Heirs of Rillorta vs. Firme G.R. No. L-54904, January 29, 1988 157 SCRA 518 (1988)

Facts: Accused was held guilty only of less serious physical injuries and sentenced to twenty days of arresto menor and to indemnify the heirs of the deceased in the sum of P500.00. The trial court said the defendant could not be held liable for homicide because the wound inflicted on the victim was only superficial. The certified cause of death was pneumonia, and this was obviously induced by the exploratory surgery which was needlessly performed upon him. In short, the victim had succumbed not to the skin-deep wound that did not affect any vital organ but as a result of the attending physician’s gross incompetence. The heirs of the deceased, herein petitioners, did not agree. Through their counsel acting “under the direct control and supervision of the provincial fiscal,” they filed a motion for reconsideration of the decision notified to them on January 23, 1980. This motion was sent by registered mail on February 2, 1980. Heard on February 26, it was denied on February 28, 1980, in an order that was communicated to the private prosecutor on March 18, 1980. On March 20, 1980, a notice of appeal was filed with the trial court under the signatures of the prosecuting fiscal and the private prosecutor. After considering the opposition to the notice and the reply thereto, the respondent judge dismissed the appeal on April 14, 1980, for tardiness. Both the fiscal and the private prosecutor filed separate motions for reconsideration, but these were denied on May 12, 1980. The dismissal of the appeal is now the subject of this petition for certiorari under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court.

Issue: Whether the criminal aspect of the decision be modified as a basis for the increase in the civil award and will not violate the rule on double jeopardy.

Held: No, the civil indemnity may be increased only if it will not require an aggravation of the decision in the criminal case on which it is based. In other words, the accused may not, on appeal by the adverse party, be convicted of a more serious offense or sentenced to a higher penalty to justify the increase in the civil indemnity. The petitioners are urging that the civil award be increased because the accused should not have been found guilty of only less serious physical injuries but of homicide. They are not confining themselves to the civil aspect of the challenged decision. The prohibition operates as a “bar to another prosecution for the offense charged, or for any attempt to commit the same or frustration thereof, or for any offense which necessarily includes or is necessarily included in the offense charged in the former complaint or information.” While the Court sympathizes with the petitioners for their tragic loss, it is unable to accord them a more satisfactory material settlement because it is limited by the findings of the trial court and inhibitions of double jeopardy. If an error has been committed somewhere — and on this it is not necessary for us to rule — that error will nonetheless not relax the application of the salutary rule on double jeopardy. It must be, as it is here, upheld.

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