Guidelines Issued by the Supreme Court for Determining Liability of Child Offenders

Supreme Court. Padre Faura, Manila PHOTO BY J. GERARD SEGUIA
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In a recent ruling, the Supreme Court (SC) of the Philippines has issued guidelines to determine the accountability of minors who have committed crimes. These guidelines aim to streamline the “discernment determination process” for cases involving children in conflict with the law.

The SC acknowledges that there is a different standard when it comes to assessing the culpability of minors for crimes. Therefore, it is essential to have clear guidelines in place. One of the key factors in determining accountability is the concept of “discernment.” Discernment refers to the capacity of the child at the time of the offense to understand the difference between right and wrong and the consequences of their actions.

To determine discernment, a social worker conducts a preliminary assessment, which is then reviewed by the court. The court takes into account the child’s ability to comprehend the moral and psychological aspects of criminal responsibility, as well as the consequences of their wrongful act. Additionally, the court considers whether the child can be held responsible for antisocial behavior.

It is important to note that the social worker’s assessment is not binding upon the court; it serves as evidentiary support. The court ultimately makes the final determination of discernment based on its own evaluation of all the facts and circumstances of the case.

The SC emphasizes that there is no presumption of discernment for minors. The prosecution must specifically prove, as a separate circumstance, that the alleged crime was committed with discernment. The burden of proof lies with the prosecution, who must establish beyond reasonable doubt, through direct or circumstantial evidence, that the minor acted with discernment.

In assessing discernment, the courts consider the totality of facts and circumstances in each case. This includes not only the minor’s appearance, attitude, comportment, and behavior before and during the commission of the act but also their actions after the crime and even during the trial.

Furthermore, the courts take into consideration several factors, such as the gruesome nature of the crime, the minor’s level of cunning and shrewdness, their utterances, overt acts before, during, and after the offense, the nature of the weapon used, any attempts to silence witnesses, and the disposal of evidence.

These guidelines provide a framework for determining the accountability of minors involved in criminal cases. By considering the child’s capacity to understand the consequences of their actions, the courts can ensure a fair and just evaluation of their culpability.

It is crucial to recognize that these guidelines are specific to the legal system in the Philippines. Each country may have its own laws and regulations regarding the accountability of minors. Therefore, it is essential to consult local laws and customs when dealing with similar issues in other jurisdictions.

In conclusion, the Supreme Court’s guidelines on determining the accountability of minors in criminal cases aim to establish a fair and just process. By considering the concept of discernment and evaluating the totality of facts and circumstances, the court can make informed decisions regarding the culpability of minors involved in criminal offenses.

Source: The Manila Times

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