09-SC, said order binds parties and shall control the course of the trial. Only on the ground of substantial justice and good cause shown can any change in the order be justified. Trial and Judgment In presentation of testimonial evidence, witnesses go through the following:
1. Direct examination: testimony is given for the purpose/s stated beforehand Philippine Criminal Proceedings 6
2. Cross examination: this is part of accused’s “right to confront” accusers or adverse
3. Re-direct examination: limited to the extent of the cross-examination 4. Re-cross examination: also limited to the extent of the re-direct examination
Motion galore In the course of the trial, parties may request (almost) anything from the court through:
1. A written motion 2. An oral motion made in open court
There is very little limitation on motions. When it comes to the matter, topic or issue that may be the subject of a motion, ROC sets no limitation. There is also no limit as to how many times motions that seem to seek the same relief may be filed before the court (ex: Motion for Contempt, Motion to Inhibit, and the like). The usual “life cycle” of a motion is: Motion Comment/Opposition Reply Rejoinder Order (of the (from the (of the (again from the (of the applicant) other party) applicant) other party) court) The gap between the exchanges may be as long as 15 days or as short as 5 days. Not yet in the equation is the Motion for Extension of Time parties may file seeking additional number of days to file their Comment/Opposition, Reply and/or Rejoinder. After the court issues an Order resolving the motion, the party or parties not content with the resolution may file a Motion for Reconsideration (MR). And the “life cycle” starts over again for said MR, including the number of days between the exchanges. (The MR here should not be confused with the MR under Rule 121 of ROC. The MR under Rule 121 pertains to the Motion for Reconsideration filed after the completion of the criminal proceedings and the accused is convicted of the crime.) Challenging the trial court All decisions of the court in the course of the proceedings are called interlocutory order, which means this is not yet the decision that disposes of the case and renders judgment on the accused. After the court has resolved a motion including the possible MR, a party not satisfied with the resolution of the court can file a Petition for Certiorari under Rule 65 of ROC.
1. In this remedy, petitioner claims the court has acted with grave abuse of discretion
amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction. 2. Said remedy is separate, distinct and independent from the criminal proceedings. Should the petition be given due course by the higher court, criminal proceedings continue before the trial court.
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3. As such, those who file a Petition for Certiorari often request the higher court to issue
a Temporary Restraining Order or Writ of Preliminary Injunction (WPI) in order to stop criminal proceedings before the trial court. Presentation of evidence The trial commences:
1. The prosecution presents evidence, and files a Formal Offer of Evidence after
presenting all its evidence.
2. After the prosecution rests, the defense presents its evidence. o The defense may present evidence ahead if the accused admits the crime but
posits he did so in self-defense or in defense of others. o If the accused believes the prosecution’s evidence is not enough to convict him, he may file a Demurrer to Evidence with leave of the court. o If demurrer is filed without leave of court and the court disagrees with the demurrer, the accused loses his right to present evidence. 3. After the parties have presented evidence, court renders judgment. Acquittal scenario As already discussed, the quantum of evidence needed to secure a conviction is proof beyond reasonable doubt.
1. If the court believes prosecution evidence is inadequate, it will issue an order of
dismissal on the ground of insufficiency of evidence. 2. If the court believes proof beyond reasonable doubt was not sufficiently established, the accused will be acquitted based on reasonable doubt. An acquittal cannot be appealed.
1. The concept of double jeopardy under Sec. 21, Art. III of the 1987 Philippine
Constitution will apply. 2. An accused who has been acquitted cannot be subjected to another criminal trial for the same crime or offense. Accused is convicted If convicted, the remedies available to the accused before said judgment becomes final and executory are:
1. Move for a reopening of trial under Rule 119, Sec. 24 of ROC 2. Move for a new trial under Rule 121 of ROC 3. File a Motion for Reconsideration also under Rule 121
4. File an appeal before the higher court 5. Seek probation
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Rights of the Accused A frequently asked question is why criminal proceedings take so long especially in cases involving well-off or influential accused. The number of days or length of time set by law for certain actions is often not observed because the law and rules of court allow the accused to avail of many types of remedies in his defense. Under the law, the accused has more rights than the aggrieved. The theory behind expressly providing for the rights of the accused is to give him all the opportunities and means to defend himself against the vast power of the State. A few reminders Because of the sub judice rule, it is often difficult to secure interviews with parties in a case. If any party consents to give one, he is usually cautious about what he says and may give only brief answers for fear of being sued for contempt of court. A journalist needs to be resourceful. There are ways of covering court proceedings without violating the sub judice rule. Tips: Documents and papers already filed in court are rich sources of information. • Keep in mind that because criminal proceedings are public in nature, court records are public records. Write a request letter addressed to the branch clerk of court Copy furnish the Executive Judge Pay the corresponding charge to cover the cost of materials that may be used in order to furnish the requesting journalist copies of the requested document. • Keep in mind the need for factual and balanced reporting A fair and true report must be devoid of comment and/or opinion A fair and true report is protected by law and is within the scope of press freedom Even if Congress has not passed into law the Freedom of Information Bill, Sec. 7, Art. III of the 1987 Philippine Constitution recognizes the right of the people to information on matters of public concern. Behind every case is a story. It is important that journalists catch that story. Be curious. A journalist need not speak with lawyers or witnesses to answer these questions. Just by keenly following the exchanges between parties, a journalist will know the purpose of testimony and the significance of a piece of evidence. Especially in cases like the Ampatuan, Maguindanao massacre case where recorders are not allowed, a journalist has to master the good old-fashioned method of news coverage: listening and taking notes.
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