Criminal Law

People v. Roland Miraña G.R. No. 219113, April 25, 2018 Defense of Insanity, Abuse of Superior Strength

FACTS:

The victim was a 73-year-old widow, who lived on her own although she frequently slept at the house of her cousin Alberto, because accused-appellant had been harassing her and threatening her because she once reprimanded him after she caught him stealing fruits from her property.

One day, the victim told Alberto that she was scared because accused-appellant had chased her with a bolo. Alberto advised her to report the incident to the barangay, but the victim refused to do so because accused-appellant was her relative. 

Her brother advised her the same thing, but she still refused to report the incident. 

Between 6 o’clock to 6:30 in the morning of 17 June 2008, Armando, the victim’s neighbor, was at the coconut plantation near his house when he heard loud cries. He immediately ran back to his house. On his way, he saw the victim on her side on the ground in front of the door to his house. He also saw accused-appellant’s father crying at the back of their house facing the accused-appellant.

PO3 Corono and two other police officers, responded to a call about the incident. At the place of the incident, accused-appellant approached PO3 Corono and admitted he was responsible for the victim’s death. He then pointed to a bolo and said that he used it to hack the victim and washed it afterward. PO3 Corono thereafter arrested accused-appellant and brought him to the police station.

An information for murder be filed against accused-appellant.

During trial, accused-appellant claimed not to know or recall the events surrounding the incident, the identity of the victim, and his confinement and treatment at the mental hospital.

The defense presented the mother and the sister of accused-appellant who both testified that accused-appellant has been exhibiting odd behavior.

The RTC ruled that accused-appellant was not able to prove his defense of insanity.

The trial court appreciated the aggravating circumstance of abuse of superior strength to qualify the crime to murder, in consideration of the fact that the victim was a 73-year-old unarmed woman as against a male assailant in his early twenties.

On appeal, the CA affirmed the conviction of the accused-appellant.

Hence, this appeal.

ISSUES:

I.

Whether or not insanity could be appreciated in accused-appellant’s favor in order to exculpate him from criminal liability.

II.

Whether the crime committed was murder

RULING:

I.

The defense failed to prove accused-appellant’s insanity at the time of the commission of the crime.

The defense of insanity is in the nature of a confession or avoidance because an accused invoking it admits to have committed the crime but claims that he should not be criminally liable therefor because of insanity, which is an exempting circumstance. 

Consequently, the accused is tried on the issue of sanity alone, and if found to be sane, a judgment of conviction is rendered without any trial on the issue of guilt.

However, an accused invoking the exempting circumstance of insanity bears the burden of proving it with clear and convincing evidence because every person is presumed sane.

For the defense of insanity to prosper, it must be proven that the accused was completely deprived of intelligence, which must relate to the time immediately preceding or simultaneous to the commission of the offense with which he is charged.

Since the state of a person’s mind can only be judged by his behaviour, establishing the insanity of an accused requires opinion testimony which may be given by a witness who is intimately acquainted with the accused, or who has rational basis to conclude that the accused was insane based on the witness’ own perception of the accused, or who is qualified as an expert, such as a psychiatrist.

A man may behave in a crazy manner but it does not necessarily and conclusively prove that he is legally so.” In order to be exempt from criminal liability, the accused must be so insane as to be incapable of criminal intent.

Vague references to his history of mental illness and subsequent diagnosis of schizophrenia do not satisfy the quantum of proof required to exempt accused-appellant from criminal liability, especially since the defense failed to establish that accused-appellant’s mental ailments, if such was the case, related to the time of the commission of the crime.

It is clear from the foregoing circumstances that the defense failed to prove accused-appellant’s insanity at the time of the commission of the crime with the requisite quantum of proof. Consequently, accused-appellant’s conviction must be upheld.

II.

This Court finds that the conviction of the accused-appellant for murder is flawed because of the erroneous appreciation of abuse of superior strength as a qualifying circumstance. 

The Court finds that the presence of this circumstance in the commission of the crime was not sufficiently proven.

In concluding that such circumstance existed, both the RTC and the CA primarily took into account the gender and age of the victim, a 73-year­ old female, and the accused-appellant, a male in his early twenties. The Court finds that this is insufficient to conclude the presence of abuse of superior strength.

It has been stressed that for abuse of superior strength to be properly appreciated as a qualifying circumstance, it must be shown that the advantage of superior strength was purposely and consciously sought by the assailant, viz:

Abuse of superior strength is present whenever there is a notorious inequality of forces between the victim and the aggressor, assuming a situation of superiority of strength notoriously advantageous for the aggressor selected or taken advantage of by him in the commission of the crime. x x x

The evidence must establish that the assailants purposely sought the advantage, or that they had the deliberate intent to use this advantage. To take advantage of superior strength means to purposely use excessive force out of proportion to the means of defense available to the person attacked. The appreciation of the aggravating circumstance depends on the age, size, and strength of the parties.

In the present case, the prosecution failed to proffer evidence that accused-appellant purposely sought such advantage.

The testimonies of the witnesses, on the whole, do not establish that accused-appellant made any conscious effort to use his age, size, or strength to facilitate the commission of the crime, as in fact the notorious disparity of these factors between the victim and the accused-appellant was not even clearly shown.

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