Criminal Law

CICL XXX vs People of the Philippines (March 2023)

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G.R. No. 238798 – Criminal Law – Special Penal Laws – Juvenile Justice Act – Discernment

Criminal Law – Book 1 – Mitigating Circumstances – Minority

Remedial Law – Criminal Procedure – Information – When offender is a CICL

Remedial Law – Evidence – Hearsay Rule – Exceptions; Res Gestae

One early morning in October 2003, minor AAA, while he was about to reach home, was mauled by CICL XXX in front of their house. AAA sustained severe injuries. This came after AAA testified before a barangay proceeding against CICL XXX. Before AAA lost consciousness, he identified to his mother that CICL XXX was his assailant. Thereafter, AAA received several medical treatments but in January 2004, he slipped into a coma as a result of his injuries. In March 2004, CICL XXX was indicted for frustrated murder.

In 2006, RA 9344 or the Juvenile Justice Act was passed. No amendment to the Information was made.

In 2008, while the case was still pending, AAA died. The Information was amended and CICL XXX’s charge was upgraded to homicide.

In 2014, CICL XXX was convicted.

ISSUE: Whether or not CICL XXX shall be benefited by the passage of RA 9344.

HELD: Yes. Criminal laws which are beneficial to the accused are applied retroactively. Here, the concept of discernment under RA 9344 must be applied as it benefits the CICL. Before RA 9344, discernment is only considered for minor offenders over nine years old but below fifteen years of age.

Nevertheless, in this case, based on available evidence, CICL XXX has acted with discernment when he committed the crime.

The Supreme Court established the following guidelines in determining a CICL’s discernment:

1. Discernment is the capacity of the child at the time of the commission of the offense to understand the difference between right and wrong and the consequences of the wrongful act.

2. The task of ascertaining discernment is done preliminarily by a social worker, and finally by the court. The determination shall take into account the ability of a child to understand the moral and psychological components of criminal responsibility and the consequences of the wrongful act; and whether a child can be held responsible for essentially antisocial behavior. The social worker’s assessment is merely evidentiary and is not binding upon the court. Ultimately, the court finally determines discernment, based on its own appreciation of all the facts and circumstances in each.

3. There is no presumption that a minor acts with discernment. The prosecution must specifically prove as a separate circumstance that the alleged crime was committed with discernment.
For a minor at such an age to be criminally liable, the prosecution is burdened to prove beyond reasonable doubt, by direct or circumstantial evidence, that he or she acted with discernment.

4. In determining discernment, courts shall consider the totality of facts and circumstances in each case, such as:

(i) the very appearance, the very attitude, the very comportment and behavior of said minor, not only before and during the commission of the act, but also after and even during trial,

(ii) the gruesome nature of the crime,

(iii) the minor’s cunning and shrewdness,

(iv) the utterances of the minor,

(v) the minor’s overt acts before, during and after the commission of the crime,

(vi) the nature of the weapon used,

(vii) the minor’s attempt to silence a witness, and

(viii) the disposal of evidence or hiding of the corpus delicti.

As applied in this case, the totality of evidence showed that CICL XXX acted with discernment:

a. Gruesome nature of the crime: the location of the injuries inflicted on AAA showed CICL XXX’s intent to kill AAA;

b. Cunning and shrewdness: CICL XXX with a companion waited until 3AM for AAA to get home and thereafter perpetrated the attack. After the attack, they escaped – all these ensuring that no one shall see them execute the attack on AAA;

c. Minor’s attempt to silence a witness: AAA was a witness against CICL XXX in a barangay proceeding;

d. Minor’s overt acts after the commission of the crime: CICL XXX, who was then a college student, dropped from school and went to another place because he was scared of retaliation. His flight to his hometown indicates that he knows the gravity of what he did to AAA.

e. Minor’s behavior: His level of education indicates that he can discern right from wrong. It also appeared that his guardian, during the barangay hearing where AAA testified against him, advised him to focus on his studies (right thing to do) and avoid harming other persons (wrong things to do).

But no one saw CICL XXX commit the crime and the only basis for his involvement is the disclosure of AAA before he lost consciousness. Is that sufficient to convict CICL XXX?

Yes. AAA’s utterance before he lost consciousness falls under Res Gestae. Ordinarily, alleged utterances by another who does not appear in court to testify are considered hearsay. Here, AAA obviously did not testify in court but his utterances as testified on by others (his mother) fall under res gestae which is an exception to the hearsay rule. AAA’s declarations were uttered immediately after a startling occurrence (mauling). AAA narrated the circumstances of the startling occurrence to his mother immediately after the occurrence while he was still under the excitement caused by the attack. There was no time for him to concoct a story. Hence, AAA’s statements are admissible as part of res gestae.

Is the Information still valid despite the fact that the same was not amended when RA 9344 was passed?

Yes.

Under prevailing jurisprudence, when the accused in a criminal case is a minor above fifteen but below eighteen, discernment must be alleged in the information. Failure to do so makes the Information defective. However, as ruled in other landmark cases, failure to object to a defective information is a waiver on the part of the accused. Hence, even though the Information contained no allegation that CICL XXX acted with discernment, CICL XXX’s failure to challenge the insufficiency meant his right to question the defect was waived. As such, CICL XXX may still be convicted of homicide as discernment was established by the evidence presented.

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