The Supreme Court in the case of Daan vs. Sandiganbayan (G.R. Nos. 163972-77, March 28, 2008) explained what Plea Bargaining and how parties go through its process:

Plea bargaining in criminal cases is a process whereby the accused and the prosecution work out a mutually satisfactory disposition of the case subject to court approval.  It usually involves the defendant’s pleading guilty to a lesser offense or to only one or some of the counts of a multi-count indictment in return for a lighter sentence than that for the graver charge.

Plea bargaining is authorized under Section 2, Rule 116 of the Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure, to wit:

SEC. 2. Plea of guilty to a lesser offense. — At arraignment, the accused, with the consent of the offended party and the prosecutor, may be allowed by the trial court to plead guilty to a lesser offense which is necessarily included in the offense charged. After arraignment but before trial, the accused may still be allowed to plead guilty to said lesser offense after withdrawing his plea of not guilty. No amendment of the complaint or information is necessary.  (sec. 4, cir. 38-98)

Ordinarily, plea bargaining is made during the pre-trial stage of the proceedings. Sections 1 and 2, Rule 118 of the Rules of Court, require plea bargaining to be considered by the trial court at the pre-trial conference,[8] viz:

SEC. 1.   Pre-trialmandatory in criminal cases.In all criminal cases cognizable by the Sandiganbayan, Regional Trial Court, Metropolitan Trial Court, Municipal Trial Court in Cities, Municipal Trial Court and Municipal Circuit Trial Court, the court shall, after arraignment and within thirty (30) days from the date the court acquires jurisdiction over the person of the accused, unless a shorter period is provided for in special laws or circulars of the Supreme Court, order a pre-trial conference to consider the following:

(a) plea bargaining;(b) stipulation of facts;

(c) marking for identification of evidence of the parties;

(d) waiver of objections to admissibility of evidence;

(e) modification of the order of trial if the accused admits the charge but interposes a lawful defense; and

(f) such matters as will promote a fair and expeditious trial of the criminal and civil aspects of the case.

SEC. 2.  Pre-trial agreement. – All agreements or admissions made or entered during the pre-trial conference shall be reduced in writing and signed by the accused and counsel, otherwise, they cannot be used against the accused.  The agreements covering the matters referred to in section 1 of this Rule shall be approved by the court. (Emphasis supplied)

But it may also be made during the trial proper and even after the prosecution has finished presenting its evidence and rested its case. Thus, the Court has held that it is immaterial that plea bargaining was not made during the pre-trial stage or that it was made only after the prosecution already presented several witnesses.

Section 2, Rule 116 of the Rules of Court presents the basic requisites upon which plea bargaining may be made, i.e., that it should be with the consent of the offended party and the prosecutor, and that the plea of guilt should be to a lesser offense which is necessarily included in the offense charged.  The rules however use word may in the second sentence of Section 2, denoting an exercise of discretion upon the trial court on whether to allow the accused to make such plea. Trial courts are exhorted to keep in mind that a plea of guilty for a lighter offense than that actually charged is not supposed to be allowed as a matter of bargaining or compromise for the convenience of the accused.

In People of the Philippines v. Villarama (G.R. No. 99287, June 23, 1992, 210 SCRA 246), the Court ruled that the acceptance of an offer to plead guilty to a lesser offense is not demandable by the accused as a matter of right but is a matter that is addressed entirely to the sound discretion of the trial court, viz:

x x x In such situation, jurisprudence has provided the trial court and the Office of the Prosecutor with a yardstick within which their discretion may be properly exercised. Thus, in People v. Kayanan (L-39355, May 31, 1978, 83 SCRA 437, 450), We held that the rules allow such a plea only when the prosecution does not have sufficient evidence to establish the guilt of the crime charged. In his concurring opinion in People v. Parohinog (G.R. No. L-47462, February 28, 1980, 96 SCRA 373, 377), then Justice Antonio Barredo explained clearly and tersely the rationale or the law:

x x x (A)fter the prosecution had already restedthe only basis on which the fiscal and the court could rightfully act in allowing the appellant to change his former plea of not guilty to murder to guilty to the lesser crime of homicide could be nothing more nothing less than the evidence already in the record. The reason for this being that Section 4 of Rule 118 (now Section 2, Rule 116) under which a plea for a lesser offense is allowed was not and could not have been intended as a procedure for compromise, much less bargaining. (Emphasis supplied)

However, Villarama involved plea bargaining after the prosecution had already rested its case.

For a sample of a Offer of Plea Bargaining, email askattybatoy@gmail.com.

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