Tuesday, February 9, 2010

TRUE CONFESSIONS: Confessions in Criminal Law

By Obiter 07

A senator flees the murder conspiracy charges against him.  A mother advances her own fantastic theory to place the blame on someone else in the face of mounting evidence against her road rage murderer suspect of a son.    We cannot judge who is innocent or guilty. But this is one thing we can all agree on, we cannot expect suspects or their loved ones to just throw in the towel and confess.  Telling the truth appears to be as rare as a Manny-Villar-Las-Piñas-subdivision-not-within-the-vicinity-of-the-C-5-extension.  And alibis are as plentiful as there are resources available to the accused.  

Confessing to a crime does mean facing the penalties.  But there reasons to do it apart from serving as a salve to one’s conscience.

Why confess

Article 13 of the Revised Penal Code provides that confession is a mitigating circumstance:

“ARTICLE 13. Mitigating circumstances. — The following are mitigating circumstances:

7. That the offender had voluntarily surrendered himself to a person in authority or his agents, or that he had voluntarily confessed his guilt before the court prior to the presentation of the evidence for the prosecution. xxx” [Underscoring supplied]

Mitigating circumstances can serve to lower the penalty to be imposed on the accused. For example, Article 63 provides:
“ARTICLE 63. xxx  In all cases in which the law prescribes a penalty composed of two indivisible penalties, the following rules shall be observed in the application thereof:
3. When the commission of the act is attended by some mitigating circumstance and there is no aggravating circumstance, the lesser penalty shall be applied.
4. When both mitigating and aggravating circumstances attended the commission of the act, the courts shall reasonably allow them to offset one another in consideration of their number and importance, for the purpose of applying the penalty in accordance with the preceding rules, according to the result of such compensation.”

When to confess

But one must confess at the earliest opportunity before the prosecution starts to present its evidence.

“Article 13 (7) of the Revised Penal Code provides that an accused is entitled to the mitigating circumstance of voluntary confession of guilty if "he had voluntarily confessed his guilt before the court prior to the presentation of evidence by the prosecution." The following requisites must concur: (1) the accused spontaneously confessed his guilt; (2) the confession of guilt was made in open court, that is, before a competent court trying the case; and (3) the confession of guilt was made prior to the presentation of evidence by the prosecution. [emphasis supplied]

“In this case, appellant made his confession of guilt before the presentation of evidence by the prosecution since he pleaded guilty during the arraignment. The appellant also confessed voluntarily and spontaneously despite knowing the serious nature of the charge against him. Lastly, appellant made his confession openly, that is, before the judge and the parties in a hearing. Clearly therefore, all the requisites of the mitigating circumstance of voluntary confession were present.”  PEOPLE vs. JUAN [G.R. No. 152289.  January 14, 2004.]

A change of plea from guilty to not guilty is unavailing if made too late.  One must tell the truth at the right time.

“[T]he trial court was correct in not crediting in favor of WILLIAM the mitigating circumstance of plea of guilty, since the change of his plea from "not guilty" to "guilty" was made only after the presentation of some evidence for the prosecution. PEOPLE vs. MONTINOLA  [G.R. Nos. 131856-57.  July 9, 2001.]”

Confessions are given credit since it is “an act of repentance and respect for the law; it indicates a moral disposition in the accused favorable to his reform, [Reyes, The Revised Penal Code, Book I (1981), p. 307 citing People v. De La Cruz, 63 Phil. 874.]”

Prior guilty plea

The law seeks to protect the accused even in cases where he is facing a capital offense. Even his prior guilty plea may be withdrawn.

“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. 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. [Rule 115]” [emphasis supplied]

Since kindergarten, we’ve learned a lot of rules, not to hurt anybody, to give back what isn’t ours and to not tell a lie, to name a few.  We’re no longer in kindergarten but the same rules apply.  Of course now we can add: if you commit a crime then do your time and if you don’t like admitting then stop committing.  


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