Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Legal Procedures 11: Arraignment and pre-trial

Free PDF legal procedures arraignment and pre-trial conferenceNotes: [1] Please surf to the complete list of available PDFs on legal procedures in criminal and civil cases.

[2] If the accused appears without a lawyer during arraignment, the court appoints a “counsel de officio” from among the lawyers present in the courtroom to assist the accused. Any lawyer the judge chooses cannot refuse since the appointment as “counsel de officio” is for purposes of arraignment only.

Veteran lawyers always manifest for example, “Respectfully appearing as counsel de officio for purposes of arraignment only.” For new bar passers who wish to gain trial experience however, it is a good idea to take on clients on a de officio basis not only for the arraignment but for the whole trial.

The court staff records the name of the “counsel de officio” and asks that counsel to sign. This is to prevent the accused from later on claiming that there was no arraignment and that therefore the court has no jurisdiction..

[3] The information is read to the accused in a language understood by him. The accused through  counsel of course has to tell to the court beforehand that he or she does not understand English and that the reading should be made in the dialect he or she understands.

(In one arraignment I witnessed in a Quezon City court, I found out that there are several variants of the Ilocano dialect. The court had a difficult time looking for someone who could translate the information into the kind of Ilocano that the accused could understand.)

[4] The reading of the information may also be waived. One reason for the waiver is because defense lawyers do not want their clients to be subjected to the emotional trauma of being arraigned. In one arraignment in a Pasig City MTC many years ago, I heard an accused say that while she was being arraigned, “Parang sinisilaban ang pwet ko!”

[5] During the arraignment, the accused may choose not to enter any plea, whether “guilty” or not guilty”. The judge will then direct that a plea of “not guilty” be entered for the accused. One reason for not entering any plea is for the accused to later on question the jurisdiction of the court over him.

[6] An improvident plea of guilt may later on be withdrawn.

[7] If the accused cannot post bail, he should invoke his Constitutional right to a speedy trial immediately after he is arraigned.

[8] The judge may order that the marking of documentary documents be done in a separate session with only the opposing counsels, the branch clerk of court and the stenographer present. This saves the time of the court especially when there are a lot of cases calendared for that day or when there are numerous documents to be marked.

[9] During the pre-trial conference, so as not to deface the original documents, the opposing counsels may ask each other to stipulate that the photocopy is a faithful reproduction of the original. The branch clerk then marks the photocopy.

[10] Sometimes, instead of proceeding with the marking of evidences and the making of stipulations and admissions, the court orders that the case be brought to mediation. This again saves time and effort; if the civil aspect of the case is mediated successfully, the criminal aspect may then be dismissed.

[11] Some defense lawyers who wish to expedite the pre-trial conference simply state, for example, “The defense will only stipulate as to the jurisdiction of this court and the identity of the accused”. The phrase “identity of the accused” means that the person being arraigned and the person named in the information are one and the same. Please read the Supreme Court ruling in PS Bank vs Bermoy, GR no. 151912, September 26, 2005.

Arraignment and plea (Rule 116, Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure)

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.

Pre-trial (Rule 118, Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure)

Section 1. Pre-trial; mandatory in criminal cases. – In all criminal cases cognizable by the Sandiganbayan, Regional Trial Court, Metropolitan Trial Court, Municipal Trial Court in Cities, Municipal Trial Court and Municipal Circuit Trial Court, the court shall, after arraignment and within thirty (30) days from the date the court acquires jurisdiction over the person of the accused, unless a shorter period is provided for in special laws or circulars of the Supreme Court, order a pre-trial conference to consider the following:

(a) plea bargaining;
(b) stipulation of facts;
(c) marking for identification of evidence of the parties;
(d) waiver of objections to admissibility of evidence;
(e) modification of the order of trial if the accused admits the charge but interposes a lawful defense; and
(f) such matters as will promote a fair and expeditious trial of the criminal and civil aspects of the case.
Sec. 2. Pre-trial agreement. – All agreements or admissions made or entered during the pre-trial conference shall be reduced in writing and signed by the accused and counsel, otherwise, they cannot be used against the accused. The agreements covering the matters referred to in section 1 of this Rule shall be approved by the court.

Sec. 3. Non-appearance at pre-trial conference. – If the counsel for the accused or the prosecutor does not appear at the pre-trial conference and does not offer an acceptable excuse for his lack of cooperation, the court may impose proper sanctions or penalties.

Sec. 4. Pre-trial order. – After the pre-trial conference, the court shall issue an order reciting the actions taken, the facts stipulated, and evidence marked. Such order shall bind the parties, limit the trial to matters not disposed of, and control the course f the action during the trial, unless modified by the court to prevent manifest injustice.

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