SC: Factual error must NOT be basis of jailing people

In every criminal case, the accused is entitled to acquittal unless his guilt is shown beyond reasonable doubt. Proof beyond reasonable doubt does not mean such a degree of proof as, excluding possibility of error, produces absolute certainty. Only moral certainty is required, or that degree of proof which produces conviction in an unprejudiced mind.[1]

Reasonable doubt is not mere possible doubt; because everything relating to human affairs, and depending on moral evidence, is open to some possible or imaginary doubt. It is that state of the case which, after the entire comparison and consideration of all the evidence, leaves the minds of jurors in such a condition that they cannot say they feel an abiding conviction, to a moral certainty, of the truth of the charge. The burden of proof is upon the prosecutor. All the presumptions of law independent of evidence are in favor of innocence; and every person is presumed to be innocent until he is proved guilty. If upon such proof there is reasonable doubt remaining, the accused is entitled to the benefit of it by an acquittal. For it is not sufficient to establish a probability, though a strong one arising from the doctrine of chances, that the fact charged is more likely to be true than the contrary; but the evidence must establish the truth of the fact to a reasonable and moral certainty; a certainty that convinces and directs the understanding and satisfies the reason and judgment of those who are bound to act conscientiously upon it. This we take to be proof beyond reasonable doubt; because if the law, which mostly depends upon considerations of a moral nature, should go further than this, and require absolute certainty, it would exclude circumstantial evidence altogether.[2]

The requirement of establishing the guilt of the accused in every criminal proceeding beyond reasonable doubt has a long history that even pre-dates our Constitutions. As summed up by jurisprudence of American origin:
The requirement that guilt of a criminal charge be established by proof beyond a reasonable doubt dates at least from our early years as a Nation. The 'demand for a higher degree of persuasion in criminal cases was recurrently expressed from ancient times, (though) its crystallization into the formula 'beyond a reasonable doubt' seems to have occurred as late as 1798. It is now accepted in common law jurisdictions as the measure of persuasion by which the prosecution must convince the trier of all the essential elements of guilt.' C. McCormick, Evidence 321, pp. 681-682 (1954); see also 9 J. Wigmore, Evidence, 2497 (3d ed. 1 940). Although virtually unanimous adherence to the reasonable-doubt standard in common-law jurisdictions may not conclusively establish it as a requirement of due process, such adherence does 'reflect a profound judgment about the way in which law should be enforced and justice administered.' Duncan v. Louisiana, 391 U.S. 145, 155 , 1451 (1968).

Expressions in many opinions of this Court indicate that it has long been assumed that proof of a criminal charge beyond a reasonable doubt is constitutionally required. See, for example, Miles v. United States, 103 U.S. 304, 312 (1881); Davis v. United States, 160 U.S. 469, 488 , 358 (1895); Holt v. United States, 218 U.S. 245, 253, (1910); Wilson v. United States, 232 U.S. 563, 569 -570, 349, 350 (1914); Brinegar v. United States, 338 U.S. 160, 174, 1310 (1949); Leland v. Oregon, 343 U.S. 790, 795 , 1005, 1006 (1952); Holland v. United States, 348 U.S. 121, 138 , 136, 137 (1954); Speiser v. Randall, 357 U.S. 513 , 525-526, 1342 (1958). Cf. Coffin v. United States, 156 U.S. 432 (1895). Mr. Justice Frankfurter stated that '(i)t the duty of the Government to establish ... guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. This notion-basic in our law and rightly one of the boasts of a free society-is a requirement and a safeguard of due process of law in the historic, procedural content of 'due process.'' Leland v. Oregon, supra, 343 U.S., at 802-803 (dissenting opinion). In a similar vein, the Court said in Brinegar v. United States, supra, 338 U.S., at 174 , that '(g)uilt in a criminal case must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt and by evidence confined to that which long experience in the common-law tradition, to some extent embodied in the Constitution, has crystallized into rules of evidence consistent with that standard. These rules are historically grounded rights of our system, developed to safeguard men from dubious and unjust convictions, with resulting forfeitures of life, liberty and property.' Davis v. United States, supra, 160 U.S., at 488 stated that the requirement is implicit in 'constitutions ... (which) recognize the fundamental principles that are deemed essential for the protection of life and liberty.' In Davis a murder conviction was reversed because the trial judge instructed the jury that it was their duty to convict when the evidence was equally balanced regarding the sanity of the accused. This Court said: 'On the contrary, he is entitled to an acquittal of the specific crime charged, if upon all the evidence, there is reasonable doubt whether he was capable in law of committing crime. ... No man should be deprived of his life under the forms of law unless the jurors who try him are able, upon their consciences, to say that the evidence before them ... is sufficient to show beyond a reasonable doubt the existence of every fact necessary to constitute the crime charged.' Id., at 484, 493, 360.

The reasonable-doubt standard plays a vital role in the American scheme of criminal procedure. It is a prime instrument for reducing the risk of convictions resting on factual error. The standard provides concrete substance for the presumption of innocence-that bedrock 'axiomatic and elementary' principle whose 'enforcement lies at the foundation of the administration of our criminal law.' Coffin v. United States, supra, 156 U.S., at 453. As the dissenters in the New York Court of Appeals observed, and we agree, 'a person accused of a crime ... would be at a severe disadvantage, a disadvantage amounting to a lack of fundamental fairness, if he could be adjudged guilty and imprisoned for years on the strength of the same evidence as would suffice in a civil case.' 24 N.Y.2d, at 205, 299 N.Y.S.2d, at 422, 247 N.E.2d, at 259.

The requirement of proof beyond a reasonable doubt has this vital role in our criminal procedure for cogent reasons. The accused during a criminal prosecution has at stake interest of immense importance, both because of the possibility that he may lose his liberty upon conviction and because of the certainty that he would be stigmatized by the conviction. Accordingly, a society that values the good name and freedom of every individual should not condemn a man for commission of a crime when there is reasonable doubt about his guilt. As we said in Speiser v. Randall, supra, 357 U.S., at 525 -526: 'There is always in litigation a margin of error, representing error in factfinding, which both parties must take into account. Where one party has at stake an interest of transcending value-as a criminal defendant his liberty-this margin of error is reduced as to him by the process of placing on the other party the burden of ... persuading the factfinder at the conclusion of the trial of his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Due process commands that no man shall lose his liberty unless the Government has borne the burden of ... convincing the factfinder of his guilt.' To this end, the reasonable-doubt standard is indispensable, for it 'impresses on the trier of fact the necessity of reaching a subjective state of certitude of the facts in issue.' Dorsen & Rezneck, In Re Gault and the Future of Juvenile Law, 1 Family Law Quarterly, No. 4, pp. 1, 26 (1967).

Moreover, use of the reasonable-doubt standard is indispensable to command the respect and confidence of the community in applications of the criminal law. It is critical that the moral force of the criminal law not be diluted by a standard of proof that leaves people in doubt whether innocent men are being condemned. It is also important in our free society that every individual going about his ordinary affairs have confidence that his government cannot adjudge him guilty of a criminal offense without convincing a proper factfinder of his guilt with utmost certainty.

Lest there remain any doubt about the constitutional stature of the reasonable-doubt standard, we explicitly hold that the Due Process Clause protects the accused against conviction except upon proof beyond a reasonable doubt of every fact necessary to constitute the crime with which he is charged.[3]
Requiring proof of guilt beyond reasonable doubt necessarily means that mere suspicion of the guilt of the accused, no matter how strong, should not sway judgment against him. It further means that the courts should duly consider every evidence favoring him, and that in the process the courts should persistently insist that accusation is not synonymous with guilt; hence, every circumstance favoring his innocence should be fully taken into account.[4] That is what we must be do herein, for he is entitled to nothing less.

Without the proof of his guilt being beyond reasonable doubt, therefore, the presumption of innocence in favor of the accused herein was not overcome. His acquittal should follow, for, as we have emphatically reminded in Patula v. People:[5]
x x x in all criminal prosecutions, the Prosecution bears the burden to establish the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt. In discharging this burden, the Prosecution's duty is to prove each and every element of the crime charged in the information to warrant a finding of guilt for that crime or for any other crime necessarily included therein. The Prosecution must further prove the participation of the accused in the commission of the offense. In doing all these, the Prosecution must rely on the strength of its own evidence, and not anchor its success upon the weakness of the evidence of the accused. The burden of proof placed on the Prosecution arises from the presumption of innocence in favor of the accused that no less than the Constitution has guaranteed. Conversely, as to his innocence, the accused has no burden of proof, that he must then be acquitted and set free should the Prosecution not overcome the presumption of innocence in his favor. In other words, the weakness of the defense put up by the accused is inconsequential in the proceedings for as long as the Prosecution has not discharged its burden of proof in establishing the commission of the crime charged and in identifying the accused as the malefactor responsible for it.[6]
[1] Section 2, Rule 133 of the Rules of Court.
[2] Shaw, C. J., in Commonwealth v. Webster, 5 Cush. (Mass.) 320, 52 Am. Dec. 711; cited in Schmidt v. Ins. Co., 1 Gray (Mass.) 534; Bethell v. Moore, 19 N. C. 311; State v. Goldsborough, Houst. Cr. Rep. (Del.) 316 (Bold underscoring is supplied for emphasis).
[3] In Re Winship, 397 U.S. 358, 362-365 (Bold underscoring supplied for emphasis).
[4] People v. Mejia, G.R. Nos. 118940-41 and G.R. No. 119407, July 7, 1997, 275 SCRA 127, 155.
[5] G.R. No. 164457, April 11, 2012, 669 SCRA 135.
[6] Bold underscoring supplied for emphasis.