Criminal Law,  Legally Yours

People v. Villalba

People v. Villalba

People of the Philipines v. Arnel Villalba y Duran and Randy Villalba y Sarco
G.R. No. 207629, October 22, 2014
Leonardo-De Castro, J.:

FACTS:

Accused-appellants are charged with the crime of murder of one Maximillian Casona. The RTC and the CA convicted them of murder, hence, this appeal.

Records show that after attending a drinking party for his students, Maximillian chanced upon accused-appellants and their girlfriends. Maximillian suddenly ordered accused-appellants to wear their shirts, and then asked accused-appellant Arnel, “How much is that?” referring to accused-appellant Arnel’s girlfriend. Maximilliana and accused-appellant continued to stare at each other.

Moments later, Maximillian tried to get hold of accused-appellant Arnel’s left arm but the latter was able to wave away Maximillian’s hand. Accused-appellant Randy blocked Maximillian’s way and held Maximillian’s hand/s as accused-appellant Arnel hit Maximillian on the chest and abdomen. Accused-appellants ran away when Maximillian’s companions came to his aid.

Maximillian claimed that he was stabbed. His wife, Josephine, brought him home assuming that he was simply drunk and in pain because of the fist fight. However, when they were already at their house, Josephine felt that Maximilian had no more pulse and his eyes had turned white. The delay in the discovery of the fatal chest wound and the lack of hospital facilities rendered it too late to save Maximillian.

Josephine reported the incident to the police. The following day, the police came upon information on the whereabouts of the accused-appellants who were found playing and betting on a game of cards. The police then arrested accused-appellants for illegal gambling.

Accused-appellants deny any criminal liability. Arnel avers that he was acting in self-defense and that he only used a barbeque stick he found as a weapon to defend himself.

ISSUE:

Are accused-appellants guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of murder?

HELD:

NO, accused-appellant Randy is absolved of any criminal liability and accused-appellant Arnel’s crime is downgraded from murder to homicide. Anent the alleged conspiracy between the two accused, it is found that there is no clear evidence that accused-appellants had a common design to kill Maximillian. Accused-appellant Randy’s presence at the time and place of Maximillian’s stabbing does not necessarily mean that the former should bear criminal liability for the latter’s death.

There was no proof that accused-appellant Randy had prior knowledge that accused-appellant Arnel carried a sharp weapon with him or that accused-appellant Arnel intended to stab Maximillian. Moreover, that accused-appellant Arnel used a barbecue stick he found in the area as a weapon shows that he acted instantaneously and spontaneously in stabbing Maximillian, thus, further negating the possibility that he conspired with accused-appellant Randy to commit the stabbing.

The prosecution likewise failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt any of the alleged circumstances which would qualify the killing of Maximillian to murder. That accused-appellant Randy was present or that Maximillian was unarmed and drunk at the time of the stabbing are not sufficient to constitute treachery. Neither do said circumstances constitute abuse of superior strength.

Two conditions must be present in order to constitute treachery: (1) the employment of such means of execution that gave the person attacked no opportunity to defend himself or to retaliate, and (2) the means of execution was deliberately or consciously adopted. Jurisprudence, however, has qualified that the suddenness of the attack, the vulnerability of the position of the victim at the time of the attack, or even the fact that the victim was unarmed, do not by themselves render the attack as treacherous. The elements of treachery are wanting in this case given the swiftness of the events that took place. The Court is unconvinced that accused-appellant Arnel took advantage of Maximillian’s drunken state. No clear and convincing evidence has been presented to show the degree of Maximillian’s intoxication or if it had even affected his strength and intelligence.

As for abuse of superior strength, it is present whenever there is a notorious inequality of forces between the victim and the aggressor, assuming a situation of superiority of strength notoriously advantageous for the aggressor selected or taken advantage of by him in the commission of the crime. The fact that there were two persons who attacked the victim does not per se establish that the crime was committed with abuse of superior strength, there being no proof of the relative strength of the aggressors and the victim.

In the case at bar, Maximillian was with Frederick when they first chanced upon accused-appellants, an even match of two against two, therefore disputing any allegation of inequality of forces between the two sides. Moreover, given the doubts as to accused-appellant Randy’s actual participation in the stabbing, it cannot be said that the two accused-appellants had used their combined strength against Maximillian to ensure the latter’s death.

Arnel’s invocation of self-defense cannot be accepted for he has failed to establish unlawful aggression of Maximillian at the time he stabbed the latter. The threat to his life or limb was not real or imminent for Maximillian merely uttered insulting remarks to the girlfriends of the accused-appellants.

Hence, accused-appellant Arnel is convicted only of homicide and accused-appellant Randy is absolved of any criminal liability.

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