What’s the story on presumption of innocence? The saga of Daniel Smith

When does presumption of innocence end?

This question is discussed in a blog by Dean Jorge Bocobo in the context of the rape case against Daniel Smith, which is on automatic review by the Court of Appeals. The matter is also discussed in SMOKE, where rom opines that presumption of innocence no longer comes into play. She considers that what is presumed is only the correctness of the trial court’s decision to convict.

The simple answer is that presumption of innocence subsists until final judgment of conviction, and there is no final judgment until appeals are waived or exhausted. Dean Jorge Bocobo says the same. And in effect so does rom, but she can arrive at it through different reasoning.

The Constitution provides that “the accused shall be presumed innocent until the contrary is proved” (Art. III, Sec. 14 (2)). The question thus boils down to the meaning of when “the contrary is proved.” Is it proved at the point of judgment of the trial court? Or is it proved on finality of judgment when appeals are waived or exhausted?

Dean Jorge Bocobo cites Pp v Dramayo, where it was held that:

Only if the judge below and the appellate tribunal could arrive at a conclusion that the crime had been committed precisely by person on trial under such an exacting test could sentence be one of conviction. ” (emphasis added by me)

Based on Dramayo and the way that the Rules of Court are construed, it may be submitted that where the case is still on appeal or the judgment of conviction not yet final, the guilt of an accused is not yet proved.

At the appellate court, the guilt of an accused is a question of law that is likely also based on questions of fact. Generally, appellate courts deal with questions of law, but under the Rules of Court, the appellate courts can try facts, including the Supreme Court in exceptional cases.

In the Smith case, the Court of Appeals also has the power to receive evidence, but only in certain cases. One of them is when the CA grants a new trial based only on the ground of newly discovered evidence (Rule 124, Sec. 12). Thus, Smith can move for a new trial on such evidence. He can do this “at any time before the judgment of the Court of Apeals convicting the accused becomes final” (Rule 124, Sec. 14). Whether the latest affidavit of the complainant is “newly discovered evidence” is for the CA to decide, and key factors here are whether such evidence would have altered the judgment at trial, whether the evidence is discovered after trial, and whether it could not have been discovered at trial with due diligence. Nonetheless, if the affidavit is viewed as recantation or retraction, there is jurisprudence to the effect that recantation or retraction is looked at “with disfavor” because it can be secured by considerations other than truth-telling (Agpalo).

Note the language of Rule 124 on the period given for the “accused” to move for a new trial. He is still labeled an “accused” when the CA has promulgated its own judgment “convicting the accused” and before such judgment is final. The judgment is obviously not yet final if the accused can still go up to the Supreme Court. In other words, the accused can be “convicted” three times before he loses his presumption of innocence. Otherwise, why keep calling him an “accused”? [Here I can understand the layman’s frustration with legalese: How can an accused be “convicted” and remain an accused? Answer: This happens when the accused can still appeal (or there is an automatic appellate review) and the judgment is not yet final.]

But the CA can go either way on Smith, with or without the latest affidavit from the complainant, since it can, as rom argues, modify or reverse the lower court’s judgment. This being also a matter of procedure or due process, it must be the case that Smith is still, at this time, presumed innocent. The Constitution grants any person his due process rights in Art. III. Sec. 14(1), and it is submitted that such due process must perforce include the presumption of innocence. Sec. 14(1) states: “No person shall be held to answer for a criminal offense without due process of law.”

Note: That proof of guilt in a criminal case must be “beyond reasonable doubt” is by Rule 133, Sec. 2 of the Rules of Court. It is not in the Constitution.

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