Sunday, June 21, 2009

Singing for your life (Turning State’s Witness)

By Obiter07

Imagine yourself to be formerly one of the staff of a high public official, maybe even that of a sitting senator of the Republic. You are party to the crime he has committed. You cannot deny it. Maybe you didn’t want things to happen but was helpless to stop it. And yet you don’t want to go to jail and pay the consequences. It could be that you even want to express remorse and make amends. What can you do?

One option available to you is to turn witness for the state and to sing against your confederates. This is pursuant to the following rule:

“Sec. 17. Discharge of accused to be state witness. – When two or more persons are jointly charged with the commission of any offense, upon motion of the prosecution before resting its case, the court may direct one or more of the accused to be discharged with their consent so that they may be witnesses for the state when, after requiring the prosecution to present evidence and the sworn statement of each proposed state witness at a hearing in support of the discharge, the court is satisfied that:

(a) There is absolute necessity for the testimony of the accused whose discharge is requested;

(b) There is no other direct evidence available for the proper prosecution of the offense committed, except the testimony of said accused;

(c) The testimony of said accused can be substantially corroborated in its material points;

(d) Said accused does not appear to be the most guilty; and

(e) Said accused has not at any time been convicted of any offense involving moral turpitude.

Evidence adduced in support of the discharge shall automatically form part of the trial. If the court denies the motion for discharge of the accused as state witness, his sworn statement shall be inadmissible in evidence.” [Rule 119]

Absolute necessity of testimony; No other direct evidence

The foregoing requisites have to be present. Absolute necessity is best seen in a conspiracy which is usually arrived at in secret. Only a co-conspirator can provide direct evidence of the commission of the crime for “who else outside the conspiracy can testify on what was concocted between the conspirators, but they themselves?” [Herrera, Remedial Law, Vol. IV (2001), p. 701].

Just recently, a gruesome murder was uncovered only through the cooperation of one of those hired to kill the victim. The witness’ statements implicated his 4 accomplices and the victim’s husband and the latter’s family as the masterminds. According to procedure, the witness has been charged with the crime together with the others he named but is expected to be discharged as state witness during trial. [Ramos, “Witness says 5 killers were paid P250,000,” Philippine Daily Inquirer, 06/15/2009,]

Corroborating evidence

The third requirement is that there must be corroborating or supporting evidence. Your words alone won’t be good enough. For example, the testimony of the co-conspirator in a kidnapping was corroborated by the testimony of the victim himself.

“Neither does dela Cruz appear to be the most guilty of the accused. The trial court held that dela Cruz was not privy to the kidnap plan and was merely taken in later by the group because they suspected that she already knew too much. Did the lower courts properly consider the testimony of dela Cruz? It is a jurisprudential rule that the testimony of a self-confessed accomplice or co-conspirator imputing the blame to or implicating his co-accused cannot, by itself and without corroboration, be regarded as proof with a moral certainty that the latter committed or participated in the commission of the crime. The testimony must be substantially corroborated in its material points by unimpeachable testimony and strong circumstances and must be to such an extent that its trustworthiness becomes manifest. The testimony of dela Cruz was substantially corroborated by no less than the victim himself, Oliver, as well as Pedro.

The trial court's decision rested mainly on the harmony in the testimonies of Oliver and dela Cruz. During the direct examination, Oliver gave an account of how he was seized by four (4) armed men xxx PEOPLE vs. FAJARDO et al. [G.R. No. 173022. January 23, 2007.] [Formerly G.R. No. 144588]”

Witness appears not most guilty

You should not appear to be the “most guilty.” An example would be an accused who merely served as look-out in a killing:

“Moreover, the evidence presented by the prosecution in support of its motion to discharge Samuel as state witness shows that he is not the "most guilty." Said accused did not plot the killing of Jun Valerio like Antonio and Milagros. He did not volunteer to carry out the killing like his co-accused Martin Jimenez. Neither did he provide the vehicle which facilitated the commission of the crime like his co-accused Geronimo Quintana. At most, his participation appears to be limited to serving as a lookout. Surely, this act alone does not qualify him to be considered as the "most guilty." VALERIO vs. COURT OF APPEALS, et al. [G.R. Nos. 164311-12. October 10, 2007.]

Witness not guilty of moral turpitude

And then comes the last requirement, you should never have been convicted of any offense involving moral turpitude. This is described as an “act of baseness, vileness and depravity in the private and social duty which a man owes to his fellowmen or to society in general” as “everything in which is done contrary to justice, modesty or good morals.” Examples of crimes involving moral turpitude are estafa, abduction with consent, concubinage or murder. [Herrera, Ibid., p. 704.]

A lawyer was allowed to be discharged as a state witness in connection with the falsification of documents filed in official court proceedings against the accused and other court staff. Working together with all the accused, he had filed false documents with the court. He was allowed to serve as witness against all of them. PEOPLE vs. SANDIGANBAYAN, et al. [G.R. Nos. 115439-41. July 16, 1997.] It seems lawyers get the better end of the deal even when they are part of the crime.

And what do you get for your incriminating words against the accused? Your freedom.

“Sec. 18. Discharge of accused operates as acquittal. – The order indicated in the preceding section shall amount to an acquittal of the discharged accused and shall be a bar to future prosecution for the same offense, unless the accused fails or refuses to testify against his co-accused in accordance with his sworn statement constituting the

basis for his discharge.”

And if freedom is not enough, you get to assuage your conscience to some degree, such that despite your guilt, you have helped to make those who are most guilty serve their time in jail.


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