CASE BrieF NO. 2019-0029


“There is no standard form of human behavioral response when one is confronted with a strange or startling or frightful experience.


CASE: People vs. Alex Casemiro and Jose Catalan, Jr. [G.R. No. 231122, January 16, 2019]

PONENTE: Associate Justice Marcelo Del Castillo

SUBJECT:

  1. CRIMINAL LAW:
    i. Article 248 RPC/Murder – Elements
    ii. Qualifying Circumstances – Treachery
  2. REMEDIAL LAW
    i. Effect of failure to allege aggravating circumstance in the Information

FACTS:         Alex Casemiro and Jose Catalan, Jr.  were charged with murder in an Information which reads:

That on or about the 16th day of April, 2010, at about 9:00 x x x in the evening in Barangay Catorsede Agosto, Municipality of Gandara, Province of Samar, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, conspiring, confederating together and mutually helping and aiding one another, without justifiable reason and with deliberate intent to kill and with treachery, which qualify the offense into Murder, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously attack, assault and took turn in stabbing one JEFFREY HERMO with the use of deadly weapons, which the accused had conveniently provided themselves for the purpose, thereby inflicting upon the victim serious and fatal stabbing wounds on the different parts of the victim’s body which were the direct and immediate cause of his death.”

Mary Ann Hermo, victim’s common law wife, claimed that, she witnessed at a distance of 15 meters Casemiro stab her husband five times on the chest using a four-inch knife while Catalan held her husband’s arms. Her husband fell on the ground. While lying on the ground, Catalan stabbed her husband eight times at the back using an ice pick. She shouted for help to no avail because it was already nighttime and there were no houses nearby. Mary Ann’s brother also witnessed the incident but only cried because he was afraid.

Casemiro and Catalan denied the allegations and interposed the defense of alibi.

The Regional Trial Court, in its Decision, found Casemiro and Catalan guilty of the charge.The trial court convicted the offenders with murder after finding that treachery and abuse of superior strength attended the commission of the crime.

They filed their appealassailing their conviction to the Court of Appeals.

The appellate court affirmed the conviction. It held that all the elements of the crime were proven by the prosecution. It also held that treachery attended the commission of the crime. However, it ruled that even if abuse of superior strength was proven, such could not be appreciated as a generic aggravating circumstance because it would only be absorbed by treachery.

Hence, Catalan and Casemiro appealed to the Supreme Court.

ISSUES:
A.       What are the elements of the crime of Murder? Are the offenders guilty of the crime of murder?
B.       Whether or not treachery attended the commission of the crime.
C.       Whether the pronouncement made by the trial court on the presence of abuse of superior strength is proper.

RULING:
A.       To successfully prosecute the crime of murder under Article 248of the Revised Penal Code (RPC), the following elements must be established: (1) that a person was killed; (2) that the accused killed him or her; (3) that the killing was attended by any of the qualifying circumstances mentioned in Article 248 of the Revised Penal Code; and (4) that the killing is not parricide or infanticide.

In this case, the prosecution was able to clearly establish that the victim was stabbed to death and accused Casemiro and Catalan were the perpetrators.

The witness for the prosecution, Mary Ann, categorically identified Catalan and Casemiro. Her testimony was “unreliable, uncorroborated, and incredible.”

The arguments raised by Casemiro and Catalan which assail Mary Ann’s testimony lack merit. They argued that, Mary Ann could not have witnessed the incident deserves scant consideration since no proof was shown that Mary Ann’s vision was hindered by the lighting condition. There was no allegation that the vision of the eyewitness had been obstructed, or that her distance from the crime scene had effectively impaired her ability to identify the perpetrators [People v. Alas, G.R. No. 118335-36, June 19, 1997].  Normally, where conditions of visibility are favorable and the witness does not appear to be biased, her assertion as to the identity of the malefactors should be accepted. This is more so when the witness is a near relative because witnesses such as she usually strive to remember the faces of the assailants[People v. Jacolo, 290-A Phil. 422 (1992)].

Finally, their argument regarding Mary Ann’s reaction after the incident – she left her husband without even checking if he was still alive – is similarly bereft of merit in light of the pronouncement of this Court that there is no standard behavior or reaction for people who witness traumatic events such as the death of a common-law husband, as in this case. For it is settled “that different people react differently to a given situation and there is no standard form of human behavioral response when one is confronted with a strange or startling or frightful experience.” [People v. Mamaruncas (2012)].


B.       Treachery attended the killing.

To appreciate treachery, it must be shown that offenders employed means, methods, or forms in the execution of the crime that tend directly and especially to ensure its execution without risk to themselves arising from the defense which the victim might make [People v. Japag, G.R. No. 223155, July 23, 2018 ].

In the instant case, the offenders invited the victim under the pretense of butchering a duck and brought him to a place where there were no houses nearby in the middle of the night; the victim was unarmed while they (offenders) wielded a knife and an ice pick; the victim was stabbed multiple times on the chest, held by the arms by the other, and again stabbed multiple times on the back even after he had fallen down. These circumstances indubitably prove treachery; execution of the attack gave the victim no opportunity to defend himself or to retaliate, and said means of execution was deliberately adopted by the offenders.

C.       Meanwhile, the trial court made a pronouncement on the presence of abuse of superior strength. The CA also stated that there was abuse of superior strength but that this would only be absorbed by treachery. The Supreme Court finds the pronouncements unnecessary considering that abuse of superior strength was not even alleged in the Information. An aggravating circumstance, even if proven during trial, cannot affect an accused-­appellant’s liability when the Information fails to allege such circumstance [People v. Tigle (2004)]. Thus, it was not proper for the lower courts to make a pronouncement on the presence of the circumstance of abuse of superior strength. Be that as it may, the crime was already qualified by the circumstance of treachery which was alleged and proven by the prosecution.

Related CASE BrieFs:

  1. People v. Mamaruncas (2012)
  2. People v. Japag, G.R. No. 223155, July 23, 2018
  3. People v. Tigle, 465 Phil. 368, 383 (2004)

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THINGS DECIDED:

  1. To successfully prosecute the crime of murder under Article 248 of the Revised Penal Code (RPC), the following elements must be established: (1) that a person was killed; (2) that the accused killed him or her; (3) that the killing was attended by any of the qualifying circumstances mentioned in Article 248 of the Revised Penal Code; and (4) that the killing is not parricide or infanticide.
  2. Different people react differently to a given situation and there is no standard form of human behavioral response when one is confronted with a strange or startling or frightful experience.
  3. To appreciate treachery, it must be shown that offenders employed means, methods, or forms in the execution of the crime that tend directly and especially to ensure its execution without risk to themselves arising from the defense which the victim might make.
  4. An aggravating circumstance, even if proven during trial, cannot affect an accused-appellant’s liability when the Information fails to allege such circumstance.

‘Stand by things decided’ ~ Stare Decisis


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