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Introduction

“The one place where a man ought to get a square deal is in a courtroom, be he any color of the rainbow but people have a way of carrying their resentments right into a jury box.”

-Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

The presumption of innocence is one of the elementary principles of due process. It is one of the most important guaranteed rights under any democratic society so much so that every civilized nation contains some form of this principle under their Constitution.

Its roots can be traced back from the time when organized society first took place in ancient Babylon. The Code of Hammurabi had put the burden on the accuser to prove the guilt of the accused. Greek philosopher-statesmen like Demosthenes taught the importance of branding people criminals before they were convicted.

The principle of “innocent until proven guilty” was first used in Jus Commune which was the common law of Europe during the Middle Ages. It was a mixture of Roman, Canon, and Feudal law and was used extensively in both criminal and civil courts at the time.

The modern conception of presumption of innocence was espoused by the French Revolution which gave birth to the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen of 1789 which famously declared that “all persons are held innocent until they have been declared guilty”.

This inspired other revolutionary movements around the world which touched on the importance of due process in criminal prosecutions which was initially a response against the absolute powers of the monarchy. The Americans then borrowed this principle from English common law.

However, it is not strictly found in the U.S. Constitution by its name. It is included in the general umbrella of due process of law. When the Americans invaded occupied the Philippines, the concept was introduced into the Philippine legal landscape through General Order No. 58 of 1990 issued by the military governor.[1]General Orders No. 58

The 1935 Constitution was the first fundamental law of the Philippines which incorporated it in Section 17 of the Bill of Rights. Both the 1973 and 1987 Constitutions have included it as guarantees of the fundamental rights of the Filipinos.

As part of the cornerstone of our liberties, the principle of presumption of innocence is part and parcel of the general principles of due process. It mandates the courts to hear before it condemns and let the accuser prove his case before the judges let the hammer fall down on the accused.

What is the presumption of innocence?

As presently written in Section 14(2), Article III of the Constitution, in all criminal proceedings, the accused shall be presumed innocent until the contrary is proved.[2]Section 14(2), Article III, 1987 Constitution

In Daayata vs. People of the Philippines, the Supreme Court has explained that the rule places upon the prosecution the task of establishing the guilt of an accused, relying on the strength of its own evidence, and not banking on the weakness of the defense of an accused.[3]G.R. No. 205745, March 8, 2017

It went on further by elucidating that the requirement of proof beyond reasonable doubt finds basis not only in the due process clause but similarly in the right of the accused to be presumed innocent until the contrary is proved.

In People vs. Ganguso,[4]G.R. No. 115430 November 23, 1995 the Court impressed upon us that an accused has in his favor the presumption of innocence which the Bill of Rights guarantees.

Unless his guilt is shown beyond reasonable doubt, he must be acquitted. This reasonable doubt standard is demanded by the due process clause of the Constitution which protects the accused from conviction except upon proof beyond reasonable doubt of every fact necessary to constitute the crime with which he is charged.[5]Ibid.

The burden of proof is on the prosecution, and unless it discharges that burden the accused need not even offer evidence in his behalf, and he would be entitled to an acquittal.[6]Ibid.

An accusation, according to the fundamental law, is not synonymous with guilt.[7]Dumlao vs. Comelec, G.R. No. L-52245 January 22, 1980 The presumption of innocence was also made to apply in cases other than criminal prosecutions.

In Dumlao vs. Comelec,[8]G.R. No. L-52245 January 22, 1980 the Supreme Court struck down a law which disqualified from being a candidate for the elections any person who has committed any act of disloyalty to the State where the filing of charges constituted as prima facie evidence of such fact.

According to the Court, the challenged proviso contravenes the constitutional presumption of innocence, as a candidate is disqualified from running for public office on the ground alone that charges have been filed against him before a civil or military tribunal. It condemns before one is fully heard.[9]Ibid.

In ultimate effect, except as to the degree of proof, no distinction is made between a person convicted of acts of disloyalty and one against whom charges have been filed for such acts, as both of them would be ineligible to run for public office.[10]Ibid.

A person disqualified to run for public office on the ground that charges have been filed against him is virtually placed in the same category as a person already convicted of a crime with the penalty of arresto, which carries with it the accessory penalty of suspension of the right to hold office during the term of the sentence.[11]Ibid.

Constitutional Presumption of Innocence | A Formidable Adversary

The constitutional presumption of innocence is a formidable adversary of frivolous and oppressive lawsuits. Society presumes that every man is innocent of any allegation of wrongdoing.

It serves as a safeguard of every person that he cannot be penalized without the accuser first proving that a crime has been committed and the perpetrator thereof is the accused. In criminal actions where the prosecutor is the State, the accused is at a disadvantage considering the legal machinery and overarching influence of its power.

The State has everything at its disposal to bring to justice any offender of our criminal laws. As such, it is deemed best by our Constitution to balance the power of the State to prosecute and the rights of the individual.

By elevating the accused to the presumption that he is innocent, the State should be able to prove his guilt beyond any reasonable doubt or that moral certainty as to the guilt of the accused.

What does it mean for the accused to have that right to remain silent?

Section 12(1), Article III of the Constitution provides that any person under investigation for the commission of an offense shall have the right to be informed of his right to remain silent and to have competent and independent counsel preferably of his own choice. If the person cannot afford the services of counsel, he must be provided with one. These rights cannot be waived except in writing and in the presence of counsel.[12]1987 Constitution, Supra.

Custodial Investigation

These are known as the rights of the accused under custodial investigation. An accused is under custodial investigation when he is involved in any questioning initiated by law enforcement authorities after a person is taken into custody or otherwise deprived of his freedom of action in any significant manner.[13]People vs. Rodolfo Dela Cruz, G.R. Nos. 118866-68 September 17, 1997

As soon as the investigation ceases to be a general inquiry into an unsolved crime and direction is then aimed upon a particular suspect who has been taken into custody and to whom the police would then direct interrogatory question which ten to elicit incriminating statements, custodial investigation takes place.[14]Ibid.

The rights of the accused under custodial investigation are the right to counsel, the right to be informed, the right to have evidence obtained in violation of these rejected, and the right to remain silent.

Any information obtained without the observance of the rights under Section 12(1) would make the evidence against the accused inadmissible being the fruit of a poisonous tree.

These rights are collectively known as the Miranda rights from the U.S. landmark case of Miranda vs. Arizona.[15]Miranda vs. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 [1966] The reason for this rule is to prevent coercive admissions from the accused or persons under investigation.

It is not too uncommon knowledge that investigators used to resort to illegal methods to extract information from witnesses and people under suspicion to shortcut their way to a conviction.

The Constitution forbids this old practice by demanding a positive obligation from law enforcement to inform the accused of these rights and a negative duty to refrain from violating these otherwise any evidence obtained shall not operate to find guilt in the accused.

An accused once he is under custodial investigation may refuse to answer any question propounded to him. His silence will not be taken against him. This is the essence of the right to remain silent.

If the person under investigation or the accused refuses to give any statement, there shall be other meaning attached to his silence nor can he be convicted solely based on his refusal to answer any question during custodial investigation.

This is different from the right of an accused against self-incrimination under Section 17, Article III of the Constitution where he can only refuse to answer incriminating questions. Under Section 12(1), the accused can refuse any question even non-incriminating ones. 

Why is the accused given such a right? | Right to Remain Silent

The right to remain silent is a way to prevent the suspect from releasing self-incriminating statements that are deeply frowned upon by the judicial system.

It also includes that any tribunal cannot utter comments or inferences that are deemed unfavorable just because the defendant refused to answer questions or interviews before and even during a court trial.

As early as around the 16th century, the right to remain silent has long been established in a specific instance that had happened in England.

A suspect was brought in for questioning but the treatment of his arrest was contentious because of the numerous attempts of the authorities to extract the truth from him.

This paved the way for the public to vision the judicial system with distrust. However, later on, a well-established system was introduced so as to separate the judicial functions from the Police force who’s lodged with the role of interrogating the suspects.

During the 20th century then, Judges of the Kings Bench issued the Judge’s Rules and became cautious, arising the principle that suspect is accorded with the right to remain silent.

According to the Fifth Amendment of the United States’ Constitution, “no person shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.”

The right to choose not to answer police interviews nor provide evidence with the court are both catered under this privilege. It is emulated by the need of the prosecution to prove the guilt of the accused, as the burden of proof lies with them.

What is double jeopardy? 

Enshrined in Section 21, Article III of the Constitution is the rule on double jeopardy which provides that “no person shall be twice put in jeopardy of punishment for the same offense. If an act is punished by a law and an ordinance, conviction or acquittal under either shall constitute a bar to another prosecution of the same act.”

The United States’ Constitution’s Fifth Amendment, as well, has a double jeopardy clause, which states in the wise as “no person shall be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb.” This clause has been accommodated by quite a few States because this is one of the most considered important rights of the accused.

So what does double jeopardy prohibit?

First, it is proscribed, under the law, the prosecution of a person for the same offense after a judgment of an acquittal.

Second, the prosecution for the same offense after the guilt of the accused is proven beyond reasonable doubt.

Lastly, for the defendant to be charged with more than one punishment arising from the same offense.

It is noteworthy though that the double jeopardy rule applies only to criminal cases.

The requisites for the accused to use the double jeopardy defense are as follows:

(1) the first jeopardy had been validly attached;

(2) the first jeopardy had been validly terminated;

(3) the second jeopardy is for the same offense or the second offense counts or is necessarily counted in the offense charged in the first information

When does jeopardy attach?

The first jeopardy attaches when there is a valid complaint or information before a court of competent jurisdiction, which has conducted an arraignment and a valid plea has been entered.

Furthermore, when the defendant is acquitted, convicted or the case was dismissed or terminated without his consent.

However, this admits of exceptions, such as, the evidence is insufficient to aid the charge against him or if there’s an unreasonable delay in the case, violating the accused’s right to a speedy trial.

The rule requires that it must be acquittal and not dismissal for the jeopardy to attach. Acquittal is the decision of the court over the merits which shows that the defendant’s guilt cannot be beyond reasonable doubt.

Nolle Prosequi or dismissal, on the other hand, is when the case is terminated for reasons other than the decision based on the merits of the issue of the case or simply put, whether the accused is probably guilty of the offense charged or not.

Thus, nolle prosequi or dismissal does not equate to a bar to refile the case or a second prosecution based from the same offense. This is because it is not considered as a final judgment or disposition of the case.

What is the equipoise rule? 

Under the rule of equipoise, or also known as equiponderance of evidence, “when the scale shall stand upon an equipoise and there is nothing in the evidence which shall incline it to one side or the other, the court will find for the defendant (Municipality of Candijay, Bohol vs Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 116702).”[16]G.R. No. 116702, December 28, 1995

Otherwise saying, the prosecution which has the burden of proof to prove the guilt of the person of the accused must do so with moral certainty. Failure to do so will result in an impossibility of overthrowing the presumption of innocence making the court submit to the acquittal of the accused.

All that is sufficient to sustain the guilt and conviction of the accused is proof beyond reasonable doubt, other than that, the accused must be freed.

In other words, if the prosecution cannot turn the case in their favor, as per the equiponderance of evidence rule, the court is heavily obligated or mandated by the constitution to release the person of the accused and presume such person as innocent.

It is immaterial whether there is a possibility that the accused is guilty, the law is clear that what it requires is sufficient evidence that will manifest that there is no reasonable and logical explanation aside from the fact that the accused is indeed guilty of the crime charged against him.

It is well-known that the prosecution must present its side to such extent of proving the guilt of the accused. Nevertheless, the accused is not obligated to establish such fact because of the enjoyment of the privilege of presumption of innocence.

Swerving to other direction would result to an outcry that Court has imprisoned yet an innocent man, losing most or worst the rest of his life.

What will happen if the prosecution, after arraignment of the accused, discovers that the Information does not charge the correct offense?  

Section 19, Rule 119 of the Rules of Criminal Procedure [Rules of Court] provides that:

“When it becomes manifest at any time before judgment that a mistake has been made in charging the proper offense and the accused cannot be convicted of the offense charged or any other offense necessarily included therein, the accused shall not be discharged if there appears good cause to detain him. In such a case, the court shall commit the accused to answer for the proper offense and dismiss the original case upon the filing of the proper information.”[17]Section 19, Rule 119, Rules of Criminal Procedure

If there is a mistake in charging the proper offense against the accused, and the Court shall have allowed the prosecution to correct the Information in accordance with the above rule, then there is no double jeopardy, even if the correction happened after the accused has been arraigned.

Does the prosecution still have remedy under the law or procedure?

If the information does not charge the correct offense, Section 14, Rule 110 of the Rules of Court allows the prosecution to give the right to amend the information.[18]People vs. Sandiganbayan and Recio, G.R. No. 240621, July 24, 2019 Under the aforementioned provision, it provides that a complaint or information may be substituted if it appears at any time before judgment that a mistake has been made in charging the proper offense.

The case of Quiambao v People[19]G.R. No. 195957, January 15, 2020 provides for the summary on the rules of amendment or substitution of the complaint, thus:

“There is no precise definition of what constitutes a substantial amendment. According to jurisprudence, substantial matters in the complaint or information consist of the recital of facts constituting the offense charged and determinative of the jurisdiction of the court.[20]Ibid.

“Under Section 14, however, the prosecution is given the right to amend the information, regardless of the nature of the amendment, so long as the amendment is sought before the accused enters his plea, subject to the qualification under the second paragraph of Section 14.[21]Ibid.

“Once the accused is arraigned and enters his plea, however, Section 14 prohibits the prosecution from seeking a substantial amendment, particularly mentioning those that may prejudice the rights of the accused.[22]Ibid.

“One of these rights is the constitutional right of the accused to be informed of the nature and cause of accusation against him, a right which is given life during the arraignment of the accused of the charge against him.[23]Ibid.

“The theory in law is that since the accused officially begins to prepare his defense against the accusation on the basis of the recitals in the information read to him during arraignment, then the prosecution must establish its case on the basis of the same information.”[24]Ibid.

After the plea and during the trial, a formal amendment may only be made with leave of court and when it can be done without causing prejudice to the rights of the accused.

However, any amendment before plea, which downgrades the nature of the offense charged in or excludes any accused from the complaint or information, can be made only upon motion by the prosecutor, with notice to the offended party and with leave of court.

The court shall state its reasons in resolving the motion and copies of its order shall be furnished all parties, especially the offended party.[25]Section 14, Rule 110, Rule of Criminal Procedure

If the information is allowed to be corrected, does it not violate the proscription against double jeopardy?

If the information is allowed to be corrected, there is no violation of the proscription against double jeopardy. The Rules of Court specifically provides that the prosecution is only allowed to file a new complaint or information charging the proper offense provided that the accused will not be placed in double jeopardy.

As stated above: 

“Double jeopardy exists when the following requisites are present: (1) a first jeopardy attached prior to the second; (2) the first jeopardy has been validly terminated; and (3) a second jeopardy is for the same offense as in the first. A first jeopardy attaches only (a) after a valid indictment; (b) before a competent court; (c) after arraignment; (d) when a valid plea has been entered; and (e) when the accused has been acquitted or convicted, or the case dismissed or otherwise terminated without his express consent.”[26]Cerezo vs. People, G.R. No. 185230, June 1, 2011

In order for double jeopardy to set in, it is necessary that there be first an acquittal or conviction or dismissal of the case without the consent of the accused. In the case of amendment or substitution, it is only allowed by the court before final judgment. Hence, there will be no double jeopardy.

What have been decided

The latest decisions of the Supreme Court still upheld the importance of the right of the accused to be presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt as well as other rights complementary to the former such as right against double jeopardy, right be know the crime he is being charged, and other fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution.

Presumption of Innocence

In the recent case of People vs Calleja,[27]G.R. No. 232455, December 02, 2020 the Court held that:

“At the outset, it bears emphasis that the Court, in the course of its review of criminal cases elevated to it, still commences its analysis from the fundamental principle that the accused before it is presumed innocent. This presumption continues although the accused had been convicted in the trial court, as long as such conviction is still pending appeal.[28]Ibid.

“As the Court explained in Polangcos v. People:[29]Ibid.

“Article III, Section 14 (2) of the 1987 Constitution provides that every accused is presumed innocent unless his guilt is proven beyond reasonable doubt. It is “a basic constitutional principle, fleshed out by procedural rules which place on the prosecution the burden of proving that an accused is guilty of the offense charged by proof beyond reasonable doubt. Corollary thereto, conviction must rest on the strength of the prosecution’s evidence and not on the weakness of the defense.”[30]Ibid.

This presumption in favor of the accused remains until the judgment of conviction becomes final and executory. Borrowing the words of the Court in Mangubat, et al. vs. Sandiganbayan, et al,[31]G.R. No. L-60613-20 August 29, 1986 “[u]ntil a promulgation of final conviction is made, this constitutional mandate prevails.”

Hence, even if a judgment of conviction exists, as long as the same remains pending appeal, the accused is still presumed to be innocent until his guilt is proved beyond reasonable doubt.

Thus, in People vs. Mingming,[32]G.R. NO. 174195 : December 10, 2008 the Court outlined what the prosecution must do to hurdle the presumption and secure a conviction:

“First, the accused enjoys the constitutional presumption of innocence until final conviction; conviction requires no less than evidence sufficient to arrive at a moral certainty of guilt, not only with respect to the existence of a crime, but, more importantly, of the identity of the accused as the author of the crime.[33]Ibid.

“Second, the prosecution’s case must rise and fall on its own merits and cannot draw its strength from the weakness of the defense.[34]Ibid.

“Third, in rape cases, since the conviction of the accused is usually based on the accusation and testimony of the victim-complainant, her testimony should be scrutinized with utmost caution and must show clearly and definitely the commission of the rape and the identity of its perpetrator.[35]Ibid.

“Fourth, the assessment of the credibility of the prosecution witnesses, in general, and of the rape complainant, in particular, is a duty firmly lodged on the trial judge owing to his unique position; he sees, perceives and appreciates details in the case that an appellate reviewing court is realistically deprived of. Accordingly, utmost credit is given to the trial judge’s findings in the absence of any showing that he misappreciated, misapprehended, or overlooked any evidentiary fact or circumstance material to the outcome of the case.[36]Ibid.

“Lastly, x x x . . . charged with and convicted of three counts of statutory rape that, although tried jointly, must be treated and viewed as separate and distinct from each other. Thus, the elements of the offense must be proven for each count of rape, save only for the element of age which runs commonly for the three counts.”[37]Ibid.

Double Jeopardy

In addition, the right against double jeopardy is given importance in People vs Pimentel,[38]G.R. No. 223099, January 11, 2018 wherein the Court held that “In our jurisdiction, We adhere to the finality-of-acquittal doctrine, that is, a judgment of acquittal is final and unappealable.[39]Ibid.

“The 1987 Constitution guarantees the right of the accused against double jeopardy, thus:[40]Ibid.

“Section 7, Rule 117 of the 1985 and 2000 Rules on Criminal Procedure strictly adhere to the constitutional proscription against double jeopardy and provide for the requisites in order for double jeopardy to attach.[41]Ibid.

“For double jeopardy to attach, the following elements must concur: (1) a valid information sufficient in form and substance to sustain a conviction of the crime charged; (2) a court of competent jurisdiction; (3) the accused has been arraigned and had pleaded; and (4) the accused was convicted or acquitted or the case was dismissed without his express consent.”[42]Ibid.

x x x x . . . .

“The rule on double jeopardy, however, is not without exceptions, which are: (1) Where there has been deprivation of due process and where there is a finding of a mistrial, or (2) Where there has been a grave abuse of discretion under exceptional circumstances.[43]Ibid.

“We find that these exceptions do not exist in this case. Here, there was no deprivation of due process or mistrial because the records show that the prosecution was actually able to present their case and their witnesses.[44]Ibid.

“A mere manifestation also will not suffice in assailing a judgment of acquittal. A petition for certiorari under Rule 65 of the Rules should have been filed. A judgment of acquittal may only be assailed in a petition for certiorari under Rule 65 of the Rules.[45]Ibid.

“If the petition, regardless of its nomenclature, merely calls for an ordinary review of the findings of the court a quo, the constitutional right of the accused against double jeopardy would be violated.”[46]Ibid.

Custodial Investigation | Miranda Rights

In the case of People vs Rosauro,[47]G.R. No. 221424, July 19, 2017 the Court elucidated that the Miranda rights are intended to protect ordinary citizens from the pressure of custodial setting. Thus:

The Miranda doctrine requires that: (a) any person under custodial investigation has the right to remain silent; (b) anything he says can and will be used against him in a court of law; (c) he has the right to talk to an attorney before being questioned and to have his counsel present when being questioned; and (d) if he cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided before any questioning if he so desires. The said rights are guaranteed to preclude the slightest use of coercion by the State as would lead the accused to admit something false, not to prevent him from freely and voluntarily telling the truth.[48]Ibid.

In the case of Luz vs. People[49]G.R. No. 197788, February 29, 2012 citing Berkemer v. McCarty, it was explained that:[50]Ibid.

The purposes of the safeguards prescribed by Miranda are to ensure that the police do not coerce or trick captive suspects into confessing, to relieve the “inherently compelling pressures” “generated by the custodial setting itself,” “which work to undermine the individual’s will to resist,” and as much as possible to free courts from the task of scrutinizing individual cases to try to determine, after the fact, whether particular confessions were voluntary. Those purposes are implicated as much by in-custody questioning of persons suspected of misdemeanors as they are by questioning of persons suspected of felonies.[51]Ibid.

Equipoise Rule

Another recent case decided by the Supreme Court is People vs Librias[52]G.R. No. 208067, September 14, 2016 wherein the Court held that:

Faced with two conflicting versions, we are guided by the equipoise rule: where the evidence in a criminal case is evenly balanced, the constitutional presumption of innocence tilts the scale in favor of the accused.[53]Ibid.

Thus, where the inculpatory facts and circumstances are capable of two or more explanations, one of which is consistent with the innocence of the accused and the other consistent with his guilt, then the evidence does not fulfill the test of moral certainty and is not sufficient to support a conviction.[54]Ibid.

Applying this rule in the present case would properly lead us to conclude that AAA did not try to escape or call for help because she wanted to go to wherever Librias was planning to bring her.[55]Ibid.

Conclusion

Criminal cases mainly involve deprivation of liberty as punishment to those who will finally be found guilty beyond reasonable doubt. A person who is convicted will spend years in prison and is not anymore fully entitled to the basic political and rights granted to a free man.

His life in exchange for the suffering he caused because of the crimes he committed. This is the main reason why the law would rather free a guilty than to convict an innocent man. Imprisonment entails suffering and more often, there is no way out.

It is the spirit of the law to be reasonably sure that the accused will be justly punished by the crimes he committed. Through presumption of innocence under due process, the accused will be afforded justice before conviction. He will be able to defend himself through presenting evidence favorable to him.

In order to do that, he has to be informed of the crimes he is being charged with. In addition, the right against double jeopardy is a vital right granted by the Constitution to the accused. This right entails that the accused cannot be tried and punished by the same offense twice. These rights should always be cherished, by the law and the people.

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