Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Abuse of authority

In the case of Noryn S. Tan v. Judge Maria Clarita Casuga-Tabin, A.M. No. MTJ-09-1729, January 20, 2009, the Philippine Supreme Court found the respondent Judge Maria Clarita Casuga-Tabin, Municipal Trial Court in Cities, Branch 4, Baguio City, guilty of abuse of authority for which she was fined in the sum of P10,000.00.

The case involved the hasty issuance by the respondent judge of a warrant of arrest in a minor criminal case covered by the Rules of Summary Procedure which resulted in panic and anxiety on the part of the accused.

The judge did not observe due care in ascertaining that the accused had indeed received the notice of hearing (which was coursed thru the police station of a far-away city, where the accused resided) before she issued the warrant.

She relied on her mistaken interpretation of the rule of regularity in the performance of public duty.

The Court made the following doctrinal pronouncements in the said case, thus:

1. Whenever a criminal case falls under the Summary Procedure, the general rule is that the court shall not order the arrest of the accused, unless the accused fails to appear whenever required. This is clearly provided in Section 16 of the 1991 Revised Rule on Summary Procedure which states:

Sec. 16. Arrest of accused. - The court shall not order the arrest of the accused except for failure to appear whenever required. Release of the person arrested shall either be in bail or on recognizance by a responsible citizen acceptable to the court. (Emphasis supplied)

2. While it is true that the Rules of Court provides for presumptions, one of which is that official duty has been regularly performed, such presumption should not be the sole basis of a magistrate in concluding that a person called to court has failed to appear as required, which in turn justifies the issuance of a warrant for her arrest, when such notice was not actually addressed to her residence but to the police in her city. So basic and fundamental is a person's right to liberty that it should not be taken lightly or brushed aside with the presumption that the police through which the notice had been sent, actually served the same on complainant whose address was not even specified.

3. Respondent further admitted in her Comment dated July 5, 2007 that when she proceeded with the arraignment on October 10, 2006 as scheduled, no return had yet been made by the Quezon City Police. Nevertheless, she issued the warrant of arrest, arguing that she did so on the presumption that regular duty had been performed, and that the Order had been received in the regular course of mail; and since Sec. 12 of the 1983 Rules on Summary Procedure provides that bail may be required where the accused does not reside in the place where the violation of the law or ordinance was committed, the warrant of arrest she issued was justified since complainant is a resident of Quezon City and not of Baguio City.

4. Sections 10 and 12 of the 1983 Rules on Summary Procedure in Special Cases (As Amended) state:

Sec. 10. Duty of the Court. - On the basis of the complaint of information and the affidavits accompanying the same, the court shall make a preliminary determination whether to dismiss the case outright for being patently without basis or merit, or to require further proceedings to be taken. In the latter case, the court may set the case for immediate arraignment of an accused under custody, and if he pleads guilty, may render judgment forthwith. If he pleads not guilty, and in all other cases, the court shall issue an order, accompanied by copies of all the affidavits submitted by the complainant, directing the defendant(s) to appear and submit his counter-affidavit and those of his witnesses at a specified date not later than ten (10) days from receipt thereof.

Failure on the part of the defendant to appear whenever required, shall cause the issuance of a warrant for his arrest if the court shall find that a probable cause exists after an examination in writing and under oath or affirmation of the complainant and his witnesses.

Sec. 12. Bail not required; Exception. --- No bail shall be required except when a warrant of arrest is issued in accordance with Section 10 hereon or where the accused (a) is a recidivist; (b) is fugitive from justice; (c) is charged with physical injuries; (d) does not reside in the place where the violation of the law or ordinance was committed, or (e) has no known residence.

5. Section 12 of the 1983 Rules on Summary Procedure was not reproduced in the 1991 Revised Rules on Summary Procedure, while Section 10 was revised and portions thereof reproduced in Sections 12 and 16 of the 1991 Rules on Summary Procedure. Granting, arguendo, that Sections 10 and 12 of the 1983 Rules on Summary Procedure in Special Cases were not repealed by the 1991 Revised Rules, still it does not justify the warrant of arrest issued in this case. Section 12 talks of instances when bails are required, one of which is when the accused does not reside in the place where the violation of the law or ordinance was committed. It does not state, however, that a warrant of arrest shall immediately issue even without actual notice to the accused. Respondent's interpretation ascribes to the rules those which were not expressly stated therein and unduly expands their meaning.

6. From this, it can be inferred that respondent issued the warrant of arrest on the mistaken belief that complainant was actually notified of the arraignment. A closer scrutiny of the records however showed that the Acknowledgment Receipt pertained to the copy of the City Prosecutor's Office and not that of complainant's.

Whatever the real reasons behind respondent's issuance of complainant's warrant of arrest -- whether from the mistaken belief that complainant was actually notified, or the presumption that the police had served a copy of the order on complainant or that the rules allow immediate issuance of warrants of arrests whenever the accused does not reside in the locality where the crime was committed -- the fact is, respondent failed to uphold the rules, for which she should be held administratively liable.

7. The Court has held that a judge commits grave abuse of authority when she hastily issues a warrant of arrest against the accused in violation of the summary procedure rule that the accused should first be notified of the charges against him and given the opportunity to file his counter-affidavits and countervailing evidence.

8. While judges may not always be subjected to disciplinary action for every erroneous order or decision they render, that relative immunity is not a license to be negligent, abusive and arbitrary in their prerogatives. If judges wantonly misuse the powers vested in them by law, there will not only be confusion in the administration of justice but also oppressive disregard of the basic requirements of due process. While there appears to be no malicious intent on the part of respondent, such lack of intent, however, cannot completely free her from liability. When the law is sufficiently basic, a judge owes it to her office to know and simply apply it.

9. Considering that this is respondent's first administrative infraction in her more than 8 years of service in the judiciary, which serves to mitigate her liability, the Court holds the imposition of a fine in the amount of P10,000.00 to be proper in this case.