Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Demurrer to evidence


“x x x.

Demurrer to the evidence is an objection by one of the parties in an action, to the effect that the evidence which his adversary produced is insufficient in point of law, whether true or not, to make out a case or sustain the issue. The party demurring challenges the sufficiency of the whole evidence to sustain a verdict. The court, in passing upon the sufficiency of the evidence raised in a demurrer, is merely required to ascertain whether there is competent or sufficient evidence to sustain the indictment or to support a verdict of guilt. x x x Sufficient evidence for purposes of frustrating a demurrer thereto is such evidence in character, weight or amount as will legally justify the judicial or official action demanded according to the circumstances. To be considered sufficient therefore, the evidence must prove: (a) the commission of the crime, and (b) the precise degree of participation therein by the accused. Thus, when the accused files a demurrer, the court must evaluate whether the prosecution evidence is sufficient enough to warrant the conviction of the accused beyond reasonable doubt.

The grant or denial of a demurrer to evidence is left to the sound discretion of the trial court, and its ruling on the matter shall not be disturbed in the absence of a grave abuse of such discretion.[43] As to effect, the grant of a demurrer to evidence amounts to an acquittal and cannot be appealed because it would place the accused in double jeopardy. The order is reviewable only by certiorari if it was issued with grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction. When grave abuse of discretion is present, an order granting a demurrer becomes null and void.

As a general rule, an order granting the accused’s demurrer to evidence amounts to an acquittal. There are certain exceptions, however, as when the grant thereof would not violate the constitutional proscription on double jeopardy. For instance, this Court ruled that when there is a finding that there was grave abuse of discretion on the part of the trial court in dismissing a criminal case by granting the accused’s demurrer to evidence, its judgment is considered void, as this Court ruled in People v. Laguio, Jr.:

By this time, it is settled that the appellate court may review dismissal orders of trial courts granting an accused’s demurrer to evidence. This may be done via the special civil action of certiorari under Rule 65 based on the ground of grave abuse of discretion, amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction. Such dismissal order, being considered void judgment, does not result in jeopardy. Thus, when the order of dismissal is annulled or set aside by an appellate court in an original special civil action via certiorari, the right of the accused against double jeopardy is not violated.

X x x.

Grave abuse of discretion is defined as “that capricious or whimsical exercise of judgment which is tantamount to lack of jurisdiction. ‘The abuse of discretion must be patent and gross as to amount to an evasion of a positive duty or a virtual refusal to perform a duty enjoined by law, or to act at all in contemplation of law, as where the power is exercised in an arbitrary and despotic manner by reason of passion and hostility.’ The party questioning the acquittal of an accused should be able to clearly establish that the trial court blatantly abused its discretion such that it was deprived of its authority to dispense justice.”

Finally, it must be borne in mind that [t]he granting of a demurrer to evidence should x x x be exercised with caution, taking into consideration not only the rights of the accused, but also the right of the private offended party to be vindicated of the wrongdoing done against him, for if it is granted, the accused is acquitted and the private complainant is generally left with no more remedy. In such instances, although the decision of the court may be wrong, the accused can invoke his right against double jeopardy. Thus, judges are reminded to be more diligent and circumspect in the performance of their duties as members of the Bench x x x.

X x x.”