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Digest: People vs. Noel Lee

G.R. No. 139070      May 29, 2002
PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, plaintiff-appellee, vs. NOEL LEE, accused-appellant.


information was filed against accused-appellant charging him with the crime of murder committed. Accused-appellant pleaded not guilty to the charge. At the trial, the prosecution presented the following witnesses: (a) Herminia Marquez, the mother of the victim; (b) Dr. Darwin Corpuz, a resident doctor at the Manila Caloocan University (MCU) Hospital; (c) PO2 Rodelio Ortiz, a police officer who examined the crime scene; and (d) Dr. Rosaline Cosidon, a medico-legal officer of the Philippine National Police (PNP) Crime Laboratory.

Herminia Marquez, 46 years of age and her son, Joseph, 26 years of age, were in the living room of their house located at No. 173 General Evangelista St., Bagong Barrio, Caloocan City. The living room was brightly lit by a circular fluorescent lamp in the ceiling. Outside their house was an alley leading to General Evangelista Street. The alley was bright and bustling with people and activity. There were women sewing garments on one side and on the other was a store catering to customers. In their living room, mother and son were watching a basketball game on television. Herminia was seated on an armchair and the television set was to her left.

Across her, Joseph sat on a sofa against the wall and window of their house and the television was to his right. Herminia looked away from the game and casually glanced at her son. To her complete surprise, she saw a hand holding a gun coming out of the open window behind Joseph. She looked up and saw accused-appellant Noel Lee peering through the window and holding the gun aimed at Joseph. Before she could warn him, Joseph turned his body towards the window, and simultaneously, appellant fired his gun hitting Joseph’s head. Joseph slumped on the sofa. Herminia stood up but could not move as accused-appellant fired a second shot at Joseph and three (3) shots more— two hit the sofa and one hit the cement floor. When no more shots were fired, Herminia ran to the window and saw accused-appellant, in a blue sando, flee towards the direction of his house. Herminia turned to her son, dragged his body to the door and shouted for help. With the aid of her neighbor and kumpare, Herminia brought Joseph to the MCU Hospital where he later died

Herminia filed a complaint for murder against accused-appellant.

Appellant is a well-known figure in their neighborhood and has several criminal cases pending against him in Caloocan City. He was charged with frustrated homicide in 1984 and attempted murder in 1989. seph had a bad reputation in their neighborhood as a thief and drug addict. Six days before his death, on September 23, 1996, accused-appellant caught Joseph inside his car trying to steal his car stereo. Joseph scampered away. As proof of the victim’s bad reputation, appellant presented a letter handwritten by his mother, Herminia, addressed to Mayor Reynaldo Malonzo of Caloocan City, and sent through PO3 Willy Tuazon and his wife, Baby Ruth. In the letter, Herminia was surrendering her son to the Mayor for rehabilitation because he was hooked on shabu, a prohibited drug, and was a thief. Herminia was scared that eventually Joseph might not just steal but kill her and everyone in their household because of his drug habit

Trial Court Found accused-appellant guilty.


Whether proof of the bad moral character of the victim is irrelevant to determine the probability or improbability of his killing



Accused-appellant makes capital of Joseph’s bad reputation in their community. He alleges that the victim’s drug habit led him to commit other crimes and he may have been shot by any of the persons from whom he had stolen.30 As proof of Joseph’s bad character, appellant presented Herminia’s letter to Mayor Malonzo seeking his assistance for Joseph’s rehabilitation from drugs. On rebuttal, Herminia admitted that she wrote such letter to Mayor Malonzo but denied anything about her son’s thievery.31

Character evidence is governed by Section 51, Rule 130 of the Revised Rules on Evidence, viz:

"Section 51. Character evidence not generally admissible; exceptions:--

(a) In Criminal Cases:

(1) The accused may prove his good moral character which is pertinent to the moral trait involved in the offense charged.

(2) Unless in rebuttal, the prosecution may not prove his bad moral character which is pertinent to the moral trait involved in the offense charged.

(3) The good or bad moral character of the offended party may be proved if it tends to establish in any reasonable degree the probability or improbability of the offense charged.

x x x      x x x      x x x."

Character is defined to be the possession by a person of certain qualities of mind and morals, distinguishing him from others. It is the opinion generally entertained of a person derived from the common report of the people who are acquainted with him; his reputation"Good moral character" includes all the elements essential to make up such a character; among these are common honesty and veracity, especially in all professional intercourse; a character that measures up as good among people of the community in which the person lives, or that is up to the standard of the average citizen; that status which attaches to a man of good behavior and upright conduct.

The rule is that the character or reputation of a party is regarded as legally irrelevant in determining a controversy, so that evidence relating thereto is not admissible. Ordinarily, if the issues in the case were allowed to be influenced by evidence of the character or reputation of the parties, the trial would be apt to have the aspects of a popularity contest rather than a factual inquiry into the merits of the case. After all, the business of the court is to try the case, and not the man; and a very bad man may have a righteous cause.34 There are exceptions to this rule however and Section 51, Rule 130 gives the exceptions in both criminal and civil cases.

In criminal cases, sub-paragraph 1 of Section 51 of Rule 130 provides that the accused may prove his good moral character which is pertinent to the moral trait involved in the offense charged. When the accused presents proof of his good moral character, this strengthens the presumption of innocence, and where good character and reputation are established, an inference arises that the accused did not commit the crime charged. This view proceeds from the theory that a person of good character and high reputation is not likely to have committed the act charged against him. Sub-paragraph 2 provides that the prosecution may not prove the bad moral character of the accused except only in rebuttal and when such evidence is pertinent to the moral trait involved in the offense charged. This is intended to avoid unfair prejudice to the accused who might otherwise be convicted not because he is guilty but because he is a person of bad character. The offering of character evidence on his behalf is a privilege of the defendant, and the prosecution cannot comment on the failure of the defendant to produce such evidence. Once the defendant raises the issue of his good character, the prosecution may, in rebuttal, offer evidence of the defendant’s bad character. Otherwise, a defendant, secure from refutation, would have a license to unscrupulously impose a false character upon the tribunal.

Both sub-paragraphs (1) and (2) of Section 51 of Rule 130 refer to character evidence of the accused. And this evidence must be "pertinent to the moral trait involved in the offense charged," meaning, that the character evidence must be relevant and germane to the kind of the act charged, e.g., on a charge of rape, character for chastity; on a charge of assault, character for peacefulness or violence; on a charge for embezzlement, character for honesty and integrity. Sub-paragraph (3) of Section 51 of the said Rule refers to the character of the offended party. Character evidence, whether good or bad, of the offended party may be proved "if it tends to establish in any reasonable degree the probability or improbability of the offense charged." Such evidence is most commonly offered to support a claim of self-defense in an assault or homicide case or a claim of consent in a rape case.

In the Philippine setting, proof of the moral character of the offended party is applied with frequency in sex offenses and homicide. In rape and acts of lasciviousness or in any prosecution involving an unchaste act perpetrated by a man against a woman where the willingness of a woman is material, the woman’s character as to her chastity is admissible to show whether or not she consented to the man’s act. The exception to this is when the woman’s consent is immaterial such as in statutory rape or rape with violence or intimidation. In the crimes of qualified seduction or consented abduction, the offended party must be a "virgin," which is "presumed if she is unmarried and of good reputation," or a "virtuous woman of good reputation." The crime of simple seduction involves "the seduction of a woman who is single or a widow of good reputation, over twelve but under eighteen years of age x x x."  The burden of proof that the complainant is a woman of good reputation lies in the prosecution, and the accused may introduce evidence that the complainant is a woman of bad reputation.

In homicide cases, a pertinent character trait of the victim is admissible in two situations: (1) as evidence of the deceased’s aggression; and (2) as evidence of the state of mind of the accused. The pugnacious, quarrelsome or trouble-seeking character of the deceased or his calmness, gentleness and peaceful nature, as the case may be, is relevant in determining whether the deceased or the accused was the aggressor. When the evidence tends to prove self-defense, the known violent character of the deceased is also admissible to show that it produced a reasonable belief of imminent danger in the mind of the accused and a justifiable conviction that a prompt defensive action was necessary.

In the instant case, proof of the bad moral character of the victim is irrelevant to determine the probability or improbability of his killing. Accused-appellant has not alleged that the victim was the aggressor or that the killing was made in self-defense. There is no connection between the deceased’s drug addiction and thievery with his violent death in the hands of accused-appellant. In light of the positive eyewitness testimony, the claim that because of the victim’s bad character he could have been killed by any one of those from whom he had stolen, is pure and simple speculation.

Moreover, proof of the victim’s bad moral character is not necessary in cases of murder committed with treachery and premeditation. 

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