Monday, January 18, 2010

Legal lessons from the Maguindanao Massacre (01): arraignment and plea

This case has generated widespread interest in media and in the public mind. One good thing that may come out of this case is that people will learn more about the legal system in the Philippines. As the hearings in this case continue, I will be posting discussions on the legal procedures involved.

As you may remember about two weeks ago, Datu Unsay, the principal accused in this case, was arraigned before the hearing for his petition for bail began.

[1] In simple terms, “arraignment” refers to that part of the case where the complaint or information
(the legal document prepared by the fiscal who conducted the preliminary investigation) is read to the accused in a language known to him. This is in keeping with the Constitutional requirement that a person must be informed of the charges against him. What is the difference between a complaint and an information? I will discuss this in a future post.

[2] In some situations, the lawyer for the accused may manifest to the court that the accused is waiving the reading of the complaint or information. Common English for manifest is to tell or inform. Why would the defense lawyer do this for the accused? Well, one reason is to spare the accused the embarrassment of being arraigned. People who have been arraigned will tell you that they experienced a lot of negative thoughts and emotions as the charges against them were being read. One time, I heard one woman say after she was arraigned, “Parang sinisilaban ang pwet ko habang ina-arraign ako!”

[3] If the accused does not have a lawyer representing him or her, the judge appoints any lawyer (the PAO lawyer assigned to that court or any private lawyer who happens to be present in court at that time) as counsel de officio to assist the accused for purposes of the arraignment.

[4] After the complaint or information has been read to the accused, the judge asks “How does the accused plead?” The accused may answer “Not guilty”, “Guilty” or his lawyer may say that the accused is not entering any plea. If the accused does not want to enter any plea, the judge orders that a plea of “Not guilty” be entered into the records. If you remember the celebrated libel case against Philippine Star columnist Louie Beltran filed by Pres. Cory Aquino, Beltran refused to enter any plea. One reason why an accused may not want to enter any plea is to be able to question later on the jurisdiction of the court over him.

Posted below are the provisions of “The Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure” on arraignment and plea.

Rule 116 - Arraignment and Plea

Section 1. Arraignment and plea; how made. - (a) The accused must be arraigned before the court where the complaint or information was filed or assigned for trial. The arraignment shall be made in open court by the judge or clerk by furnishing the accused with a copy of the complaint or information, reading the same in the language or dialect known to him, and asking him whether he pleads guilty or not guilty. The prosecution may call at the trial witnesses other than those named in the complaint or information.

(b) The accused must be present at the arraignment and must personally enter his plea. Both arraignment and plea shall be made of record, but failure to do so shall not affect the validity of the proceedings.

(c) When the accused refuses to plead or makes a conditional plea, a plea of not guilty shall be entered for him.

(d) When the accused pleads guilty but presents exculpatory evidence, his plea shall be deemed withdrawn and a plea of not guilty shall be entered for him.

(e) When the accused is under preventive detention, his case shall be raffled and its records transmitted to the judge to whom the case was raffled within three (3) days from the filing of the information or complaint. The accused shall be arraigned within ten (10) days from the date of the raffle. The pre-trial conference of his case shall be held within ten (10) days after arraignment.

(f) The private offended party shall be required to appear at the arraignment for purposes of plea bargaining, determination of civil liability, and other matters requiring his presence. In case of failure of the offended party to appear despite due notice, the court may allow the accused to enter a plea of guilty to a lesser offense which is necessarily included in the offense charged with the conformity of the trial prosecutor alone.

(g) Unless a shorter period is provided by special law or Supreme Court circular, the arraignment shall be held within thirty (30) days from the date the court acquires jurisdiction over the person of the accused. The time of the pendency of a motion to quash or for a bill or particulars or other causes justifying suspension of the arraignment shall be excluded in computing the period.

Sec. 2. Plea of guilty to a lesser offense. – At arraignment, the accused, with the consent of the offended party and prosecutor, may be allowed by the trial court to plead guilty to a lesser offense which is necessarily included in the offense charged. After arraignment but before trial, the accused may still be allowed to plead guilty to said lesser offense after withdrawing his plea of not guilty. No amendment of the complaint or information is necessary.

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.

Sec. 4. Plea of guilty to non-capital offense; reception of evidence, discretionary. – When the accused pleads guilty to a non-capital offense, the court may receive evidence from the parties to determine the penalty to be imposed.

Sec. 5. Withdrawal of improvident plea of guilty.– At any time before the judgment of conviction becomes final, the court may permit an improvident plea of guilty to be withdrawn and be substituted by a plea of not guilty.

Sec. 6. Duty of court to inform accused of his right to counsel. – Before arraignment, the court shall inform the accused of his right to counsel and ask him if he desires to have one. Unless the accused is allowed to defend himself in person or has employed counsel of his choice, the court must assign a counsel de officio to defend him.

Sec. 7. Appointment of counsel de officio. – The court, considering the gravity of the offense and the difficulty of the questions that may arise, shall appoint as counsel de officio such members of the bar in good standing who, by reason of their experience and ability, can competently defend the accused. But in localities where such members of the bar are not available, the court may appoint any person, resident of the province and of good repute for probity and ability, to defend the accused.

Sec. 8. Time for counsel de officio to prepare for arraignment. – Whenever a counsel de office is appointed by the court to defend the accused at the arraignment, he shall be given a reasonable time to consult with the accused as to his plea before proceeding with the arraignment.

Sec. 9. Bill of particulars. – The accused may, before arraignment, move for a bill of particulars to enable him properly to plead and prepare for trial. The motion shall specify the alleged defects of the complaint or information and the details desired.

Sec. 10. Production or inspection of material evidence in possession of prosecution. – Upon motion of the accused showing good cause and with notice to the parties, the court, in order to prevent surprise, suppression, or alteration, may order the prosecution to produce and permit the inspection and copying or photographing of any written statement given by the complainant and other witnesses in any investigation of the offense conducted by the prosecution or other investigating officers, as well as any designated documents, papers, books, accounts, letters, photographs, object, or tangible things not otherwise privileged, which constitute or contain evidence material to any matter involved in the case and which are in the possession or under the control of the prosecution, police, or other law investigating agencies.

Sec. 11. Suspension of arraignment. – Upon motion by the proper party, the arraignment shall be suspended in the following cases:

(a) The accused appears to be suffering from an unsound mental condition which effectively renders him unable to fully understand the charge against him and to plead intelligently thereto. In such case, the court shall order his mental examination and, if necessary, his confinement for such purpose;

(b) There exists a prejudicial question; and

(c) A petition for review of the resolution of the prosecutor is pending at either the Department of Justice, or the Office of the President; provided, that the period of suspension shall not exceed sixty (60) days counted from the filing of the petition with the reviewing office.

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