In line with its exclusive rule-making authority, the Supreme Court (SC) has harmonized all its previous rulings as it laid down the guidelines on private complainant's legal standing to question judgments or orders in criminal proceedings.
The SC pointed out: “The private complainant's interest is limited only to the civil aspect of the case. Only the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) may question the judgments or orders involving the criminal aspect of the case or the right to prosecute in proceedings before the SC and the Court of Appeals (CA).”
It said “in any criminal case or proceeding, only the OSG may bring or defend actions on behalf of the Republic of the Philippines, or represent the People or State before the SC and the CA... under Section 35(1), Chapter 12, Title III, Book III of the 1987 Administrative Code of the Philippines....”
The guidelines were handed down by the SC in its decision that resolved the petition filed by Mamerto Austria who challenged the CA’s decision which reversed the regional trial court’s (RTC) ruling that acquitted him on his motion for reconsideration resolved by a different judge.
The SC’s full court decision was written by Associate Justice Mario V. Lopez and made public last Feb. 1.
Austria, a pubic school teacher, was charged with acts of lasciviousness by two 11-year-old female students. The first RTC judge convicted him. On his motion for reconsideration, he was acquitted by another judge who resolved the motion.
The private complainants challenged the Austria’s acquittal before the RTC. When their appeal was denied, they elevated the case to the CA which ruled in their favor.
The CA found that the RTC which acquitted Austria disregarded the constitutional requirement that a decision must express clearly and distinctly the facts and the law on which it is based.
Thus, the CA declared the judgment of acquittal as void and that double jeopardy did not attach. It reinstated the first RTC decision that convicted Austria.
Austria filed a petition with the SC challenging the CA’s ruling and invoking his right against double jeopardy. He claimed that the private complainants have no personality to question his acquittal.
The SC required the OSG to comment on the private complainants’ standing in Austria’s criminal case.
In denying Austria’s petition, the SC – after a review of its previous rulings on the same issue – handed down the guidelines on the legal personality of a private offended party in questioning criminal judgments or orders. The guidelines are:
1. “As to the civil liability of the accused, the private complainant has the legal personality to appeal. The private offended party’s specific pecuniary interest should be alleged in the appeal or petition for certiorari.
“If such appeal or petition necessarily affects the criminal aspect of the case or the right to prosecute, the reviewing court shall require the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) to file a comment within a non-extendible period of 30 days from notice.
“The OSG’s comment must state whether it conforms or concurs with the remedy of the private complainant. If the OSG is not given an opportunity to comment, the private complainant’s relief may be set aside.
2. “As to the criminal aspect of the case or the right to prosecute, the private complainant has no legal personality to appeal without the conformity of the OSG, to be requested by the private complainant within the period to appeal or file a petition for certiorari.
“If the OSG’s conformity is not granted within such period, the private complainant must allege in his or her appeal/petition that the request is still pending with the OSG. If the OSG denies the request for conformity, the reviewing court shall dismiss the private complainant’s appeal/petition for lack of legal personality.
3. “When the petition for certiorari filed by the private complainant challenges the acquittal of the accused, the dismissal of the criminal case, and the interlocutory orders in criminal proceedings on the ground of grave abuse of discretion or denial of due process, the reviewing court shall require the OSG to file a comment within a non-extendible period of 30 days from notice.
4. “These guidelines shall apply prospectively.”
In a press briefer, the SC’s public information office (PIO) said that in Austria’s case, the High Court ruled that while the private complainants filed the petition before the CA without the OSG’s prior conformity, they cannot be faulted for relying on jurisprudence allowing them to assail the criminal aspect of the case through a petition for certiorari on the grounds of grave abuse of discretion and denial of due process.
The PIO said the SC noted that any event, the OSG later joined the cause of the private complainants and gave its conformity to the petition for certiorari filed before the CA.
It said the SC held that “the private complainants sufficiently established that the RTC’s acquittal orders were rendered “with grave abuse of discretion that is arbitrary, capricious, whimsical, or despotic exercise of judgment as when the assailed order is bereft of any factual and legal justification or when the disputed act of the trial court goes beyond the limits of discretion thus effecting an injustice.”
It also said that the SC declared that “the CA was correct in nullifying the RTC’s orders, which simply copied the allegations of Austria in his motions for reconsideration and memoranda as ‘the Joint Orders are mere recital of facts with a dispositive portion. They contained neither an analysis of the evidence nor a reference to any legal basis for the conclusion.’”
On the issue of double jeopardy, the PIO said “the Court ruled that as the RTC’s acquittal orders were void judgments, they have no legal effect and thus did not terminate the case. Hence, Austria’s right against double jeopardy was not violated.”
“While the SC affirmed the ruling of the CA in favor of the private complainants, the case was ordered remanded to the RTC for resolution of Austria’s motion for reconsideration in accordance with the constitutional requirement that a decision must express clearly and distinctly the facts and the law on which it is based,” the PIO also said as it quoted from the decision.
TAGS: #SC #Double jeopardy #Private complainants in criminal cases