Friday, 10 August 2007

An Apology to MLQIII

I guess I owe an apology to MLQIII because of an earlier blog piece where I wrote:

Had he asked his lawyer friends, they would probably tell him that Trillanes and Jalosjos, at the time the said SC ruling was handed down, are basically on the same boat as far as the presumption of innocence is concerned. Jalosjos, while convicted by the trial court, was still presumed to be innocent because his conviction was on appeal. At that point, he remains an accused and not a convict by final judgment. You don't grade the presumption of innocence by the stage of the proceeding. Until such conviction is by final judgment, i.e., there is no more appeal or the right to appeal has been lost by inaction, the right of the accused to be presumed innocent remains.

I basically generalized that a trained eye would spot the error in MLQ's article. He wrote:


Pimentel justified his decision by citing the case of Romeo Jalosjos, who'd been convicted of statutory rape and reelected congressman, but was refused permission to attend sessions of the House of Representatives because the Supreme Court said he had to serve his sentence. In a word, Pimentel decided that an individual facing trial is on par with someone who has already been convicted of a crime.

MLQIII asked Atty. Lacierda to weigh in on the matter and the lawyer affirmed MLQIII's position. He wrote:


If you read the Jalosjos decision, the background scenario is that he has already been convicted and is sitting in prison. The equal protection of the laws says that all persons similarly situated should be similarly treated. Jalosjos and Trillanes are not in the same situation. Trillanes has not been convicted so far. His detention is due to the fact that the crime he committed is non-bailable, not because he has been convicted. Thus, he continues to enjoy the presumption of innocence. That is the big difference. By all accounts, your analysis is clear and correct.

What followed was an exhaustive argument on MLQIII's blog on the right to be presumed innocent and the effects of a finding of conviction by the trial court on such right. In hindsight, I think we need to revisit what MLQIII wrote and parse it line by line so that we can see what was erroneous in it which should have been seen by a trained eye.


So here it is again:

Pimentel justified his decision by citing the case of Romeo Jalosjos, who'd been convicted of statutory rape and reelected congressman, but was refused permission to attend sessions of the House of Representatives because the Supreme Court said he had to serve his sentence. In a word, Pimentel decided that an individual facing trial is on par with someone who has already been convicted of a crime. (Emphasis mine)

There was nothing of that sort in the SC ruling. Jalosjos was not serving his sentence. He is detained because the accusation against him is a capital offense. Even prior to conviction, he is denied bail. His conviction actually plays little part on the issue of his detention. What is operative here is the offense charged. Section 78 of the Revised Penal Code states
"No penalty shall be executed except by virtue of a final judgment."

A judgment of conviction becomes final (a) when no appeal is seasonably filed, (b) when the accused commences to serve the sentence, (c) when the right to appeal is expressly waived in writing, except where the death penalty was imposed by the trial court, and (d) when the accused applies for probation, thereby waiving his right to appeal.

An appeal of the conviction of Jalosjos pending with the Supreme Court leads us to the only conclusion, Jalosjos was not yet serving his sentence.

Which leads to the question, what is the effect of an appeal? Atty. Lacierda wrote:

The constitutional presumption of innocence really means that accusation is not synonymous with guilt. But if one is convicted, then it showed that the presumption has been overturned and it is now the turn of the accused to prove that the judgment of conviction is wrong. Moreover, to be very technical about it, an appeal is a statutory right, not a constitutional right.

He seems to mistake an appeal of a criminal case with that of an appeal in a civil case. He seems to be placing a burden on the accused to prove that the conviction was wrong, which was agreed to by some of the commenters.


However, jurisprudence holds that an appeal of a criminal conviction "throws open the entire case wide open for review, and the appellate court can correct errors, though unassigned, that may be found in the appealed judgment" (People vs Feliciano, GR 127759, Sept. 24, 2001). The appeals court may even reverse the trial court's decision on the basis of grounds other than those that the parties raised as errors. The burden of proof never shifts and the quantum of proof that the conviction be beyond reasonable doubt remains, even on appeal. As the SC said in People vs Lagmay (1999), "the presumption of innocence is not a mere procedural tool of the law. It is not overcome by the presumption of regularity; indeed, it can be rebutted only by proof beyond reasonable doubt."

It shows how painstaking the standards the law and the rules have set for the judiciary
before it finally convicts an accused. To hold otherwise is to cheapen the Constitution's guarantee to a person's right to life and liberty.



2 comments:

Major Tom said...

This is a very good exposition on the stages of trial and at which point judgment becomes final and therefore presumption of innocence ends. I stopped reading my law books for so long now and it so good to be refreshed.

Jaxius said...

thanks for dropping by, major tom.