• Conviction based on circumstantial evidence

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    Persida Acosta

    Dear PAO,
    My father was convicted of arson by the Regional Trial Court in the place where we live. He allegedly burned the house of our neighbor. No witness was presented who could have seen directly and plainly my father committing any act that would constitute arson. There were testimonies, however, that say that my father threatened to burn our neighbor’s house and that there was an ongoing “word fight” between my father and our neighbor. There was also a testimony stating that previously my father already tried to burn that house in a different incident but it is not the same incident that consequently led to his indictment and conviction.

    The court says my father’s conviction based on purely “circumstantial evidence” is valid. What is circumstantial evidence? Is it possible to convict a person, beyond reasonable doubt, mainly on the basis of circumstantial evidence?

    Sincerely yours,
    Trillo

    Dear Trillo,
    The case of Marlon T. Bacerra vs. People of the Philippines (G.R. No. 204544, July 3, 2017) penned by Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, seems to be at square with your predicament and can surely enlighten you. It stated:

    “Direct evidence and circumstantial evidence are classifications of evidence with legal consequences.

    The difference between direct evidence and circumstantial evidence involves the relationship of the fact inferred to the facts that constitute the offense. Their difference does not relate to the probative value of the evidence.

    Direct evidence proves a challenged fact without drawing any inference. Circumstantial evidence, on the other hand, “indirectly proves a fact in issue, such that the factfinder must draw an inference or reason from circumstantial evidence.”

    The probative value of direct evidence is generally neither greater than nor superior to circumstantial evidence.

    The Rules of Court do not distinguish between “direct evidence of fact and evidence of circumstances from which the existence of a fact may be inferred.” The same quantum of evidence is still required. Courts must be convinced that the accused is guilty beyond reasonable doubt.

    A number of circumstantial evidence may be so credible to establish a fact from which it may be inferred, beyond reasonable doubt, that the elements of a crime exist and that the accused is its perpetrator. There is no requirement in our jurisdiction that only direct evidence may convict. After all, evidence is always a matter of reasonable inference from any fact that may be proven by the prosecution provided the inference is logical and beyond reasonable doubt.”

    xxx xxx xxx

    The commission of a crime, the identity of the perpetrator, and the finding of guilt may all be established by circumstantial evidence. The circumstances must be considered as a whole and should create an unbroken chain leading to the conclusion that the accused authored the crime. The determination of whether circumstantial evidence is sufficient to support a finding of guilt is a qualitative test not a quantitative one. The proven circumstances must be “consistent with each other, consistent with the hypothesis that the accused is guilty, and at the same time inconsistent with the hypothesis that he is innocent, and with every other rational hypothesis except that of guilt.” (Emphasis supplied)

    Succinctly, your father, based on circumstantial evidence may be held guilty for arson, as the same had already been established in a number of cases. As cited in the same case,

    “The crime of simple arson was proven solely through circumstantial evidence in People v. Abayon. None of the prosecution’s witnesses actually saw the accused start the fire. Nevertheless, the circumstantial evidence adduced by the prosecution, taken in its entirety, all pointed to the accused’s guilt. In People v. Acosta, there was also no direct evidence linking the accused to the burning of the house. However, the circumstantial evidence was substantial enough to convict the accused. The accused had motive and previously attempted to set a portion of the victim’s house on fire. Moreover, he was present at the scene of the crime before and after the incident.” (Emphasis supplied)

    Clearly, so long as the commission of a crime, the identity of the perpetrator and the finding of guilt may all be established by circumstantial evidence, the same may be sufficient to support a conviction.

    Again, we find it necessary to mention that this opinion is solely based on the facts you have narrated and our appreciation of the same. The opinion may vary when the facts are changed or elaborated.

    We hope that we were able to enlighten you on the matter.

    Editor’s note: Dear PAO is a daily column of the Public Attorney’s Office. Questions for Chief Acosta may be sent to dearpao@manilatimes.net.

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