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"We have always been emphasizing that when it comes to documentary evidence…there should be identifying, marking and then a formal offer of evidence," said the defense. And most of the Senators agreed with this comment. But what does it mean?
Evidence is the means of determining in a judicial proceeding the truth respecting a matter of fact. A renowned US lawyer, F. Lee Bailey, reminds that "in the operation of the legal system, the use of evidence is required… evidence is the cornerstone of all trials… it is most simply defined as information that a judge will hear, see, feel, touch, discern." Conan Doyle once rued: "Oh, how simple it would all have been had I been here before they came like a herd of buffalo and wallowed all over it." Yes, Sherlock Holmes was talking about an actual crime scene – but unless an investigator understands that everything can be considered a crime scene – then there will be "perfect crimes" due to "imperfect investigations." So, clearly, investigation is one of the most important facets of a trial so that corroborative evidence can be obtained. Otherwise, all that the court will have is testimonial evidence.
The value of evidence is that it can prove the commission of a crime, it is more reliable than eyewitnesses, it can link the suspect to the victim (and a crime scene), it can corroborate testimony, it can lead to a confession and, as part of due process, it can exonerate the innocent. You need to discover evidence, preserve it, document it, and then analyse it.
There are as many kinds of evidence as there are laws. There is testimonial evidence: "he said, she said." Testimonial evidence is the most common kind of evidence in Philippine courts. A witness can testify only to those facts which he knows of his personal knowledge; that is, which are derived from his own perception. How will you know who is telling the truth?
A "fact" witness is one who is not an expert. A "fact" witness is basically someone who saw, or heard, smelt, or felt something. A "fact" witness cannot, as a general rule, give an opinion on nor can he make an interpretation of what he saw, heard, smelt, or felt. So, if you happen to open your garage door one morning and there is a dead person there, all you can say is, I saw a dead person in my garage that day. If at the same time you smelt almonds in your garage that day, all you can say is, I smelt almonds in my garage that day. Only an expert can tell the court what was the cause of death (poisoning), the manner of death (homicide), and the meaning of the smell of almonds (cyanide). An expert can offer opinions and interpretations of the evidence, is allowed to provide opinions as to the meaning of what was seen, heard and felt, and can offer opinions based upon facts personally observed or based upon information provided by others.
What is not allowed in court? The most important incompetent evidence is hearsay. Hearsay is not admissible in evidence. What is hearsay? Example: I was told by X that the accused owns a house in Forbes Park. Double hearsay: I was told by X, that A had told him, that the accused owns a house in Forbes Park. Can you imagine if hearsay were allowed? The person who hates you can destroy your reputation. It is gossip, basically.
Objects as evidence are those addressed to the senses of the court. When an object is relevant to the fact in issue, it may be exhibited to, examined or viewed by the court. DNA is considered object evidence, for example, as is a car or a dead body. Documents as evidence consist of writing or any material containing letters, words, numbers, figures, symbols or other modes of written expression offered as proof of their contents.
To present evidence, you must show that these are relevant to the issue: for example, does the SALN prove that the Chief Justice is corrupt? Parang hindi if those are the only documents you will present, right? The SALN is not direct evidence. They could be part of circumstantial evidence though, as when taken together with other documents, the whole set could prove "the fact in issue by inference or as a probably consequence."
Documents must be marked, identified and authenticated – and, the best evidence rule applies. This means that when a document is presented to the court, there has to be a witness who will identify the document and affirm that it is not a forgery, for example. The best evidence rule merely means that the document presented reflects the greatest certainty of the facts in question. So, did the Chief justice in fact file SALNs? Yes, he did because the SALNs were presented in court as having been filed by him.
It is only after a party rests his case can a formal offer of the evidence be made. A formal offer of evidence is generally in writing. When you look at a formal offer of evidence, you will see three columns: Exhibit Number (1st column), Description of the Evidence/Exhibit (2nd column), Purpose of the Evidence (3rd column). See, you need to be able to tell the court why the evidence you are offering proves a point you made during the trial or proves an allegation you made in the complaint.
Right now, all that the prosecution is requesting is marking of the exhibits. Marking is not offering. The judges will decide on what probative value to give the evidence, that is, what does this piece of evidence actually prove, after a formal offer of evidence is made. When all evidence of both parties are in, then and only then will the judges decide whether to convict or to acquit.
It ain't easy…
Please send in your questions, if any, through firstname.lastname@example.org. I will not answer personally, OK? However, if the question or situation is interesting, I may write about it in this space. Till next time.