Published 3 August 2020, The Daily Tribune

Not a few seek legal assistance against criminal charges baselessly hurled against them. In some cases, complainants likewise ask for remedy in case an accused is erroneously acquitted, particularly given the constitutional proscription on double jeopardy. Indeed, there seems to be a misconception that once an accused is acquitted by a court, the battle is over; that the State or the private complainant is left without much choice.

Contrary to the misconception, the prohibition on double jeopardy is not absolute. In this article, I will discuss the exceptions thereto.

But first, what is this rule against double jeopardy? Why is it important?

As defined by jurisprudence, it simply means that a person cannot be charged with a same or identical crime when such person was already previously convicted or acquitted of a similar crime (See Carmelo vs People, GR L-3580, 22 March 1950, En Banc). The rule against double jeopardy is constitutionally-protected as it is enshrined in Article III, Section 21 of the Fundamental Law.

Notwithstanding, the rule against double jeopardy is not without exceptions, both as to a previous conviction or acquittal.

First, as to conviction. Rule 117, Section 7 of the Rules of Court expressly provides three instances wherein an accused may still be subsequently charged with an offense “which necessarily includes the offense charged in the former complaint” despite a previous conviction. This is commonly called as the Doctrine of Supervening Event:

(a) The graver offense developed due to supervening facts arising from the same act or omission constituting the former charge;

(b) The facts constituting the graver charge became known or were discovered only after a plea was entered in the former complaint or information; or

(c) The plea of guilty to the lesser offense was made without the consent of the prosecutor and of the offended party except as provided in section 1(f) of Rule 116.Second, as to acquittal. As a rule, once an accused is acquitted, the prosecution may no longer file an appeal on account of double jeopardy (See Villareal vs Aliga, GR 166995, 13 January 2014).

Nevertheless, (1) where there has been deprivation of due process, (2) where there is a finding of a mistrial, or (3) where there has been a grave abuse of discretion, the rule against double jeopardy does NOT apply (People vs Alejandro, GR 223099, 11 January 2018). The aggrieved party may file a petition for certiorari to assail the wrongful acquittal of an accused on the ground of grave abuse of discretion (See People vs Laguio, GR 128587, 16 March 2007).

A case in point is People and AAA vs Court of Appeals, 21st Division (GR 183652, 25 February 2015), wherein the Supreme Court (SC) held that the Court of Appeals (CA) violated the prosecution’s due process and thereby committed grave abuse of discretion when its judgment of acquittal relied merely on the defense evidence by simply lifting and/or parroting the testimony of the accused.

In said case, the SC castigated the CA for merely relying on the evidence presented by the defense and utterly disregarded that of the prosecution. The SC said:

“The appellate court merely echoed the private respondents’ testimonies, particularly those as to the specific events that transpired during the crucial period… As a result, it presented the private respondents’ account and allegations as though these were the established facts of the case, which it later conveniently utilized to support its ruling of acquittal.”

Lecturing the CA, the SC went on further: “(D)ue process requires that, in reaching a decision, a tribunal must consider the entire evidence presented, regardless of the party who offered the same.

It simply cannot acknowledge that of one party and turn a blind eye to that of the other. It cannot appreciate one party’s cause and brush the other aside… Thus, the CA’s blatant disregard of material prosecution evidence and outward bias in favor of that of the defense constitutes grave abuse of discretion resulting in violation of petitioner’s right to due process.”

In other cases, the SC considered the following as specific acts of denial of due process where the rule against double jeopardy will not lie: (1) purely capricious dismissal of an information (People vs Alberto, GR 132374, 22 August 2002); (2) dismissal of a criminal case merely because none of the witnesses appeared during pre-trial (People vs Judge Tac-an, GR 148000, 27 February 2003); and (3) the trial was a sham (People vs Dante Tan, GR 167526, 26 July 2010).

So, as you can see readers, all is not lost when a court wrongfully acquits an accused. He cannot simply hide under the cloak of double jeopardy as there are widely-recognized exceptions thereto.

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