Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Double jeopardy - G.R. No. 185230

G.R. No. 185230

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"x x x.

The assigned errors will be subsumed into this issue:

Whether there was a valid termination of the case so as to usher in the impregnable wall of double jeopardy.

Our Ruling

The petition is impressed with merit.

Well-entrenched is the rule that once a case is filed with the court, any disposition of it rests on the sound discretion of the court. In thus resolving a motion to dismiss a case or to withdraw an Information, the trial court should not rely solely and merely on the findings of the public prosecutor or the Secretary of Justice.[20] It is the court’s bounden duty to assess independently the merits of the motion, and this assessment must be embodied in a written order disposing of the motion.[21] While the recommendation of the prosecutor or the ruling of the Secretary of Justice is persuasive, it is not binding on courts.

In this case, it is obvious from the March 17, 2004 Order of the RTC, dismissing the criminal case, that the RTC judge failed to make his own determination of whether or not there was a prima facie case to hold respondents for trial. He failed to make an independent evaluation or assessment of the merits of the case. The RTC judge blindly relied on the manifestation and recommendation of the prosecutor when he should have been more circumspect and judicious in resolving the Motion to Dismiss and Withdraw Information especially so when the prosecution appeared to be uncertain, undecided, and irresolute on whether to indict respondents.

The same holds true with respect to the October 24, 2006 Order, which reinstated the case. The RTC judge failed to make a separate evaluation and merely awaited the resolution of the DOJ Secretary. This is evident from the general tenor of the Order and highlighted in the following portion thereof:

As discussed during the hearing of the Motion for Reconsideration, the Court will resolve it depending on the outcome of the Petition for Review. Considering the findings of the Department of Justice reversing the resolution of the City Prosecutor, the Court gives favorable action to the Motion for Reconsideration.[22]

By relying solely on the manifestation of the public prosecutor and the resolution of the DOJ Secretary, the trial court abdicated its judicial power and refused to perform a positive duty enjoined by law. The said Orders were thus stained with grave abuse of discretion and violated the complainant’s right to due process. They were void, had no legal standing, and produced no effect whatsoever.[23]

This Court must therefore remand the case to the RTC, so that the latter can rule on the merits of the case to determine if a prima facie case exists and consequently resolve the Motion to Dismiss and Withdraw Information anew.

It is beyond cavil that double jeopardy did not set in. Double jeopardy exists when the following requisites are present: (1) a first jeopardy attached prior to the second; (2) the first jeopardy has been validly terminated; and (3) a second jeopardy is for the same offense as in the first. A first jeopardy attaches only (a) after a valid indictment; (b) before a competent court; (c) after arraignment; (d) when a valid plea has been entered; and (e) when the accused has been acquitted or convicted, or the case dismissed or otherwise terminated without his express consent.[24]

Since we have held that the March 17, 2004 Order granting the motion to dismiss was committed with grave abuse of discretion, then respondents were not acquitted nor was there a valid and legal dismissal or termination of the case. Ergo, the fifth requisite which requires the conviction and acquittal of the accused, or the dismissal of the case without the approval of the accused, was not met. Thus, double jeopardy has not set in.

WHEREFORE, the petition is hereby GIVEN DUE COURSE, and the assailed July 11, 2008 Decision and the November 4, 2008 Resolution of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 99088, and the October 24, 2006 and the February 26, 2007 Orders of the Regional Trial Court of Quezon City, Branch 92, are hereby ANNULLED and SET ASIDE. The case is REMANDED to the Quezon City RTC, Branch 92, for evaluation on whether probable cause exists to hold respondents for trial.

No costs.