Constitutional Law, Remedial Law

People v. Alicando G.R. No. 117487 December 12, 1995 Plea of Guilt, Searching Inquiry, Death Penalty, Procedural Due Process

FACTS:

Arnel Alicando was charged with the crime of rape with homicide  for having carnal knowledge with Khazie Mae Penecilla, a four year old. The victim suffered asphyxia by strangulation, fractured cervical vertebra and lacerations of the vaginal and rectal openings causing profuse hemorrhages and other injuries which are necessarily fatal and which were the direct cause of her death.

Luisa Rebada, a neighbor and witness to the crime, informed Khazie Mae’s father Romeo Penecilla and his wife Julie Ann, that appellant committed the crime. Forthwith, appellant was arrested and interrogated by PO3 Danilo Tan. 

Appellant verbally confessed his guilt without the assistance of counsel. On the basis of his uncounselled verbal confession and follow up interrogations, the police came to know and recovered from appellant’s house, Khazie Mae’s green slippers, a pair of gold earrings, a buri mat, a stained pillow and a stained T-shirt all of which were presented as evidence for the prosecution.

The trial court found appellant guilty and sentenced him to death.

The present case is on automatic review considering the death penalty imposed by the trial court.

ISSUE:

Whether or not the trial court erred in convicting accused Arnel Alicando of the crime of Rape with Homicide and sentencing him to suffer the penalty of death.

RULING:

We find that the Decision of the trial court sentencing the appellant to death is shot full of errors, both substantive and procedural. 

In the case at bar, the records do not reveal that the Information against the appellant was read in the language or dialect known to him.

The arraignment of the appellant is a nullity. It violated section 1(a) of Rule 116, the rule implementing the constitutional right of the appellant to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation against him. It also denied appellant his constitutional right to due process of law. It is urged that we must presume that the arraignment of the appellant was regularly conducted. When life is at stake, we cannot lean on this rebuttable presumption. We cannot assume. We must be sure.

Second. The plea of guilt made by the appellant is likewise null and void. The trial court violated section 3 of Rule 116 when it accepted the plea of guilt of the appellant. Said section provides:

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 require the prosecution to prove his guilt and the precise degree of culpability. The accused may also present evidence in his behalf.

The records reveal how the trial judge inadequately discharged this duty of conducting a “searching inquiry.”

The bottom line of the rule is that the plea of guilt must be based on a free and informed judgment. 

Thus, the searching inquiry of the trial court must be focused on: (1) the voluntariness of the plea, and 

(2) the full comprehension of the consequences of the plea. 

The questions of the trial court failed to show the voluntariness of the plea of guilt of the appellant nor did the questions demonstrate appellant’s full comprehension of the consequences of his plea.

A cursory examination of the questions of the trial court to establish the voluntariness of appellant’s plea of guilt will show their utter insufficiency. The trial court simply inquired if appellant had physical marks of maltreatment. It did not ask the appellant when he was arrested, who arrested him, how and where he was interrogated, whether he was medically examined before and after his interrogation, etc.

Appellant’s plea of guilt is void and the trial court erred in using it to sentence him to death. 

Section 3 of Rule 116 requires that after a free and intelligent plea of guilt, the trial court must require the prosecution to prove the guilt of the appellant and the precise degree of his culpability beyond reasonable doubt. This rule modifies prior jurisprudence that a plea of guilt even in capital offenses is sufficient to sustain a conviction charged in the information without need of further proof. The change is salutary for it enhances one of the goals of the criminal process which is to minimize erroneous conviction. We share the stance that “it is a fundamental value determination of our system that it is far worse to convict an innocent person than let a guilty man go free.

Since in the case at bar, the arraignment of the appellant is void, his judgment of conviction is also void. In fairness to the appellant, and in justice to the victim, the case has to be remanded to the trial court. for further proceedings. There is no philosophy of punishment that allows the State to kill without any semblance of fairness and justice.

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