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Moral Character of Parties in Criminal Cases

Character Evidence Character of Parties in Criminal Cases Rule 130 - Rules of Admissibility

Sec. 51. Character evidence not generally admissible; exceptions: —

a)  In Criminal Cases:

(1) The accused may prove his good moral character which is pertinent to the moral trait involved in the offense charged.

(2) Unless in rebuttal, the prosecution may not prove his bad moral character which is pertinent to the moral trait involved in the offense charged.

(3) The good or bad moral character of the offended party may be proved if it tends to establish in any reasonable degree the probability or improbability of the offense charged.

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NOTES:

Is character evidence admissible?

Generally, character evidence is not admissible.

Exceptions

In Criminal Cases:

Accused

1. The accused may prove his good moral character which is pertinent to the moral trait involved in the offense charged.

Reason: such evidence strengthens the presumption of innocence of the accused.

The evidence of good character offered by the accused may and must relate particularly to that trait of character which is involved in the crime charged, so that the proof of good character will render it unlikely that he would be guilty of that particular crime. (Edgington vs Us, 164 US 361) Such character evidence must be “pertinent to the moral trait involved in the offense charged” e.g. in prosecution for estafa, perjury or false testimony wherein the person’s moral trait for honesty or probity is involved. In a case for attempted murder, the accused's character for truth is irrelevant, and therefore, not probable.

An accused, however, is not entitled to an acquittal simply because of his previous good moral character and exemplary conduct. When a court believes that an accused is guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime charged, it must convict him notwithstanding evidence of his good moral character and previous exemplary conduct. (People vs Lava, G.R. No. L-4974, May 16, 1969)


2. Unless in rebuttal, the prosecution may not prove his bad moral character which is pertinent to the moral trait involved in the offense charged.

Note that in criminal cases, the prosecution goes first. Hence, it cannot present evidence on the bad moral character of the accused on its evidence in chief. This is intended to avoid unfair prejudice to the accused who might otherwise be convicted not because he is guilty of the charge but because he is a person of bad character. 

If the prosecution were allowed to go into such evidence, we should have the whole life of the prisoner ripped up; and the result would be that the man on his trial might be overwhelmed by prejudice and emotion, instead of being convicted by that affirmative evidence which the law requires. (R. vs Rowton, Leigh & Co., 520, 540)

If the accused, however, in his defense attempts to prove his good moral character, then the prosecution can introduce evidence of such bad moral character at the rebuttal stage. 

Rebutting evidence of bad reputation is always admissible. The object of permitting the prosecution to introduce such evidence is not for the purpose of showing the bad character of the defendant; but it is for the purpose of refuting his claim that he has a good character and thus prevent the court from drawing therefrom the inference that the accused is innocent of the crime charged. (Ware vs. State, 91 Ark. 555)


Offended party

The good or bad moral character of the offended party may always be proved by either party as long as such evidence tends to establish in any reasonable degree the probability or improbability of the offense charged.

For example, in prosecutions for rape or consented abduction, the victim’s chastity may be questioned. In prosecution for homicide, the quarrelsome or trouble-seeking character of the victim is a proper subject for inquiry.

Not every good or bad moral character of the offended party may be proved under this provision. Only those which would establish the probability or improbability of the offense charged. This means that the character evidence must be limited to the traits and characteristics involved in the type of offense charged. Thus, on a charge of rape - character for chastity, on a charge of assault - character for peaceableness or violence, and on a charge of embezzlement - character for honesty. In one rape case, where it was established that the alleged victim was morally loose and apparently uncaring about her chastity, we found the conviction of the accused doubtful. (CSC vs Belagan, G.R. No. 132164. October 19, 2004)

Exception: Proof of the bad character of the victim in a murder case is not admissible if the crime was committed through treachery or pre-meditation (People vs. Soliman, et al., 101 Phil 767). The bad moral character of a victim in rape case is not admissible if the crime was committed by violence or intimidation (People vs. Blance, 45 Phil 113, People vs. Taduyo, L-37928, September 29, 1987)


CASES:

G.R. No. 28871. September 19, 1928

The defense also attempted to prove that Severino Haro was of a quarrelsome disposition, provoking, irascible, and fond of starting quarrels in the municipality of Oton, but the trial judge would not permit it.

While it is true that when the defense of the accused is that he acted in self-defense, he may prove the deceased to have been of a quarrelsome, provoking and irascible disposition, the proof must be of his general reputation in the community and not of isolated and specific acts, such as the accused Clemente Babiera tried to prove, and hence the lower court did not err in not admitting such proof. But even if it had been proved by competent evidence that the deceased was of such a disposition, nevertheless, it would not have been sufficient to overthrow the conclusive proof that it was the said accused who treacherously attacked the deceased.


G.R. No. 139070.  May 29, 2002


Character is defined to be the possession by a person of certain qualities of mind and morals, distinguishing him from others. It is the opinion generally entertained of a person derived from the common report of the people who are acquainted with him; his reputation. “Good moral character” includes all the elements essential to make up such a character; among these are common honesty and veracity, especially in all professional intercourse; a character that measures up as good among people of the community in which the person lives, or that is up to the standard of the average citizen; that status which attaches to a man of good behavior and upright conduct.

The rule is that the character or reputation of a party is regarded as legally irrelevant in determining a controversy, so that evidence relating thereto is not admissible. Ordinarily, if the issues in the case were allowed to be influenced by evidence of the character or reputation of the parties, the trial would be apt to have the aspects of a popularity contest rather than a factual inquiry into the merits of the case. After all, the business of the court is to try the case, and not the man; and a very bad man may have a righteous cause. There are exceptions to this rule however and Section 51, Rule 130 gives the exceptions in both criminal and civil cases.

In criminal cases, sub-paragraph 1 of Section 51 of Rule 130 provides that the accused may prove his good moral character which is pertinent to the moral trait involved in the offense charged. When the accused presents proof of his good moral character, this strengthens the presumption of innocence, and where good character and reputation are established, an inference arises that the accused did not commit the crime charged. This view proceeds from the theory that a person of good character and high reputation is not likely to have committed the act charged against him. Sub-paragraph 2 provides that the prosecution may not prove the bad moral character of the accused except only in rebuttal and when such evidence is pertinent to the moral trait involved in the offense charged.  This is intended to avoid unfair prejudice to the accused who might otherwise be convicted not because he is guilty but because he is a person of bad character. The offering of character evidence on his behalf is a privilege of the defendant, and the prosecution cannot comment on the failure of the defendant to produce such evidence. Once the defendant raises the issue of his good character, the prosecution may, in rebuttal, offer evidence of the defendant’s bad character. Otherwise, a defendant, secure from refutation, would have a license to unscrupulously impose a false character upon the tribunal.

Both sub-paragraphs (1) and (2) of Section 51 of Rule 130 refer to character evidence of the accused. And this evidence must be “pertinent to the moral trait involved in the offense charged,” meaning, that the character evidence must be relevant and germane to the kind of the act charged, e.g., on a charge of rape, character for chastity; on a charge of assault, character for peacefulness or violence; on a charge for embezzlement, character for honesty and integrity. Sub-paragraph (3) of Section 51 of the said Rule refers to the character of the offended party. Character evidence, whether good or bad, of the offended party may be proved “if it tends to establish in any reasonable degree the probability or improbability of the offense charged.” Such evidence is most commonly offered to support a claim of self-defense in an assault or homicide case or a claim of consent in a rape case.

In the Philippine setting, proof of the moral character of the offended party is applied with frequency in sex offenses and homicide. In rape and acts of lasciviousness or in any prosecution involving an unchaste act perpetrated by a man against a woman where the willingness of a woman is material, the woman’s character as to her chastity is admissible to show whether or not she consented to the man’s act. The exception to this is when the woman’s consent is immaterial such as in statutory rape or rape with violence or intimidation. In the crimes of qualified seduction or consented abduction, the offended party must be a “virgin,” which is “presumed if she is unmarried and of good reputation,” or a “virtuous woman of good reputation.” The crime of simple seduction involves “the seduction of a woman who is single or a widow of good reputation, over twelve but under eighteen years of age x x x.” The burden of proof that the complainant is a woman of good reputation lies in the prosecution, and the accused may introduce evidence that the complainant is a woman of bad reputation.

In homicide cases, a pertinent character trait of the victim is admissible in two situations: (1) as evidence of the deceased’s aggression; and (2) as evidence of the state of mind of the accused. The pugnacious, quarrelsome or trouble-seeking character of the deceased or his calmness, gentleness and peaceful nature, as the case may be, is relevant in determining whether the deceased or the accused was the aggressor. When the evidence tends to prove self-defense, the known violent character of the deceased is also admissible to show that it produced a reasonable belief of imminent danger in the mind of the accused and a justifiable conviction that a prompt defensive action was necessary.

In the instant case, proof of the bad moral character of the victim is irrelevant to determine the probability or improbability of his killing. Accused-appellant has not alleged that the victim was the aggressor or that the killing was made in self-defense. There is no connection between the deceased’s drug addiction and thievery with his violent death in the hands of accused-appellant. In light of the positive eyewitness testimony, the claim that because of the victim’s bad character he could have been killed by any one of those from whom he had stolen, is pure and simple speculation.

Moreover, proof of the victim’s bad moral character is not necessary in cases of murder committed with treachery and premeditation. In People v. Soliman, a murder case, the defense tried to prove the violent, quarrelsome or provocative character of the deceased. Upon objection of the prosecution, the trial court disallowed the same. The Supreme Court held:

“x x x While good or bad moral character may be availed of as an aid to determine the probability or improbability of the commission of an offense (Section 15, Rule 123), such is not necessary in the crime of murder where the killing is committed through treachery or premeditation. The proof of such character may only be allowed in homicide cases to show “that it has produced a reasonable belief of imminent danger in the mind of the accused and a justifiable conviction that a prompt defensive action was necessary (Moran, Comments on the Rules of Court, 1952 ed., Vol. 3, p. 126). This rule does not apply to cases of murder.”

In the case at bar, accused-appellant is charged with murder committed through treachery and evident premeditation. The evidence shows that there was treachery.  Joseph was sitting in his living room watching television when accused-appellant peeped through the window and, without any warning, shot him twice in the head. There was no opportunity at all for the victim to defend himself or retaliate against his attacker. The suddenness and unexpectedness of the attack ensured his death without risk to the assailant. Following the ruling in People v. Soliman, where the killing of the victim was attended by treachery, proof of the victim’s bad character is not necessary. The presence of this aggravating circumstance negates the necessity of proving the victim’s bad character to establish the probability or improbability of the offense charged and, at the same time, qualifies the killing of Joseph Marquez to murder.



G.R. No. 132164. October 19, 2004

Generally, the character of a party is regarded as legally irrelevant in determining a controversy. One statutory exception is that relied upon by respondent, i.e., Section 51 (a) 3, Rule 130 of the Revised Rules on Evidence, which we quote here:

“SEC. 51. Character evidence not generally admissible; exceptions. –

(a) In Criminal Cases:

x x x                                         x x x

(3) The good or bad moral character of the offended party may be proved if it tends to establish in any reasonable degree the probability or improbability of the offense charged.”

It will be readily observed that the above provision pertains only to criminal cases, not to administrative offenses.  And even assuming that this technical rule of evidence can be applied here, still, we cannot sustain respondent’s posture.

Not every good or bad moral character of the offended party may be proved under this provision. Only those which would establish the probability or improbability of the offense charged.  This means that the character evidence must be limited to the traits and characteristics involved in the type of offense charged. Thus, on a charge of rape - character for chastity, on a charge of assault - character for peaceableness or violence, and on a charge of embezzlement - character for honesty. In one rape case, where it was established that the alleged victim was morally loose and apparently uncaring about her chastity, we found the conviction of the accused doubtful.

In the present administrative case for sexual harassment, respondent did not offer evidence that has a bearing on Magdalena’s chastity. What he presented are charges for grave oral defamation, grave threats, unjust vexation, physical injuries, malicious mischief, etc. filed against her. Certainly, these pieces of evidence are inadmissible under the above provision because they do not establish the probability or improbability of the offense charged.

 

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