Every so often we read a piece of news describing how a crime was committed and by whom.
The data used are obtained mostly from crime scene observers, netizen videos, or law enforcement officers (who responded to a crime report), all of which are second-hand sources.
We hear radio commentators giving opinions and observations of crimes they have not witnessed, and other spectators making conclusions based on interviews with scene of the crime reporters, suspects, or government officials having supervision over the investigation.
There are also stories circulated in chat groups, coffee shops, or offices about the so called “real story.” always prefaced by the revelation of the identity of the true perpetrators, and punctuated by the alleged reliability of the source of their information.
All these are not yet authenticated evidence because their verity has not been tested in court.
Sadly, the public may have, at this point, formed conclusions regarding the guilt of the suspects and the penalties that must be imposed on them.
This is a prime example of how the public’s perception is framed even before a case is tried in court and the suspects given the opportunity to tell their stories.
How will the court determine the guilt of an accused in a criminal case? It will be based on the collective evidence presented by the parties, such as testimonies of witnesses, documentary, or object evidence.
Once authenticated, the judge will weigh the evidence and render a judgment.
The accused is entitled to an acquittal, unless his guilt is shown beyond reasonable doubt.
The quantum of proof is that degree of proof which excludes the possibility of error and that produces absolute certainty (Rule 133, Section 2, 2019 Rules on Evidence).
Only moral certainty is required, or that degree of proof which produces a conviction in an unprejudiced mind (Rule 133, Section 2, 2019 Rules on Evidence).
The prosecution must rely “on the strength of its own evidence, and not banking on the weakness of the defense of an accused” (Macayan v. People, G.R. 175842, March 18, 2015).
“[T]he overriding consideration is not whether the court doubts the innocence of the accused, but whether it entertains a reasonable doubt as to their guilt.
Where there is no moral certainty as to their guilt, they [accused] must be acquitted even though their innocence may be questionable” (G.R. 175842, March 18, 2015).
Every accused charged of a crime is presumed to be innocent unless the contrary is proven.
This right is given to the accused because the state has “unlimited command of means; with counsel usually of authority and capacity, who are regarded as public officers… with an attitude of tranquil majesty…” (Evidence, Francisco citing Wharton’s Criminal Evidence [11th ed.], Sec. 1).
As was said prior, the presumption of innocence can be overthrown only by proof beyond reasonable doubt.
It is this presumption of innocence that lays such a burden upon the prosecution. Should the prosecution fail to discharge its burden then an accused must be acquitted (G.R. 175842, March 18, 2015).
“In discharging this burden, the prosecution’s duty is to prove each and every element of the crime charged in the information, to warrant a finding of guilt for that crime or for any other crime necessarily included therein. The prosecution must further prove the participation of the accused in the commission of the offense” (People v. Claro, G.R. No. 199894, April 5, 2017 citing Patula v. People).
“Requiring proof of guilt beyond reasonable doubt necessarily means that mere suspicion of the guilt of the accused, no matter how strong, should not sway judgment against him. It further means that the courts should duly consider every evidence favoring him, and that in the process the courts should persistently insist that accusation is not synonymous with guilt…” (G.R. No. 199894, April 5, 2017).
“It is critical that the moral force of the criminal law not be diluted by a standard of proof that leaves people in doubt whether innocent men are being condemned. It is also important in our free society that every individual going about his ordinary affairs has confidence that his government cannot adjudge him guilty of a criminal offense without convincing a proper factfinder of his guilt with utmost certainty” (G.R. No. 199894, April 5, 2017).
To guard against injustice, the guilt of the accused must be proven beyond reasonable doubt.
Since the State shall “take a person from the ordinary avocations of life, brand him as a felon, and deprive him of his liberty…” there should be no doubt in the guilt of the accused (Evidence, Francisco citing Binkley v. State, 34 Neb. 757, 52 N.W. Rep 708).
The Supreme Court has repeatedly stated that “for evidence to be believed,… it must not only proceed from the mouth of a credible witness but must be credible in itself such as the common experience and observation of mankind can approve under the circumstances… [w]hatever is repugnant to these… lies outside of judicial cognizance” (G.R. 175842, March 18, 2015).
In the case of People v. Lumikid, the trial court concluded that Lumikid committed the killing of Desiderio “Jessie” Camangan because of the testimony of a lone eyewitness. Furthermore, it elucidated that the accused failed to destroy the credibility of the lone witness (People v. Lumikid, G.R. No. 242695, June 23, 2020).
In justifying its conclusion, the trial court said that “[h]er eyewitness account… is credible compared to the unreliable alibi of the accused [which] conveniently stat[es] that he was in a drinking session with his three close friends… after the rain poured heavily,” precluding immediate travel (G.R. No. 242695, June 23, 2020).
The trial court relied on the superiority of positive identification over alibi.
In reversing the conviction and acquitting Lumikid, the Supreme Court commented on the statement of the trial court that “the accused has absolutely no solid evidence to rely on for his acquittal” (G.R. No. 242695, June 23, 2020).
The Supreme Court explained that the statement is contrary to the fundamental precept of criminal law, which is to presume the innocence of the accused until proven guilty.
The burden is on the prosecution to prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt, and not for the accused to prove his innocence (G.R. No. 242695, June 23, 2020).
In the Lumikid case, the trial court brought it upon Lumikid to produce evidence to prove his innocence rather than for the prosecution to do so.
Moreover, the prosecution has not completely ruled out the probability that other persons may have committed the crime (G.R. No. 242695, June 23, 2020).
In another case, an accused Carlito Claro was acquitted by the Supreme Court when it appreciated the accused’s defense of consensual sexual intercourse. It said that “he (accused) and AAA (victim) were adults capable of consenting to the sexual intercourse” (G.R. No. 199894, April 5, 2017).
The established circumstances supporting consensual intercourse between the parties were: (a) agreeing to go on a lovers’ date; (b) travelling together a long way from their meeting place on board the jeepney; (c) alighting on Rizal Avenue to take a meal together; (d) walking to and checking in together to the motel without the complainant manifesting resistance; and (e) entering the designated room without protest from her (G.R. No. 199894, April 5, 2017).
A judge has a great responsibility to determine the true facts, appreciate evidence, and weigh them collectively to dispense a fair and reasonable judgment.
Hence, it is incumbent upon the public to refrain from trying to cloud their judgment, cultivate prejudices, put pressure on them, or to threaten to or commit personal harm against them and their families.