To understand the rights of the accused, or derechos del acusado, it is important to know the precise moment wherein the suspect or a respondent in a preliminary investigation becomes an accused.
This occurs when a criminal information charging the suspect or the respondent of a criminal offense is filed in court.
It is exactly at this point wherein the suspect or respondent officially becomes an accused.
It means that he or she will now be brought to trial and that the State will prosecute the accused for the alleged act or omission that he may have committed (Section 2(b), Rule 1, Civil Procedure).
Lest it be overlooked, the suspect who is detained or in custody “under investigation for the commission of the offense shall have the right to be informed of his right to remain silent and to have a competent and independent counsel… [I]f [he] cannot afford the services of counsel, he must be provided with one” (Section 12, Article III, 1987 Constitution).
A respondent (whether detained or not) must file his counter-affidavit (response) within 10 days from receipt of the subpoena and the complaint-affidavit.
This legal process seeks to determine “whether there is sufficient ground to engender a well-founded belief that a crime has been committed and the respondent is probably guilty thereof…” or simply the determination of probable cause (Section 1, Rule 112, Rules on Criminal Procedure).
All accused are presumed to be innocent. While the presumption may appear to be a procedural tool, it can only be rebutted by proof beyond reasonable doubt (People v. Lagmay, G.R. No. 125310, 21 April 1999).
The burden or onus probandi of proving the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt is with the State.
The purpose of the presumption of innocence is “to balance the scales in what would otherwise be uneven contest between the lone individual pitted against the People and all the resources at their command.”
Hence, “the accused must be acquitted… if his guilt cannot be proved beyond the whisper of a doubt” (Tranquil Salvador III, Criminal Procedure citing People v. Jampas).
The defense the accused puts up may be weak but is inconsequential, if, in the first place, the State has failed to discharge the onus of his identity and culpability.
The presumption of innocence dictates that it is for the prosecution to demonstrate the guilt and not for the accused to establish his innocence (Tranquil Salvador III, Criminal Procedure citing People v. Arapok).
The mere fact that the accused is a repeat offender or has other pending criminal cases against him will not affect his right to be presumed innocent.
However, an accused’s previous conviction may be taken as an aggravating circumstance which, if proven, will increase his criminal penalty.
The accused has the right “to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation against him” (Section 1(b), Rule 115, Rules on Criminal Procedure).
“An accused should be given the necessary information as to why he is proceeded against and not be left speculating why he is made the object of a prosecution” (Tranquil Salvador III, Criminal Procedure citing People v. Mencias).
To apprise the accused, the criminal information must be read to him during the arraignment and he will be asked to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty (See Section 1, Rule 116).
This is the essence of due process in criminal cases, that sufficient notice through the criminal information is given to the accused to give the latter the opportunity to prepare his defense during trial.
To satisfy the requirement of sufficient notice, the criminal information must state the name of the accused, the acts or omissions complained of as constituting the offense, and the elements of the crime.
The reason being that the accused is presumed not to have an independent knowledge of the facts that constitutes the offense (Tranquil Salvador III, Criminal Procedure citing Balitaan v. Court of First Instance of Batangas).
The accused also has the “right to be present and defend in person and by counsel at every stage of the proceedings.”
“The absence of the accused without justifiable cause at the trial… shall be considered a waiver of his right to be present thereat.” If an accused under custody escapes, “he shall be deemed to have waived his right to be present on all subsequent trial dates…” (Section 1(c), Rule 115).
Together with the right to be present is the right to be represented by counsel.
“[I]t means an efficient and truly decisive legal assistance and not a simple perfunctory representation” (Tranquil Salvador III, Criminal Procedure citing People v. Bermas).
The right to counsel starts from arraignment to rendition of judgment in the trial court and until the appeal is resolved (See Sections 6-8, Rules 116, Section 13, Rule 122, and Section 2, Rule 124).
An accused may exercise his right to counsel by electing to be represented either by a court-appointed attorney, including the public attorney, or by one of his choice.
“[I]t is essential that the court should assign one de officio for him if he so desires and he is poor…” (Tranquil Salvador III, Criminal Procedure citing People v. Holgado).
An accused may testify for himself (if he wants) but is exempt from being compelled to be a witness against himself (Section 1 (d)(e), Rule 115).
It is settled that “[A]n accused has the right to decline to testify at the trial without any inference of guilt drawn from his failure to go on the witness stand” (People v. Gargoles, G.R. L-40885, May 18, 1The accused has the right to confront or cross-examine the witnesses of the prosecution.
The cross-examination of the witnesses may cover: (a) contradictory evidence; (b) evidence that his general reputation for truth, honesty, or integrity is bad; or (c) evidence that he has made at other times statements inconsistent with the present testimony (Section 11, Rule 132, 2019 Rules on Evidence).
An accused may also cross-examine a witness about a record of the judgment showing the latter’s previous conviction.
However, the previous conviction shall be admitted only if (a) the crime was punishable by a penalty in excess of one year; or (b) the crime is that which involves moral turpitude, regardless of the penalty (Section 11-12, Rule 132, 2019 Rules on Evidence).
An accused has the right to have compulsory processes such as a subpoena issued to secure the attendance of witnesses (ad testificandum) and the production of other evidence on his behalf (duces tecum) (Section 1(g), Rule 115).
The failure of a witness to comply with a subpoena upon proof of service shall be deemed as willful disregard or disobedience to a public authority.
The unjustified refusal to comply with a subpoena may lead to contempt of court and issuance of a bench warrant (See Section 8-9, Rule 21).
The primary requisite before the issuance of a bench warrant is that the absent party (witness) was duly informed of the hearing but unjustifiably failed to attend (Tranquil Salvador III, Criminal Procedure citing Office of the Court Administrator v. Judge Lorenzo).
The right of the accused to speedy trial (2017 Guidelines on Continuous Trial) and to speedy disposition of cases (Section 16, Article III, 1987 Constitution) were designed to prevent the oppression of the citizen by holding the criminal prosecution suspended over him for an indefinite period (Tranquil Salvador III, Criminal Procedure citing Corpus v. Sandiganbayan).
The accused is also entitled to an impartial and public trial. Not only must the proceedings be speedy but they must also be resolved in an impartial manner.
All of the elements of due process will be meaningless if the decision is rendered by a biased or interested judge.
The public trial of the accused “aims to ensure that he is fairly dealt with and would not be unjustly condemned and that his rights are not compromised in the secret conclaves of long ago” (Tranquil Salvador III, Criminal Procedure citing Re: Request Radio-TV Coverage of the Trial in the Sandiganbayan of Former President Estrada).
A public trial means that anyone who wishes to observe the proceedings may sit inside the courtroom to watch and monitor it.
On top of all the rights given to the accused in a criminal proceeding, he is not prevented from having the judgment of conviction against him reviewed by an appellate court.
It is important that an accused is not deprived of these rights to dispel fear that injustice abounds in our courts.