Tell it to SunStar: Criminal liability of minors

Tell it to SunStar
Tell it to SunStarSunStar file photo

By Rep. Angelica Natasha Co, House committee on the welfare of children chairperson

The Supreme Court (SC) guidelines on determining discernment of minors facing criminal cases will be helpful to barangay officials and tanods, police officers and social workers.

The guidelines clarify the misconception among the public and law enforcers that minors cannot be held criminally liable. It is clear now that the exemption of minors from crimes is not absolute. The guidelines are strict and defining enough to make sure children are protected.”

I thank the SC for its wisdom expressed in the guidelines.

The SC justices wisely addressed the difficult gray area wherein courts must determine whether minors accused or suspects in crimes understand the difference between right and wrong and the consequences of their actions.

I urged the Department of the Interior and Local Government, Department of Social Welfare and Development, Department of Education, and Commission on Higher Education to disseminate the SC guidelines to the barangays, schools and news media for the information of the youth and their parents.

The guidelines should be translated and annotated into Filipino, English, Arabic, and the regional languages to ensure everyone understands them well.

In determining the criminal liability of a minor, the SC set the following guidelines:

* Discernment is the capacity of the child at the time of the commission of the offense to understand the difference between right and wrong and the consequences of the wrongful act.

* The task of ascertaining discernment is done preliminarily by a social worker, and finally by the court. The determination shall take into account the ability of a child to understand the moral and psychological components of criminal responsibility and the consequences of the wrongful act; and whether a child can be held responsible for essentially antisocial behavior. The social worker’s assessment is merely evidentiary and is not binding upon the court. Ultimately, the court finally determines discernment, based on its own appreciation of all the facts and circumstances in each case.

* There is no presumption that a minor acts with discernment. The prosecution must specifically prove as a separate circumstance that the alleged crime was committed with discernment. For a minor at such an age to be criminally liable, the prosecution is burdened to prove beyond reasonable doubt, by direct or circumstantial evidence, that he or she acted with discernment.

* In determining discernment, courts shall consider the totality of facts and circumstances in each case, such as: (i) the very appearance, the very attitude, the very comportment and behavior of said minor, not only before and during the commission of the act, but also after and even during trial, (ii) the gruesome nature of the crime, (iii) the minor’s cunning and shrewdness, (iv) the utterances of the minor, (v) the minor’s overt acts before, during and after the commission of the crime, (vi) the nature of the weapon used, (vii) the minor’s attempt to silence a witness, and (viii) the disposal of evidence or hiding of the corpus delicti.

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