The identification of the accused as the person responsible for the imputed crime is the primary duty of the State in every criminal prosecution. Such identification, to be positive, need not always be by direct evidence from an eyewitness, for reliable circumstantial evidence can equally confirm it as to overcome the constitutionally presumed innocence of the accused.
The first duty of the prosecution is not to prove the crime but to prove the identity of the criminal, for, even if the commission of the crime can be established, there can be no conviction without proof of the identity of the criminal beyond reasonable doubt. In that regard, an identification that does not preclude a reasonable possibility of mistake cannot be accorded any evidentiary force. The intervention of any mistake or the appearance of any weakness in the identification simply means that the accused’s constitutional right of presumption of innocence until the contrary is proved is not overcome, thereby warranting an acquittal, even if doubt may cloud his innocence. Indeed, the presumption of innocence constitutionally guaranteed to every individual is forever of primary importance, and every conviction for crime must rest on the strength of the evidence of the State, not on the weakness of the defense.
The accused contend that the Prosecution witnesses did not actually see who had shot Haide; hence, their identification as the malefactors was not positively and credibly made.
We cannot uphold the contention of the accused.
The established circumstances unerringly show that the four accused were the perpetrators of the fatal shooting of Haide. Their identification as his assailants by Remedios and Francisco was definitely positive and beyond reasonable doubt. Specifically, Remedios saw all the four accused near the door to the kitchen immediately before the shots were fired and recognized who they were. She even supplied the detail that Gilberto, Jr. had trained his firearm towards her once he had noticed her presence at the crime scene. On his part, Francisco attested to seeing the
accused near the door to the kitchen holding their firearms right after he heard the gunshots, and also recognized them.
The collective recollections of both Remedios and Francisco about seeing the four accused standing near the door to the kitchen immediately before and after the shooting of Haide inside the kitchen were categorical enough, and warranted no other logical inference than that the four accused were the persons who had just shot Haide. Indeed, neither Remedios nor Francisco needed to have actually seen who of the accused had fired at Haide, for it was enough that they testified that the four armed accused: (a) had strategically positioned themselves by the kitchen door prior to the shooting of Haide; (b) had still been in the same positions after the gunshots were fired; and (c) had continuously aimed their firearms at the kitchen door even as they were leaving the crime scene.
The close relationship of Remedios and Francisco with the victim as well as their familiarity with the accused who were their neighbors assured the certainty of their identification as Haide’s assailants. In Marturillas v. People, the Court observed that the familiarity of the witness with the assailant erased any doubt that the witness could have erred; and noted that a witness related to the victim had a natural tendency to remember the faces of the person involved in the attack on the victim, because relatives, more than anybody else, would be concerned with seeking justice for the victim and bringing the malefactor before the law.
Relevantly, the Court has distinguished two types of positive identification in People v. Gallarde, namely: (a) that by direct evidence, through an eyewitness to the very commission of the act; and (b) that by circumstantial evidence, such as where the accused is last seen with the victim immediately before or after the crime. The Court said:
xxx Positive identification pertains essentially to proof of identity and not per se to that of being an eyewitness to the very act of commission of the crime. There are two types of positive identification. A witness may identify a suspect or accused in a criminal case as the perpetrator of the crime as an eyewitness to the very act of the commission of the crime. This constitutes direct evidence. There may, however, be instances where, although a witness may not have actually seen the very act of commission of a crime, he may still be able to positively identify a suspect or accused as the perpetrator of a crime as for instance when the latter is the person or one of the persons last seen with the victim immediately before and right after the commission of the crime. This is the second type of positive identification, which forms part of circumstantial evidence, which, when taken together with other pieces of evidence constituting an unbroken chain, leads to only fair and reasonable conclusion, which is that the accused is the author of the crime to the exclusion of all others. If the actual eyewitnesses are the only ones allowed to possibly positively identify a suspect or accused to the exclusion of others, then nobody can ever be convicted unless there is an eyewitness, because it is basic and elementary that there can be no conviction until and unless an accused is positively identified. Such a proposition is absolutely absurd, because it is settled that direct evidence of the commission of a crime is not the only matrix wherefrom a trial court may draw its conclusion and finding of guilt. If resort to circumstantial evidence would not be allowed to prove identity of the accused on the absence of direct evidence, then felons would go free and the community would be denied proper protection.
To conclude, the identification of a malefactor, to be positive and sufficient for conviction, does not always require direct evidence from an eyewitness; otherwise, no conviction will be possible in crimes where there are no eyewitnesses. Indeed, trustworthy circumstantial evidence can equally confirm the identification and overcome the constitutionally presumed innocence of the accused.