The rule in point is Section 15, Rule 119, of the Revised Rules of Court, viz:
Section 15. Demurrer to evidence. – After the prosecution has rested its case, the court may dismiss the case on the ground of insufficiency of evidence: (1) on its own initiative after giving the prosecution an opportunity to be heard; or (2) on motion of the accused filed with prior leave of court.
If the court denies the motion for dismissal, the accused may adduce evidence in his defense. When the accused files such motion to dismiss without express leave of court, he waives the right to present evidence and submits the case for judgment on the basis of the evidence for the prosecution. (n)
Under the rule, the RTC properly declared the accused to have waived her right to present evidence because she did not obtain the express leave of court for her demurrer to evidence, thereby reflecting her voluntary and knowing waiver of her right to present evidence. The RTC did not need to inquire into the voluntariness and intelligence of the waiver, for her opting to file her demurrer to evidence without first obtaining express leave of court effectively waived her right to present her evidence.
It is true that the Court has frequently deemed the failure of the trial courts to conduct an inquiry into the voluntariness and intelligence of the waiver to be a sufficient cause to remand cases to the trial courts for the purpose of ascertaining whether the accused truly intended to waive their constitutional right to be heard, and whether they understood the consequences of their waivers. In People v. Bodoso, a prosecution for a capital offense, we leaned towards the protection of the accused’s constitutional right to due process by outlining the proper steps to be taken before deeming the right to present evidence as waived, thus:
Henceforth, to protect the constitutional right to due process of every accused in a capital offense and to avoid any confusion about the proper steps to be taken when a trial court comes face to face with an accused or his counsel who wants to waive his client’s right to present evidence and be heard, it shall be the unequivocal duty of the trial court to observe, as a prerequisite to the validity of such waiver, a procedure akin to a “searching inquiry” as specified in People v. Aranzado when an accused pleads guilty, particularly –
- The trial court shall hear both the prosecution and the accused with their respective counsel on the desire or manifestation of the accused to waive the right to present evidence and be heard.
- The trial court shall ensure the attendance of the prosecution and especially the accused with their respective counsel in the hearing which must be recorded. Their presence must be duly entered in the minutes of the proceedings.
- During the hearing, it shall be the task of the trial court to –
a. ask the defense counsel a series of question to determine whether he had conferred with and completely explained to the accused that he had the right to present evidence and be heard as well as its meaning and consequences, together with the significance and outcome of the waiver of such right. If the lawyer for the accused has not done so, the trial court shall give the latter enough time to fulfill this professional obligation.
b. inquire from the defense counsel with conformity of the accused whether he wants to present evidence or submit a memorandum elucidating on the contradictions and insufficiency of the prosecution evidence, if any, or in default theory, file a demurrer to evidence with prior leave of court, if he so believes that the prosecution evidence is so weak that it need not even be rebutted. If there is a desire to do so, the trial court shall give the defense enough time to this purpose.
c. elicit information about the personality profile of the accused, such as his age, socio-economic status, and educational background, which may serve as a trustworthy index of his capacity to give a free and informed waiver.
d. all questions posed to the accused should be in a language known and understood by the latter, hence, the record must state the language used for this purpose as well as reflect the corresponding translation thereof in English.
In passing, trial courts may also abide by the foregoing criminal procedure when the waiver of the right to be present and be heard is made in criminal cases involving non-capital offenses. After all, in whatever action or forum the accused is situated, the waiver that he makes if it is to be binding and effective must still be exhibited in the case records to have been validly undertaken, that is, it was done voluntarily, knowingly and intelligently with sufficient awareness of the relevant circumstances and likely consequences. As a matter of good court practice, the trial court would have to rely upon the most convenient, if not primary, evidence of the validity of the waiver which would amount to the same thing as showing its adherence to the step-by-step process outlined above.
Also, in Rivera v. People, which involved an accused charged with a non-capital offense who filed a demurrer to evidence without leave of court, the Court, citing People v. Bodoso, supra, remanded the case to the Sandiganbayan for further proceedings upon finding that the accused had
not been asked whether he had understood the consequences of filing the demurrer to evidence without leave of court.
Yet, the accused cannot be extended the benefit of People v. Bodoso and Rivera v. People. The factual milieus that warranted the safeguards in said criminal cases had nothing in common with the factual milieu in which the RTC deemed the herein accused to have waived her right to present evidence. The accused in People v. Bodoso, without filing a demurrer to evidence, expressly waived the right to present evidence. The Court felt that the trial court ought to have followed the steps outlined therein. The accused in Rivera v. People filed a demurrer to evidence without having to obtain an express leave of court, considering that the Sandiganbayan itself had told him to file the demurrer to evidence. Thus, after the demurrer to evidence was denied, the accused was held to be still entitled to present his evidence.
The accused and her counsel should not have ignored the potentially prejudicial consequence of the filing of a demurrer to evidence without the leave of court required in Section 15, Rule 119, of the Revised Rules of Court. They were well aware of the risk of a denial of the demurrer being high, for by demurring the accused impliedly admitted the facts adduced by the State and the proper inferences therefrom. We cannot step in now to alleviate her self-inflicted plight, for which she had no one to blame