Argel v. Judge Pascua A.M. No. RTJ-94-1131, August 20, 2001

Facts: Complainant alleged in his complaint that respondent Judge rendered a Decision in Crim. Case No. 2999-V entitled People v. Miguel Argel convicting him of murder notwithstanding the fact that he had already been previously acquitted by respondent in her Decision dated 22 July 1993, promulgated on 13 August 1993. Complainant contends that respondent Judge is guilty of gross ignorance of the law and of violating his constitutional right against double jeopardy. In a letter-explanation dated 7 March 1994 respondent Judge alleged that she rendered the judgment of acquittal dated 22 July 1993 because she erroneously thought that there was no witness who positively identified the accused, herein complainant, as the perpetrator of the crime. Her mistake was brought about by the fact that the testimony of the eyewitness was not attached to the records at the time she wrote her decision. However, when she re-read her notes after her attention was called by the lawyer of the private complainant that there was such an eyewitness, respondent confirmed that there was indeed one in the person of Tito Retreta. Hence she “revised” her previous decision and rendered the Decision dated 19 August 1993 finding the accused guilty of murder. Fully aware of her prior decision of acquittal, respondent nevertheless ordered the police to bring complainant Argel to court not for the purpose of having him incarcerated but only to inform him of her new decision so that he could be made to answer for his civil liabilities arising from the crime. Before she could explain the matter to complainant, the latter’s brother already filed a petition for habeas corpus before the Court of Appeals. According to respondent, she decided to await the hearing of the petition before setting complainant free so that she could give him a copy of her new decision. In his Reply to the letter-explanation of respondent, complainant additionally charged respondent with gross negligence for not exercising extreme caution in the preparation of her decision by making sure that all the transcripts of stenographic notes were attached to the records before writing the decision.

Issue: Whether the error made by the Judge and the revision of the first jeopardy will violate the accused right against double jeopardy.

Held: Yes, Too elementary is the rule that a decision once final is no longer susceptible to amendment or alteration except to correct errors which are clerical in nature, to clarify any ambiguity caused by an omission or mistake in the dispositive portion, or to rectify a travesty of justice brought about by a moro-moro or mock trial. A final decision is the law of the case and is immutable and unalterable regardless of any claim of error or incorrectness. In criminal cases, a judgment of acquittal is immediately final upon its promulgation. It cannot be recalled for correction or amendment except in the cases already mentioned nor withdrawn by another order reconsidering the dismissal of the case since the inherent power of a court to modify its order or decision does not extend to a judgment of acquittal in a criminal case. Complainant herein was already acquitted of murder by respondent. Applying the aforestated rule, the decision became final and immutable on the same day. As a member of the bench who is always admonished to be conversant with the latest legal and judicial developments, more so of elementary rules, respondent should have known that she could no longer “revise” her decision of acquittal without violating not only an elementary rule of procedure but also the constitutional proscription against double jeopardy. When the law is so elementary, not to know it constitutes gross ignorance of the law. The fact that respondent never had any intention of having complainant incarcerated on the basis of the second decision but only to make him answer for the civil liabilities arising from the crime, as respondent explained, cannot exculpate her from administrative liability. On the contrary, such thinking on the part of respondent that she could still “revise” a promulgated decision of acquittal even for such a purpose underscores, not mitigates, her gross ignorance.


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