Rebuttal evidence is often thought of as a form of cross-examination; however, it is not.
A rebuttal is given “to explain, repel, counteract or disprove facts given in evidence by the adverse party.”
It is “receivable only where new matter has been developed by the evidence of one of the parties and is generally limited to a reply to new points” (Francisco, Evidence).
To be clear, rebuttal evidence is presented after the defendant has completed the presentation of evidence.
For example, after the defendant’s witnesses are presented and examined in court and the defendant makes an offer of evidence, the plaintiff or prosecution may then request for the presentation of rebuttal evidence to meet the new points raised by the defendant.
Hence, the function of a rebuttal is “’to meet the new facts put in by the opponent in his case in reply’ and is ‘necessary only because, on a plea in denial, new subordinate evidential facts have been offered, or because, on an affirmative plea, its substantive facts have been put forward, or because, on any issue whatever, facts discrediting the proponent’s witnesses have been offered’” (People v. Padero, G.R. 106274, September 28, 1993).
The presentation of rebuttal evidence is left to the sound discretion of the court. The court may allow or disallow the request for presentation of rebuttal evidence. However, if the court grants the presentation of rebuttal evidence to the plaintiff or prosecution, the defendant will be given a similar chance to present sur-rebuttal evidence.
Trial courts have ample discretion to determine whether or not the parties should be allowed to introduce evidence in rebuttal.
Judicial discretion, however, is not unlimited.
It must be exercised reasonably, with the view of promoting the ends of justice, one of which is to ascertain the truth. (People v. Hon. Felino Abalos, et al., G.R. L-29039, November 28, 1969).
The party cannot ignore the orders of the court when the latter is setting the presentation of rebuttal evidence.
Failure of a party to timely avail itself of the opportunity to present rebuttal evidence will amount to the waiver of such right.
Rebuttal evidence as a procedural tool is expressly provided in the 2017 Guidelines for Continuous Trial of Criminal Cases.
As paraphrased: If the court grants the motion to present rebuttal evidence, the prosecution shall immediately proceed with its presentation after the accused had rested his case (Number 13[e]).
After the presentation of the prosecution’s last rebuttal witness, the accused shall immediately present sur-rebuttal evidence, if there is any, and orally rest the case in sur-rebuttal after the presentation of its last sur-rebuttal witness.
Thereafter, the court shall submit the case for decision (Number 13[e]).
Parties in civil cases may also be given the opportunity to present rebutting evidence unless the court, for good reasons and in the furtherance of justice, permits them to adduce evidence upon their original case.
Upon admission of the evidence, the case shall be deemed submitted for decision (Section 5[f], Rule 30, 2019 Rules of Civil Procedure).
In the case of People v. Padero, “the overwhelming import of the new facts disclosed by the accused which have a damaging effect on the complainant’s version (of rape) made it imperative for the prosecution to present rebuttal evidence.
“Relegating the complainant to the background and presenting other witnesses to rebut minor or trivial matters brought out… for the defense engender serious doubts on the integrity of her story” (G.R. 106274, September 28, 1993).
On rebuttal, the witnesses of the complainant denied the assertions of the accused that there was no rape.
However, despite the opportunity for rebuttal, the complainant failed to overturn the numerous circumstances shown by the accused’s witnesses that there was no rape and the parties actually engaged in consensual sexual intercourse (G.R. 106274, September 28, 1993).
“Where the defense tried to establish, not only that the accused did not commit the acts alleged in the information, but, also, that another person committed them, a new matter not covered directly by the evidence for the prosecution, the testimony of the rebuttal witness tending to show that the acts charged were indeed committed by the accused… should not be stricken from the record…” (People v. Hon. Felino Abalos, et al., G.R. L-29039, November 28, 1969).
There being new matters raised by the accused, “[t]he prosecution was entitled, as a matter of strict legal right, to introduce positive evidence on such new matter, instead of relying upon a mere inference from its evidence in chief.”
However, “[i]n directing that the testimony of such rebuttal witness [to] be stricken from the record… respondent Judge had committed a grave abuse of discretion…” (G.R. L-29039, November 28, 1969).
Rebuttal evidence is not utilized to change a legal strategy, rehabilitate a witness, or to present newly discovered evidence.
Its specific function is to reply to new matters raised by the other party in his or her presentation of evidence.