Saturday, January 24, 2015

CASE IN POINT: Is a judgment of acquittal appealable?



Is a judgment of acquittal appealable?

This week, we discuss a fundamental concept in criminal procedure.

Before us is the question: is a judgment of acquittal appealable?

The answer is in the negative. A judgment of acquittal may be assailed only in a petition for certiorari under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court.
               
Appeal is not an appropriate remedy if an accused is acquitted because that would put the accused in double jeopardy. It does not mean, however, that the State has no more remedy at all. It is a well-settled rule that if the remedy of appeal is not available, a special civil action for certiorari under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court may be availed of. The petitioner, however, must prove that the lower court committed grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction in acquitting the accused and that there is no plain, speedy and adequate remedy.

A petition for certiorari under Rule 65 of the Rules should be filed instead of petition for review on certiorari under Rule 45. The People may assail a judgment of acquittal only via petition for certiorari under Rule 65 of the Rules. If the petition, regardless of its nomenclature, merely calls for an ordinary review of the findings of the court a quo, the constitutional right of the accused against double jeopardy would be violated (People v. Sandiganbayan (First Div.), 524 Phil. 496, 522 [2006]; Villareal v. Aliga, G.R. No. 166995, January 12, 2014, Peralta, J).

In People v. Sandiganbayan (First Div.), it was said:

x x x A petition for review on certiorari under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court and a petition for certiorari under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court are two and separate remedies. A petition under Rule 45 brings up for review errors of judgment, while a petition for certiorari under Rule 65 covers errors of jurisdiction or grave abuse of discretion amounting to excess or lack of jurisdiction. Grave abuse of discretion is not an allowable ground under Rule 45. A petition for review under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court is a mode of appeal. Under Section 1 of the said Rule, a party aggrieved by the decision or final order of the Sandiganbayan may file a petition for review on certiorari with the SC.

However, the provision must be read in relation to Section 1, Rule 122 of the Revised Rules of Court, which provides that any party may appeal from a judgment or final order "unless the accused will thereby be placed in double jeopardy." The judgment that may be appealed by the aggrieved party envisaged in the Rule is a judgment convicting the accused, and not a judgment of acquittal. The State is barred from appealing such judgment of acquittal by a petition for review.

Section 21, Article III of the Constitution provides that "no person shall be twice put in jeopardy of punishment for the same offense." The rule is that a judgment acquitting the accused is final and immediately executory upon its promulgation, and that accordingly, the State may not seek its review without placing the accused in double jeopardy. Such acquittal is final and unappealable on the ground of double jeopardy whether it happens at the trial court or on appeal at the CA. Thus, the State is proscribed from appealing the judgment of acquittal of the accused to this Court under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court.

A judgment of acquittal may be assailed by the People in a petition for certiorari under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court without placing the accused in double jeopardy. However, in such case, the People is burdened to establish that the court a quo, in this case, the Sandiganbayan, acted without jurisdiction or grave abuse of discretion amounting to excess or lack of jurisdiction. Grave abuse of discretion generally refers to capricious or whimsical exercise of judgment as is equivalent to lack of jurisdiction. The abuse of discretion must be so patent and gross as to amount to an evasion of a positive duty or virtual refusal to perform a duty imposed by law, or to act in contemplation of law or where the power is exercised in an arbitrary and despotic manner by reason of passion and hostility. No grave abuse of discretion may be attributed to a court simply because of its alleged misapplication of facts and evidence, and erroneous conclusions based on said evidence. Certiorari will issue only to correct errors of jurisdiction, and not errors or mistakes in the findings and conclusions of the trial court. (People v. Sandiganbayan (First Div.).


A judgment of acquittal, whether ordered by the trial or the appellate court, is final, unappealable, and immediately executory upon its promulgation. (People v. Court of Appeals (Fifteenth Div.); People v. Sandiganbayan (First Div.); People v. Hon. Tria-Tirona, 502 Phil. 31, 37 [2005]; and People v. Hon. Velasco, 394 Phil. 517, 554 [2000]). The rationale for the rule is elucidated in the oft-cited case of People v. Hon. Velasco, where it was said that the fundamental philosophy highlighting the finality of an acquittal by the trial court cuts deep into "the humanity of the laws and in a jealous watchfulness over the rights of the citizen, when brought in unequal contest with the State. x x x." The underlying idea, is that the State with all its resources and power should not be allowed to make repeated attempts to convict an individual for an alleged offense, thereby subjecting him to embarrassment, expense and ordeal and compelling him to live in a continuing state of anxiety and insecurity, as well as enhancing the possibility that even though innocent, he may be found guilty.

It is axiomatic that on the basis of humanity, fairness and justice, an acquitted defendant is entitled to the right of repose as a direct consequence of the finality of his acquittal. The philosophy underlying this rule establishing the absolute nature of acquittals is "part of the paramount importance criminal justice system attaches to the protection of the innocent against wrongful conviction." The interest in the finality-of-acquittal rule, confined exclusively to verdicts of not guilty, is easy to understand: it is a need for "repose," a desire to know the exact extent of one's liability. With this right of repose, the criminal justice system has built in a protection to insure that the innocent, even those whose innocence rests upon a jury’s leniency, will not be found guilty in a subsequent proceeding.


Read more: Can a father of a recognized illegitimate child compel the latter to use his surname?

Dean Ed Vincent S. Albano is the Bar Review Director of Albano Bar Review Center. He authored books/reviewers in Civil Law, Political,  Law, Remedial Law and Legal Ethics.

www.albanobarreviewcenter.com


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