Friday, May 1, 2009

The Color of Doubt is Gray

Is there any doubt in your mind that "doubt" is a thing that exists only in the human mind? Indubitably,  doubt is a mental or subjective state, a state of mind that arises in human beings when they are given a set of facts and are asked to adjudge the truth of some claim based on them.  Doubt arises because we can never have a perfect knowledge of all the facts in the lives of one or two actual persons, and therefore we cannot draw absolute, black and white conclusions about them.

The color of doubt is gray.   The only things we do not doubt are the axioms of Logic, Language and Mathematics which we assume are always true and are way beyond reasonable doubt. Clarifying the nature of "doubt" is important  because  in all criminal prosecutions, we say that the accused shall be presumed innocent until guilt is proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

The fundamental tenets are well-expressed by the Supreme Court (People v. Dramayo, J. Fernando): 

Accusation is not, according to the fundamental law, synonymous with guilt, the prosecution must overthrow the presumption of innocence with proof of guilt beyond reasonable doubt. To meet this standard, there is need for the most careful scrutiny of the testimony of the State, both oral and documentary, independently of whatever defense is offered by the accused. Only if the judge below and the appellate tribunal could arrive at a conclusion that the crime had been committed precisely by the person on trial under such an exacting test should the sentence be one of conviction. It is thus required that every circumstance favoring innocence be duly taken into account. The proof against him must survive the test of reason; the strongest suspicion must not be permitted to sway judgment.

In the above, Justice Fernando is describing the essential MORAL DUTY of Judges at the RTC, Court of Appeals (CARP) and the Supreme Court (SCoRP), when deciding criminal cases that come before them.

Thus,  to be convicted of a crime requires the following results of DUE PROCESS:  

(1) One Trial Court Judge must find moral certainty and no reasonable doubt in the proof of guilt of the accused as presented by the Prosecution.

(2) A simple majority of a division of at least three Court of Appeals Judges must find moral certainty and no reasonable doubt in the proof of guilt of the accused as presented by the Prosecution, and that all records and proceedings and rulings comply with all the laws and rules of Court, including that of the Trial Court Judge.

(3) Finally a simple majority of up to 15 Supreme Court Justices must likewise find moral certainty and no reasonable doubt in the proof of guilt of the accused as presented by the Prosecution, and that all records and proceedings and rulings comply with all the laws and rules of Court, including those of the Trial Court and Appeals Judges.

The RTC+CA+SCORP process represents a three-tiered justice system. I liken these three Courts of Law to the two Houses of the Congress, at least for the purposes of their official ACTS.  The Congress for example, is a bicameral chamber, but as we all know, bills proposed in either House do not pass into Law unless both Houses have approved the same and reconciled their provisions.  Likewise, we may regard the Final Sentence of Conviction which is pronounced by SCoRP at the end of a successful criminal prosecution to be the equivalent of a Bill being enacted into Law.  As in the legislative process, this particular judicial process requires the judgment of "guilty" from each of the three levels of the Court system.

There is one curious observation we can make.  Notice that although we have been saying proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt in the mind of the Judge ruling on the case must exist, a person can certainly be convicted and punished even if he is found NOT guilty by up to seven out of fifteen Supreme Court justices!

The Law evidently does not consider it a reasonable doubt in the proof of guilt of an accused even if seven SCoRP justices say they have found reasonable doubt in their own minds in such proof of guilt, as long as eight other SCoRP justices say they have found moral certainty and no reasonable doubt in the proof of guilt.  I guess, this is like what happens when Congress passes a bill into law.  Each House of Congress approves the bill by simple majority rule.  Likewise, in a criminal prosecution, the final Sentence of Conviction that truly and legally overcomes the accused's Presumption of Innocence comes only when all three, RTC, CA and SCoRP find the accused guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. 


In the Subic Bay Rape Case, the accused Lance Cpl Daniel Smith was found guilty of raping Suzette Nicolas y Sombillon by Judge Benjamin Pozon of the Makati RTC. However, in March 2009, the alleged victim, pseudonymously called Nicole, publicly doubted her testimony at trial.   Then in April, 2009, the Court of Appeals acquitted the accused upon a unanimous decision by an all-woman division of three Lady Justices, Monina Arevalo Zenarosa  Remedios S. Fernando and Myrna Dimaranan Vidal.

There are some of our colleagues who insist that the accused U.S. Marine corporal in the Subic Bay Rape Case, was a "convicted rapist" after the Regional Trial Court Judge Ben Pozon found him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of rape.  They claim the Presumption of Innocence was "lost" or "taken away" by Pozon, but that it was "restored" on appeal, when three Judges of the Court of Appeals merely "reversed" the RTC decision.    But I find this interpretation self-serving of the Lynch Mobs and a logical stretch.  It implies the the Burden of Proof shifted from the Prosecution to the Defense and that the task on appeal was for the Defense to prove innocence of the accused (with what quantum of evidence or proof we cannot say).   Yet the Court of Appeals decision itself contradicts this interpretation when Justice Zenarosa declared in disposing of the case that, 

“As in this case, a careful and judicious perusal of the evidence on record does not convince the prudent mind about the moral certainty of the guilt of the accused, hence, we must acquit. To the point of triteness, it has been repeatedly stressed that in this jurisdiction, accusation is not synonymous with guilt and that this has still to be proved beyond reasonable doubt.”

The three Lady Judges of the Court of Appeals have been viciously attacked by the fading remnants of the Lynch Mobs as old fashioned manangs who just think lowly of "Nicole". 

Now in our recent discussions here at Filipino Voices, unaided by carping lawyers inadequate at explaining their own craft to the satisfaction of mere laymen, two very interesting, but somewhat different issues arose that are still being controverted, or shall we say, "clarified" of doubt.  One is a legal, Constitutional question, the other is a matter of ethics:


After a criminally accused person, such as Mr. Smith, has been found "guilty beyond a reasonable doubt" by a Regional Trial Court Judge, such as Ben Pozon, and appeals his case, has he lost the Presumption of Innocence? Has the burden of proof shifted from Prosecution to Defense, and if so, what is the quantum of proof or evidence required to prove innocence? Beyond or within reasonable doubt, total certainty, reasonable certainty?

I have made the assertion that even after the accused is found guilty by the Trial Court Judge, -- at the Court of Appeals and Supreme Court stages, the accused has not lost the Presumption of Innocence--which I take to be a Right, like the Right to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.  The Presumption of Innocence of a criminally accused person is not a mental state that is supposed to exist in the Judge's mind.  Unlike "doubt", which is a subjective, judgmental state, the Presumption of Innocence is a Constitutional right, entitlement or possession, like Deed or Title to a piece of property.   Thus, when we say judges must "presume" the innocence of an accused,  we do not mean they are to "assume" the accused is innocent -- after all, the authorities have found "probable cause" that he committed a crime and that is why they arrested and charged him.  We only mean that a judgment of "Guilty" must be pronounced and the Presumption of Innocence rescinded if, and only if,  Judges do not find reasonable doubt,  but  find instead moral certainty about the validity of the proof of guilt offered by the Prosecution. 

The question that now arises is this.  Is it legally correct to say that the accused has been CONVICTED of the crime charged after the Trial Court Judge has found him "guilty beyond a reasonable doubt" and an appeal is filed? My answer is NO. Not until the Judges in  "upper houses" of the  Judiciary likewise do as Fernando preaches: find moral certainty in their own minds as to the proof of  guilt of the accused. 

These considerations explain the reason why uniformly and consistently, appellants in criminal cases decided by the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court are referred to in the formal written Decisions, as "Accused Appellant" and never, for example,  "the Appellant Convicted Rapist" or "Appellant Convicted Perjurer", et cetera. 

I have likened the argument that it is okay to think of and label the accused as a CONVICTED RAPIST simply upon the strength of one RTC Judge's decision as the Constitutional equivalent of those in the House of Representatives (HoRRP) calling for a Unicameral Con-Ass.  Just as the House cannot ACT for The Congress, neither can the RTC enact a conviction without the further affirmation of the CA and SCoRP upon the same exacting degree of moral certainty.


The first question to ask oneself is, WHO is the victim in a case of rape: the Accuser or the Accused?  Remember that in a rape case, one of these two parties will be proved to be a liar. Now please consider the following pertinent provision of the  Republic Act No. 8505, the Rape Victim Assistance and Protection Act:

Section 5. Protective Measures. - At any stage of the investigation, prosecution and trial of a complaint for rape, the police officer, the prosecutor, the court and its officers, as well as the parties to the complaint shall recognize the right to privacy of the offended party and the accused. Towards this end, the police officer, prosecutor, or the court to whom the complaint has been referred may, whenever necessary to ensure fair and impartial proceedings, and after considering all circumstances for the best interest of the parties, order a closed-door investigation, prosecution or trial and that the name and personal circumstances of the offended party and/or the accused, or any other information tending to establish their identities, and such circumstances or information on the complaint shall not be disclosed to the public.

Clearly, the VICTIM in a rape case could be EITHER the Accuser or the Accused, which is why the Law protects the Right to Privacy of both in EQUAL measure. 

Amazingly, two weeks ago, Evalyn Ursua, fired lawyer of Nicole, and lawyer Katrina Legarda, told Cheche Lazaro on ABSCBN News’ Media in Focus TV talk show that the Philippine Daily Inquirer and anyone else, including bloggers, publishing her full name and pictures are CRIMINALLY LIABLE for “revealing” such information about the alleged rape victim of the accused Lance Corporal Daniel Smith.

I think a plain-reading of RA 8505 would suggest that it is Ms. Ursua who is criminally liable for wantonly violating the parity of privacy rights between Accuser and Accused in a rape case prosecution, because WHO the victim is will not be decided until the end of the case in acquittal of the Accused or his final and executory conviction and sentencing by SCoRP.

Regarding the "Lynch Mobs" and the general behavior of those in Mass Media and the Blogosphere  for whom the Subic Rape case was always just a Political Spectator Sport in which the crowd participates activistically, I have raised several ethical questions related to the above legal and Constitutional questions because of the the Presumption of Innocence is mentioned in the Code of Ethics of Professional Journalists:

I. I shall scrupulously report and interpret the news, taking care not to suppress essential facts nor to distort the truth by omission or improper emphasis. I recognize the duty to air the other side and the duty to correct substantive errors promptly.

VII. I shall not, in any manner, ridicule, cast aspersions on, or degrade any person by reason of sex, creed, religious belief, political conviction, cultural and ethnic origin.

VIII. I shall presume persons accused of crime of being innocent until proven otherwise. I shall exercise caution in publishing names of minors and women involved in criminal cases so that they may not unjustly lose their standing in society.

In making illegal and unethical cause with Ms. Ursua, the Gabriela activists (all one and a half dozen of them)  much that is obviously unethical, immoral, unfair, unjust and plain badkharmaphilic -- are on plain display to this day among the Lynch Mobs in the Mass and Blog Media. 

The Lynch Mobs are pitiably disconsolate and unconsolable.  They are reduced to insulting the Lady Justices of the Court.  But their keening, ululating angst is well-deserved for being self-imposed as a steadfast denial of the eternal principles of the Law.  These are the Just Desserts of Rash Judgment. 

If we must insist on viewing Current Events as a Spectator Sport, at least we must understand and play by the Rules of the Game.

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