| Photo from Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress via Wikimedia Commons
Part 9 of 10
In U.S. history, circa 1630, the first jury trial in the American Colonies was held in Plymouth in a murder case. The jury found the defendant guilty of “willful murder by plain and notorious evidence,” and he was executed by hanging.
To better understand and for an additional historical perspective on the jury system in the American setting, click here.
As cited from multiple sources, the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees the rights of criminal defendants, including the right to a public trial without unnecessary delay, the right to a lawyer, the right to an impartial jury, and the right to know the accusers and the nature of the charges and evidence against the defendant. Every person accused of a crime punishable by incarceration for more than six months has a constitutionally protected right to a trial by jury, which arises in federal court from Article Three of the U.S. Constitution.
The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution extended that right, which states in part states, “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed.” Both provisions were made applicable to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment. Most states’ constitutions also grant the right of trial by jury in lesser criminal charges, though most have abrogated that right in offenses punishable by fine only. The Supreme Court has ruled that if imprisonment is for six months or less, trial by jury is not required, meaning a state may choose to permit trial by jury in such cases. Under the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, if the defendant is entitled to a jury trial, he may waive his right to have a jury. Still, both the government (prosecution) and the court must consent to the waiver. Several states require jury trials for all crimes, “petty” or not.
Such a constitutional provision does not exist in the Constitution of the Philippines. Historically, it’s because Americans, in taking control of the Philippines after 1898, never introduced a trial by the jury among all the other governmental and administrative innovations.
In a 2015 Rappler article by Rene Saguisag titled, Why the jury system’s time in PH may never come, he argued, “It will cost billions to reconfigure courtrooms. The money can be used instead for other purposes, like improving further the working condition of judges to attract and keep the best and the brightest among idealistic young graduates.”
In a nutshell, under the 1973 Philippine Constitution, the Supreme Court, composed of a chief justice and 14 associate justices, was the state’s highest judicial body, with supervisory authority over the lower courts. The president appointed justices at all levels. The entire court system was revamped in 1981 with new regional courts of trials and appeals. Philippine courts functioned without juries. Delays in criminal cases were common, and detention periods in national security cases were long; the slow pace of justice continues to be a major problem.
The legal system is based on both civil and common law. Today, the national court system consists of four levels: local and regional trial courts; a national Court of Appeals divided into 17 divisions; the 15-member Supreme Court; and an informal local system for arbitrating or mediating certain disputes outside the formal court system. A Shari’ah (Islamic law) court system operates in some Mindanao provinces with jurisdiction over domestic and contractual relations among Muslim citizens. Supreme Court justices may hold office, on good behavior, until the age of 70. The Constitution calls for an independent judiciary, and defendants in criminal cases are afforded the right to counsel.
Generally, diversity is a dilemma in the Philippines. Being an archipelago, diversity is not attainable without spending so much. It is noteworthy that the jury system has its disadvantages. The central difficulty for its adoption is its being costly. Funding must be provided to compensate for the services of the jurors. Moreover, Filipinos are known to be so friendly, which may create a problem in adopting the Jury System, which may affect their impartiality.
The most beneficial result of using the jury system is that it assists in the speedy disposition of cases. Corruption is less likely by using the Jury System as there are twelve jurors to be bribed, unlike in a one-judge trial. The diversity in the composition of the jurors is favorable in the sense that different cultures and minds are working toward a verdict.
Given the recent verdicts regarding drug-related cases and plunder, the imperative for a jury system in the Philippines has become clearer. Jurors would have been less inclined to embarrass law enforcement and angrier at the impunity of the accused. Of course, the lack of urgency to remedy the legal loopholes that favored arguments by the defense in those cases and the ‘ineffectiveness’ of state prosecutors are so glaring that the default attitude is “there is nothing you can do,” “that’s the way it is,” “ganun talaga.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dr. Crispin Fernandez advocates for overseas Filipinos, public health, transformative political change, and patriotic economics. He is also a community organizer and leader, and freelance writer.