SC issues new guidelines to ensure accused are informed of nature and cause of charges
The Supreme Court (SC) has laid down the guidelines that prosecutors must follow in order to ensure that the right of the accused to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusations—including an instruction to state specific details regarding aggravating circumstances in the information.
Ruling in the case of murder convict Rolando Solar, the SC, in a recent 23-page en banc decision, stated the following guidelines:
1. The information must state the “ultimate facts” that constitute qualifying or aggravating circumstances, or include references to the pertinent portions of the resolution on probable cause. Otherwise, it may be subject to a motion to quash, although a waiver of this remedy would allow the aggravating circumstances to be appreciated by the court.
2. Prosecutors must attach to the information the resolution finding probable cause against the accused, in compliance with Section 8(a), Rule 112 of the Revised Rules on Criminal Procedure.
3. Cases that attained finality prior to the promulgation of these guidelines would remain final by virtue of the principle of conclusiveness of judgment.
4. For pending cases, the prosecution may file a motion to amend the information to properly state the aggravating or qualifying circumstances if they are still able to.
5. For cases in which judgment is already rendered but is pending appeal, these would be judged by the appellate court depending on whether the accused has waived his right to question the defect.
The right to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusations is enshrined under Section 14(2), Article III of the 1987 Constitution.
Aggravating circumstances (such as taking advantage of public position, recidivism, aid of armed men, or use of superior strength) serve to increase the penalty for a crime.
Qualifying circumstances turns certain crimes into its more severe version (such as evident premeditation or treachery, which distinguishes murder from homicide).
In some cases, prosecutors would just use these broad terms in the information without specifying the actions that serve as basis for the appreciation of aggravating or qualifying circumstances.
The SC stressed the need to inform the accused with “sufficient particularity,” because of the impact of these circumstances on the penalty to be imposed if they were convicted.
“These requirements are imposed to ensure that the accused is sufficiently apprised of the acts and circumstances with which he is being charged, with the end in view of respecting or fulfilling his right to be informed of the cause of the accusation against him,” read the decision penned by Associate Justice Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa.
In Solar’s case, the prosecution merely stated in the information that his act of bashing his victim Joseph Capinig in the head with a baseball bat in 2008 was attended by “treachery and abuse of superior strength,” without further explanation.
The Court of Appeals (CA), in its January 13, 2015 decision, downgraded Solar’s murder conviction to homicide because it found the information insufficient regarding the aggravating circumstances.
The SC, however, set aside the CA decision and convicted Solar of murder, sentencing him to a maximum of 40 years in prison and ordering him to pay P275,000 in damages to the victim’s family.
This was because Solar waived his right to question the defects in the information. He never filed a motion to quash or a motion for bill of particulars; instead, he voluntarily went through arraignment and proceeded with the trial.
But, this issue prompted the SC to establish the guidelines. It stressed: “In the particular context of criminal prosecutions… it is the State which bears the burden of sufficiently informing the accused of the accusations against him so as to enable him to properly prepare his defense.”
Then-Chief Justice Lucas Bersamin and Associate Justice Marvic Leonen dissented, while Associate Justice Francis Jardeleza and Jose Reyes, Jr., took no part in the case.
The full text of the SC’s decision, which it ordered disseminated, may be read here: