Thursday, April 29, 2021

Plea of guilty to capital offense; reception of evidence

See -

THE PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Appellee, vs. ROGELIO GUMIMBA y MORADANTE alias ROWING and RONTE ABABO (acquitted), Appellants. G.R. No. 174056, [Formerly G.R. No. 138257, February 27, 2007.

“x x x.

The Information, to which appellant pleaded guilty, alleged that homicide was committed by reason or on the occasion of the rape of AAA. This, if proven, would warrant the penalty of death at that time.26 Accordingly, a plea of guilty to such charges calls into play the provisions of Section 3, Rule 116 of the 2000 Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure, thus -

Sec. 3. Plea of guilty to capital offense; reception of evidence. - When the accused pleads guilty to a capital offense, the court shall conduct a searching inquiry into the voluntariness and full comprehension of the consequences of his plea and shall require the prosecution to prove his guilt and the precise degree of culpability. The accused may present evidence in his behalf.

Based on this rule, when a plea of guilty to a capital offense is entered, there are three (3) conditions that the trial court must observe to obviate an improvident plea of guilty by the accused: (1) it must conduct a searching inquiry into the voluntariness and full comprehension by the accused of the consequences of his plea; (2) it must require the prosecution to present evidence to prove the guilt of the accused and the precise degree of his culpability; and (3) it must ask the accused whether he desires to present evidence on his behalf, and allow him to do so if he so desires. 27

There is no hard and fast rule as to how a judge may conduct a "searching inquiry," or as to the number and character of questions he may ask the accused, or as to the earnestness with which he may conduct it, since each case must be measured according to its individual merit.28 However, the logic behind the rule is that courts must proceed with caution where the imposable penalty is death for the reason that the execution of such a sentence is irrevocable and experience has shown that innocent persons have at times pleaded guilty.29 An improvident plea of guilty on the part of the accused when capital crimes are involved should be avoided since he might be admitting his guilt before the court and thus forfeit his life and liberty without having fully comprehended the meaning and import and consequences of his plea.30 Moreover, the requirement of taking further evidence would aid this Court on appellate review in determining the propriety or impropriety of the plea.31

In the instant case, when the accused entered a plea of guilty at his re-arraignment, it is evident that the RTC did not strictly observe the requirements under Section 3, Rule 116 above. A mere warning that the accused faces the supreme penalty of death is insufficient.32 Such procedure falls short of the exacting guidelines in the conduct of a "searching inquiry," as follows:

(1) Ascertain from the accused himself (a) how he was brought into the custody of the law; (b) whether he had the assistance of a competent counsel during the custodial and preliminary investigations; and (c) under what conditions he was detained and interrogated during the investigations. This is intended to rule out the possibility that the accused has been coerced or placed under a state of duress either by actual threats of physical harm coming from malevolent quarters or simply because of the judge's intimidating robes.

(2) Ask the defense counsel a series of questions as to whether he had conferred with, and completely explained to, the accused the meaning and consequences of a plea of guilty.

(3) Elicit information about the personality profile of the accused, such as his age, socio-economic status, and educational background, which may serve as a trustworthy index of his capacity to give a free and informed plea of guilty.

(4) Inform the accused of the exact length of imprisonment or nature of the penalty under the law and the certainty that he will serve such sentence. For not infrequently, an accused pleads guilty in the hope of a lenient treatment or upon bad advice or because of promises of the authorities or parties of a lighter penalty should he admit guilt or express remorse. It is the duty of the judge to ensure that the accused does not labor under these mistaken impressions because a plea of guilty carries with it not only the admission of authorship of the crime proper but also of the aggravating circumstances attending it, that increase punishment.

(5) Inquire if the accused knows the crime with which he is charged and to fully explain to him the elements of the crime which is the basis of his indictment. Failure of the court to do so would constitute a violation of his fundamental right to be informed of the precise nature of the accusation against him and a denial of his right to due process.

(6) All questions posed to the accused should be in a language known and understood by the latter.

(7) The trial judge must satisfy himself that the accused, in pleading guilty, is truly guilty. The accused must be required to narrate the tragedy or reenact the crime or furnish its missing details.33

X x x.”