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De Villa v. Director, New Bilibid Prisons : 158802 : November 17, 2004 : J. Carpio : En Banc : Separate Concurring Opinion

De Villa v. Director, New Bilibid Prisons : 158802 : November 17, 2004 : J. Carpio : En Banc : Separate Concurring Opinion

PHILIPPINE SUPREME COURT DECISIONS

EN BANC

[G.R. NO. 158802 : November 17, 2004]

IN RE: THE WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS FOR REYNALDO DE VILLA (detained at the New Bilibid Prisons, Muntinlupa City)JUNE DE VILLA, Petitioner-Relator, v. THE DIRECTOR, NEW BILIBID PRISONS, Respondent.

SEPARATE CONCURRING OPINION

CARPIO, J.:

I concur with the ponencia.   The DNA evidence presented by petitioner-relator is not material and relevant to the crime of rape.   Even assuming petitioner is not the father of the child that was conceived within the period of the rape, such fact does not prove that petitioner could not have committed the crime.   The remedies of habeas corpus and new trial are thus unavailing in this case.

However, this case should not close the door to a convicted felon who after final judgment acquires DNA results exonerating him of the crime for which he was convicted.   Legal relief is still available, for instance, to a felon convicted by final judgment of rape who subsequently gains access to DNA results showing that the semen in the victims vagina does not match that of the convicted felon.

While final judgments enjoy the presumption of correctness, the confining and traditional legal procedures must respond to the revolutionary way that DNA results have been proving the innocence of convicts.   American jurisprudence has shown the way in this regard.

Before the enactment of statutes in some states providing for post-conviction DNA testing, American courts had no precedents to work on to justify post-conviction DNA testing and the reversal of final judgments of conviction when the DNA results turned out to be exculpatory.   Before the passage of the DNA testing statutes, it was unclear under what right and procedure a convict was entitled to post-conviction DNA testing.   Even in the absence of statutes, American courts allowed post-conviction DNA testing by requiring the convict to apply for such testing before the verdict could be vacated. 1 The application enables the courts to determine the basis for the application and to set the standards in case the request is granted.   Once the DNA result confirms the innocence of the convict, American courts conduct a motion in limine hearing on admissibility or order a new trial. 2 The prosecution usually refuses to re-try the case and the convict is released.

Under American jurisprudence, post-conviction DNA testing is availed through a petition for habeas corpus and motion for new trial.   These conventional modes of relief, however, have built-in restrictions that pose problems to the granting of post-conviction DNA testing.

In habeas corpus cases, relief could not be had unless a constitutional violation was committed during the convicts trial.   In a motion for new trial, the convict must show that the DNA test is a newly discovered evidence and must not be time-barred to warrant a new trial.   Despite these legal obstacles, American courts granted, albeit restrictively, the request for post-conviction DNA testing on a case-by-case basis.   The approach to the legal issues varied from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

In Summerville v. Warden State Prison 3 the Supreme Court of Connecticut ruled that when evidence is so strong that innocence is highly likely and that evidence alone establishes innocence, that in itself is already a basis fro habeas corpus review of convictions and imprisonment.   Thus, habeas corpus warranted the granting of a new trial based on the petitioners claim of actual innocence.   In People v. Callace, 4 the New York court considered post-conviction DNA testing as newly discovered evidence because the type of DNA analysis available at the post-conviction stage was not available at the time of the trial.   In State v. Thomas, 5 fundamental fairness allowed the convict to post-conviction DNA testing even when the request was already stale.

Habeas corpus review and new trial proved to be narrow remedies as American courts still adhere to the strict requirements of these two models of relief.   Nonetheless, post-conviction DNA testing has been granted on other grounds.   When the application of DNA testing has strong indications that the result could potentially exonerate the convict, American courts recognized the convicts right to exculpatory evidence.   In Dabbs v. Vergari, 6 citing Brady v. Maryland, 7 the court categorically upheld the convicts constitutional right to exculpatory evidence despite the absence of a law providing a right to post-conviction discovery.   DNA results exonerated Charles Dabbs and his conviction was eventually vacated. 8 On other cases, 9 the exculpatory potential of DNA evidence compelled the American courts, in the interest of justice, to allow access to post-conviction DNA testing.

The rectification of a wrong is the underlying reason for the allowance of post-conviction DNA testing and the eventual reversal of the verdict based on exclusionary DNA result.   Even the most stringent of rules have to give way upon a showing that there is a strong probability that DNA result could prove the convicts actual innocence.   For ultimately, it is the primary duty of the court to prevent the miscarriage of justice.

Every person has a right to avail of a new technology that irrefutably proves his innocence despite a prior final conviction, provided the new technology was not available during his trial.   This right is part of a persons constitutional right to due process of law.   A person convicted by final judgment does not lose his constitutional right to due process, and he may invoke it whenever there is a compelling and valid ground to do so.

The 1987 Constitution expressly empowers the Court to [p]romulgate rules concerning the protection and enhancement of constitutional rights. 10 Even in the absence of a law allowing post-conviction DNA testing, the Court under its constitutional mandate may order a new trial if the post-conviction DNA testing will establish that the convicted felon could not have possibly committed the crime.   This is the case when the post-conviction DNA testing shows that the semen in the victims vagina does not match that of the convicted felon.

A new trial on the ground of post-conviction DNA testing is different from a new trial under Rule 121, 11 which is available only before final judgment.   Unlike a new trial under Rule 121, a new trial for post-conviction DNA testing does not vacate the judgment of conviction, which stands until recalled by the court as a result of the new trial.   A new trial after final conviction may be ordered only on the sole ground that DNA testing will establish that the convicted felon could not have committed the crime.   Moreover, DNA testing must not have been available or possible during the original trial.

Thus, I submit that a felon convicted by final judgment who could establish through DNA testing that he could not have committed the crime is not without remedy to prove his innocence and regain his liberty.

Endnotes:


1 Postconviction DNA Testing: Recommendations for Handling Requests, http://www.ncjrs.org.

2 State v. Thomas, 586 A. 2d 250 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. 1991).

3 641 A.2d 1356 (Conn. 1994).

4 573 N.Y.S.2d 137 (N.Y. Co. Ct. 1991).

5 Supra note 2.

6 570 N.Y.S.2.d 765 (Sup.Ct. 1990).

7 373 U.S. 83 (S. Ct. 1194 10 L. Ed. 2d. 215 1963).

8 People v. Dabbs, 587 N.Y.S.2d 90 (N.Y. Sup. 1991).

9 State v. Thomas, supra note 2, Sewell v. State, 592 N.E.2d 705 (Ind. Ct. App. 3 Dist. 1992), Commonwealth v. Brison, 618 A.2d 420 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1992).

10 Section 5(5), Article VIII, 1987 Constitution.

11 Section 1 of Rule 121 provides: New trial or reconsideration At any time before a judgment of conviction becomes final, the court may, on motion of the accused or at its own instance but with the consent of the accused, grant a new trial or reconsideration.

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