Accused's constitutional right to be informed

Under the Constitution, a person who stands charged of a criminal offense has the right to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation against him.[1] This right has long been established in English law, and is the same right expressly guaranteed in our 1987 Constitution. This right requires that the offense charged be stated with clarity and with certainty to inform the accused of the crime he is facing in sufficient detail to enable him to prepare his defense.[2]

In the 1904 case of United States v. Karelsen,[3] the Supreme Court explained the purpose of informing an accused in writing of the charges against him from the perspective of his right to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation against him:
The object of this written accusation was – First. To furnish the accused with such a description of the charge against him as will enable him to make his defense; and second, to avail himself of his conviction or acquittal for protection against a further prosecution for the same cause; and third, to inform the court of the facts alleged, so that it may decide whether they are sufficient in law to support a conviction, if one should be had. (United States vs. Cruikshank, 92 U.S. 542.) In order that this requirement may be satisfied, facts must be stated, not conclusions of law. Every crime is made up of certain acts and intent; these must be set forth in the complaint with reasonable particularity of time, place, names (plaintiff and defendant), and circumstances. In short, the complaint must contain a specific allegation of every fact and circumstances necessary to constitute the crime charged. x x x.[4]
The objective, in short, is to describe the act with sufficient certainty to fully appraise the accused of the nature of the charge against him and to avoid possible surprises that may lead to injustice. Otherwise, the accused would be left speculating on why he has been charged at all.[5]

In People v. Hon. Mencias, et al.,[6] the Supreme Court further explained that a person’s constitutional right to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation against him signifies that an accused should be given the necessary data on why he is the subject of a criminal proceeding. The Court added that the act or conduct imputed to a person must be described with sufficient particularity to enable the accused to defend himself properly.

ALSO READ: Uncounselled waiver of the right to counsel - Project Jurisprudence.The general grant and recognition of a protected right emanates from Section 1, Article III of the 1987 Constitution which states that no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law. The purpose of the guaranty is to prevent governmental encroachment against the life, liberty, and property of individuals; to secure the individual from the arbitrary exercise of the powers of the government, unrestrained by the established principles of private rights and distributive justice xxx; and to secure to all persons equal and impartial justice and the benefit of the general law.[7]

Separately from Section 1, Article III is the specific and direct underlying root of the right to information in criminal proceedings – Section 14(1), Article III – which provides that “No person shall be held to answer for a criminal offense without due process of law.” Thus, no doubt exists that the right to be informed of the cause of the accusation in a criminal case has deep constitutional roots that, rather than being cavalierly disregarded, should be carefully protected.

In Republic of the Philippines v. Sandiganbayan (2nd Division),[8] the Supreme Court, in sustaining the Sandiganbayan’s grant of the motion for bill of particulars of Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., held that “the facile verbosity with which the legal counsel for the government flaunted the accusation of excesses against the Marcoses in general terms must be soonest refurbished by a bill of particulars, so that respondent can properly prepare an intelligent responsive pleading and so that trial in this case will proceed as expeditiously as possible.”[9] The Court additionally stated that:
This Court has been liberal in giving the lower courts the widest latitude of discretion in setting aside default orders justified under the right to due process principle. Plain justice demands and the law requires no less that defendants must know what the complaint against them is all about.

x x x In the interest of justice, we need to dispel the impression in the individual respondents' minds that they are being railroaded out of their rights and properties without due process of law.[10]

[1] Section 14(2), Article III, 1987 Constitution; see Go v. Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, G.R. No. 178429, October 23, 2009, 604 SCRA 322, 329.
[2] See Dissenting Opinion of Justice (ret.) Dante O. Tinga in Teves v. Sandiganbayan, 488 Phil. 311, 340 (2004), citing 21 AM JUR 2d § 325.
[3] 3 Phil. 223 (1904).
[4] Id. at 226.
[5] See Burgos v. Sandiganbayan, 459 Phil. 794, 806 (2003).
[6] 150-B Phil. 78, 89-90 (1972).
[7] See City of Manila v. Hon. Laguio, Jr., 495 Phil. 289, 311 (2005), citing 16 C.J.S., pp. 1150-1151.
[8] 565 Phil. 172, (2007).
[9] Id. at 191-192.
[10] Id. at 192.s

  1. Does an accused have rights? Rights of the Accused.
  2. G.R. No. 218106, December 14, 2017 - Project Jurisprudence.
  3. Case Digest: People v. Rebotazo - Project Jurisprudence.