People vs Whisenhunt (GR No. 123819 November 14, 2001)

People of the Philippines vs Whisenhunt
GR No. 123819 November 14, 2001

Facts: That on or about September 24, 1993, in the municipality of San Juan, Metro Manila, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this honorable court, the above named accused did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously, with intent to kill and taking advantage of superior strength, attack, assault and use personal violence upon the person of one Elsa Santos-Castillo by then and there stabbing her with a bladed weapon in different parts of her body, thereby inflicting upon her mortal wounds which were the direct and immediate cause of her death and thereafter outraged or scofted her corpse by then and there chopping off her head and different parts of her body. The medico-legal officer, found contusions on accused-appellant’s left periumbilical region, right elbow, left and right forearms and right leg. Dr. Ronaldo Mendez, the medico-legal officer who conducted the autopsy, concluded that the cause of death of Elsa were stabbed wounds. Respondent, Whisenhunt as his witness his lawyer who is also a medico-legal officer.

Issue: Whether or not the testimony of respondent’s presented witness as a lawyer-witness will be given.

Held: No. Accused-appellant makes capital of the fact that the medico-legal officer, Dr. Mendez, did not examine the pancreas of the deceased notwithstanding Demetrio’s statement that according to accused-appellant, Elsa died of “bangungot”, hemorrhage of the pancreas, because of this accused-appellant insist that the cause of death was not adequately established. Then, he relied on the controverting testimony of his witness, lawyer-doctor, Ernesto Brion, who was himself a medico-legal officer of the NBI for several years, to the effect that the autopsy report prepared by Dr. Mendez was unreliable and inconclusive. The trial court, however, noted that Dr. Brion was a biased witness whose testimony cannot be relied upon because he entered his appearance as one of the counsel for the accused-appellant and, in such capacity, extensively cross-examined Dr. Mendez accused-appellant counters that there’s no prohibition against lawyers giving testimony. Moreover, the trial court’s ruling would imply that lawyers who testify on behalf of their clients are presumed to be lying.

By rejecting the testimony of Dr. Brion, the trial court did not mean that he perjured himself on the witness stand. Notably, Dr. Brion was presented as expert witness. His testimony and the questions propounded on him dealt with his opinion on the probable cause of death of the victim. Indeed the presentation of expert testimony is one of the well-known exceptions to the rule against admissibility of opinions in evidence. In like manner, Dr. Mendez was presented on the stand to give his own opinion on the same subject. His opinion differed from that of Brion, which is not at all unusual. What the trial court simply did was to choose which — between two conflicting medico-legal opinions – was the more plausible. The trial court correctly lent more credence to Dr. Mendez’s testimony not only because Dr. Brion was a biased witness, but more importantly, because it was Dr. Mendez who conducted the autopsy and personally examined Elsa’s corpse up close.

Physical evidence is a mute but eloquent manifestation of truth, and it ranks high in the hierarchy of our trustworthy evidence.

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