EN BANC

[G.R. No. 135981. September 29, 2000]

PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, appellee, vs. MARIVIC GENOSA, appellant.

R E S O L U T I O N

PANGANIBAN, J.:

It is a hornbook rule that an appeal in criminal cases opens the entire records to review. The Court may pass upon all relevant issues, including those factual in nature and those that may not have been brought before the trial court. This is true especially in cases involving the imposition of the death penalty, in which the accused must be allowed to avail themselves of all possible avenues for their defense. Even novel theories such as the "battered woman syndrome," which is alleged to be equivalent to self-defense, should be heard, given due consideration and ruled upon on the merits, not rejected merely on technical or procedural grounds. Criminal conviction must rest on proof of guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

The Case

For resolution by the Court is an Urgent Omnibus Motion filed by Appellant Marivic Genosa y Isidro in connection with the automatic review of the September 25, 1998 "Judgment"[1] of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Ormoc City[2] in Criminal Case No. 5016-0. The RTC found her guilty of parricide aggravated by treachery and sentenced her to death.

In an Information[3] dated November 14, 1996, Provincial Prosecutor I Rosario D. Beleta charged appellant-movant with parricide allegedly committed as follows:

"That on or about the 15th day of November 1995, at Barangay Bilwang, Municipality of Isabel, Province of Leyte, Philippines and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, with intent to kill, with treachery and evident premeditation, did then and there wilfully, unlawfully and feloniously attack, assault, hit and wound one BEN GENOSA, her legitimate husband, with the use of a hard deadly weapon, which the accused had provided herself for the purpose, [causing] the following wounds, to wit:

'Cadaveric spasm.

'Body on the 2nd stage of decomposition.

'Face, black, blown[ ]up & swollen w/ evident post- mortem lividity. Eyes protruding from its sockets and tongue slightly protrudes out of the mouth.

'Fracture, open, depressed, circular located at the occipital bone of the head, resulting [in] laceration of the brain, spontaneous rupture of the blood vessels on the posterior surface of the brain, laceration of the dura and meningeal vessels producing severe intracranial hemorrhage.

'Blisters at both extrem[i]ties, anterior chest, posterior chest, trunk w/ shedding of the epidermis.

'Abdomen distended w/ gas. Trunk bloated.'

which caused his death."

After arraignment and trial, the court a quo promulgated its Judgment, the dispositive portion of which reads:

"WHEREFORE, after all the foregoing being duly considered, the Court finds the accused, Marivic Genosa y Isidro, GUILTY beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of parricide as provided under Article 246 of the Revised Penal Code as restored by Sec. 5, RA No. 7659, and after finding treachery as a generic aggravating circumstance and none of mitigating circumstance, hereby sentences the accused with the penalty of DEATH.

The Court likewise penalizes the accused to pay the heirs of the deceased the sum of fifty thousand pesos (P50,000.00), Philippine currency as indemnity and another sum of fifty thousand pesos (P50,000.00), Philippine currency as moral damages."

The Antecedents

Prior to the filing of her Appeal Brief, appellant submitted an Urgent Omnibus Motion,[4] to bring "to the attention of the x x x Court certain facts and circumstances which, if found valid, could warrant the setting aside of [her] conviction and the imposition of the death penalty."

Appellant alleges that the trial court grievously erred in concluding that she had lied about the means she employed in killing her husband. On the contrary, she had consistently claimed that she had shot her husband. Yet the trial judge simply ruled that the cause of his death was "cardiopulmonary arrest secondary to severe intracranial hemorrhage due to a depressed fracture of the occipital bone," which resulted from her admitted act of "smashing" him with a pipe. Such conclusion was allegedly unsupported by the evidence on record, which bore no forensic autopsy report on the body of the victim.

Appellant further alleges that despite the evidence on record of repeated and severe beatings she had suffered at the hands of her husband, the trial court failed to appreciate her self-defense theory. She claims that under the surrounding circumstances, her act of killing her husband was equivalent to self-defense. Furthermore, she argues that if she "did not lie about how she killed her husband, then she did not lie about the abuse she suffered at his hands."

She thus prays for the following reliefs:[5]

"1. The Honorable Court allow an exhumation of the body of the victim, Ben M. Genosa, and a re-examination of the cause of death.

2. The Honorable Court submit accused-appellant for examination by qualified psychologists and psychiatrists of the Court to determine her state of mind at the time of the killing of her spouse, Ben M. Genosa.

3. Thereafter, the Honorable Court allow the reports of the psychologists and psychiatrists to form part of the records of the case for purposes of the automatic review or, in the alternative, to allow a partial re-opening of the case before a lower court in Metro Manila to admit the testimony of said psychologists and psychiatrists."

On August 22, 2000, the solicitor general, on behalf of the State, filed his Comment,[6] which substantially objected to the Motion on the ground that appellant had not been "deprived of her right to due process, substantial or procedural."

The Issues

In brief, the issues for our resolution are (1) whether the body of the victim should be exhumed and reexamined in order to ascertain the cause of his death, and (2) whether the appellant should be examined by qualified psychologists or psychiatrists in order to determine her state of mind at the time of the killing.

The Court's Ruling

The Court grants in part the Motion of appellant. We remand the case to the RTC for the reception of evidence from qualified psychologists or psychiatrists whom the parties may present to establish her state of mind at the time of the killing.

First Issue: No Need for a Reexamination of Cause of Death

Accused-appellant seeks the exhumation of the victim's body to be able to determine his exact cause of death, assailing the court a quo's conclusion that he was "smashed or beaten at the back of his head" rather than shot, as claimed by appellant.

Considering that the appellant has admitted the fact of killing her husband and the acts of hitting his nape with a metal pipe and of shooting him at the back of his head, the Court believes that exhumation is unnecessary, if not immaterial, to determine which of said acts actually caused the victim's death. There is no need to exhume the body at this time and conduct an autopsy thereon for the purpose.

Moreover, the matter of proving the cause of death should have been made before the trial court. Time and again, we have said that this Court is not a trier of facts. Neither will it authorize the firsthand reception of evidence, where the opportunity to offer the same was available to the party during the trial stage. Consistent with this principle alone, the prayer sought by appellant for the exhumation of the victim's body cannot be granted.

Second Issue: The Need to Determine Appellant's State of Mind at the Time of the Killing

In seeking to be "examined and evaluated by psychologists and psychiatrists to bring into evidence the abuse inflicted upon her; [and] to determine whether such abuse will support the 'battered woman syndrome'," the appellant brings to the fore a novel defense theory. Through Counsel Katrina Legarda, she asks the Court to "re-evaluate the traditional elements" used in determining self-defense and to consider the "battered woman syndrome" as a viable plea within the concept of self-defense.

Allegedly, there are four characteristics of the syndrome: (1) the woman believes that the violence was her fault; (2) she has an inability to place the responsibility for the violence elsewhere; (3) she fears for her life and/or her children's lives; and (4) she has an irrational belief that the abuser is omnipresent and omniscient.[7] Living in constant danger of harm or death, she knows that future beatings are almost certain to occur and will escalate over time. Her intimate knowledge of the violent nature of her batterer makes her alert to when a particular attack is forthcoming, and when it will seriously threaten her survival. Trapped in a cycle of violence and constant fear, it is not unlikely that she would succumb to her helplessness and fail to perceive possible solutions to the problem other than to injure or kill her batterer. She is seized by fear of an existing or impending lethal aggression and thus would have no opportunity beforehand to deliberate on her acts and to choose a less fatal means of eliminating her sufferings.

Appellant further alleges that the syndrome is already a recognized form of self-defense in the United States and in Europe. In the US particularly, it is classified as a post-traumatic stress disorder, rather than a form of mental illness.[8] It has been held admissible in order to assess a defendant's perception of the danger posed by the abuser.[9]

In view of the foregoing, Appellant Genosa pleads that she be allowed to present evidence to prove that her relationship with her spouse-victim had afflicted her with the syndrome. Allegedly, an expert can explain how her experiences as a battered woman had affected her perception of danger and her honest belief in its imminence, and why she had resorted to force against her batterer.

The records of the case already bear some evidence on domestic violence between appellant and her deceased husband. A defense witness, Dr. Dino Caing, testified that she had consulted him at least six (6) times due to injuries related to domestic violence and twenty-three (23) times for severe hypertension due to emotional stress.[10] Even the victim's brother and mother attested to the spouses' quarrels every now and then. The court a quo, however, simplistically ruled that since violence had not immediately preceded the killing, self-defense could not be appreciated.

Indeed, there is legal and jurisprudential lacuna with respect to the so-called "battered woman syndrome" as a possible modifying circumstance that could affect the criminal liability or penalty of the accused. The discourse of appellant on the subject in her Omnibus Motion has convinced the Court that the syndrome deserves serious consideration, especially in the light of its possible effect on her very life. It could be that very thin line between death and life or even acquittal. The Court cannot, for mere technical or procedural objections, deny appellant the opportunity to offer this defense, for any criminal conviction must be based on proof of guilt beyond reasonable doubt. Accused persons facing the possibility of the death penalty must be given fair opportunities to proffer all defenses possible that could save them from capital punishment.

In People v. Parazo,[11] after final conviction of appellant therein, this Court granted his Urgent Omnibus Motion and allowed him to undergo mental, neurologic and otolaryngologic examination and evaluation to determine whether he was a deaf-mute. Based on findings that he really was deaf and mute, yet unaided during the trial by an expert witness who could professionally understand and interpret his actions and mutterings, the Court granted him re-arraignment and retrial. It justified its action on the principle that "only upon proof of guilt beyond reasonable doubt may [the accused] be consigned to the lethal injection chamber."

More recently in People v. Estrada,[12] we likewise nullified the trial proceedings and remanded the case "to the court a quo for a conduct of a proper mental examination on accused-appellant, a determination of his competency to stand trial, and for further proceedings." In that case, the defense counsel had moved to suspend the arraignment of the accused, who could not properly and intelligently enter a plea because of his mental defect, and to confine him instead in a psychiatric ward. But the trial court denied the Motion, after simply propounding questions to the accused and determining for itself that he could understand and answer them "intelligently." After trial, he was convicted of murder aggravated by cruelty and thus sentenced to death.

In nullifying the trial proceedings, this Court noted:[13]

"The trial court took it solely upon itself to determine the sanity of accused-appellant. The trial judge is not a psychiatrist or psychologist or some other expert equipped with the specialized knowledge of determining the state of a person's mental health. To determine the accused-appellant's competency to stand trial, the court, in the instant case, should have at least ordered the examination of accused-appellant, especially in the light of the latter's history of mental illness."

It was held that in denying appellant an examination by a competent medical expert, the trial court practically denied him a fair trial prior to conviction, in violation of his constitutional rights.

Moreover, proof of insanity could have exempted appellant from criminal liability. If the accused had not performed the act voluntarily, then he could not have been criminally liable. The Court, through Mr. Justice Reynato S. Puno, emphasized:

"The basic principle in our criminal law is that a person is criminally liable for a felony committed by him. Under the classical theory on which our penal code is mainly based, the basis of criminal liability is human free will. Man is essentially a moral creature with an absolutely free will to choose between good and evil. When he commits a felonious or criminal act (delito doloso), the act is presumed to have been done voluntarily, i.e., with freedom, intelligence and intent. Man, therefore, should be adjudged or held accountable for wrongful acts so long as free will appears unimpaired."[14]

In the instant case, it is equally important to determine whether Appellant Genosa had acted freely, intelligently and voluntarily when she killed her spouse. The Court, however, cannot properly evaluate her battered-woman-syndrome defense, absent expert testimony on her mental and emotional state at the time of the killing and the possible psychological cause and effect of her fatal act. Unlike in Parazo, we cannot simply refer her for proper psychological or psychiatric examination and thereafter admit the findings and evaluation as part of the records of the cases for purposes of automatic review. The prosecution has likewise the right to a fair trial, which includes the opportunity to cross-examine the defense witnesses and to refute the expert opinion given. Thus, consistent with the principle of due process, a partial reopening of the case is apropos, so as to allow the defense the opportunity to present expert evidence consistent with our foregoing disquisition, as well as the prosecution the opportunity to cross examine and refute the same.

WHEREFORE, the Urgent Omnibus Motion of Appellant Marivic Genosa is PARTLY GRANTED. The case is hereby REMANDED to the trial court for the reception of expert psychological and/or psychiatric opinion on the "battered woman syndrome" plea, within ninety (90) days from notice, and, thereafter to forthwith report to this Court the proceedings taken, together with the copies of the TSN and relevant documentary evidence, if any, submitted.

SO ORDERED.

Davide, Jr., C.J., Bellosillo, Melo, Puno, Vitug, Kapunan, Mendoza, Quisumbing, Purisima, Pardo, Buena, Gonzaga-Reyes, Ynares-Santiago, and De Leon, Jr., JJ., concur.



[1] Rollo, pp. 26-43. It was penned by Judge Fortunito L. Madrona.

[2] Branch 35.

[3] Rollo, pp. 9-10.

[4] Rollo, pp. 139-154.

[5] Appellant's Urgent Omnibus Motion, pp. 1-2.

[6] Rollo, pp. 198 et seq.

[7] Appellant's Urgent Omnibus Motion, p. 7; rollo, p. 149.

[8] Ibid., citing "You've Come a Long Way, Baby: The Battered Woman's Syndrome Revisited," the New York Law School Journal of Human Rights, Vol. IX, pp. 117-118; Walker, L., Terrifying Love: Why Battered Women Kill and How Society Responds, 1989, p. 48.

[9] Ibid., citing State v. Kelly, 478 A2d 364 (1985).

[10] TSN, August 5, 1998.

[11] 310 SCRA 146, July 8, 1999, per Purisima, J.

[12] GR No. 130487, June 19, 2000, per Puno, J.

[13] Ibid., p. 21.

[14] On pp. 10-11.