Petitioner a Bus driver was charged with Reckless Imprudence resulting to multiple injuries when it collided with a pickup truck containing 5 passengers. Upon being arraigned on June 21, 2001, the petitioner, with the assistance of his counsel, pleaded not guilty to the Information in this case. Trial ensued. However, after the initial presentation of evidence for the petitioner, he resigned from his employment and transferred residence. His whereabouts allegedly became unknown, so he was not presented as a witness by his new counsel.
The RTC rendered its Decision in absentia convicting the petitioner of the crime charged. The petitioner then filed a motion for new trial via registered mail on the ground that errors of law or irregularities have been committed during trial that are allegedly prejudicial to his substantial rights. He claimed that he was not able to present evidence during trial because he was not notified of the schedule. Likewise, he mistakenly believed that the case against him has been dismissed as private complainant purportedly left the country. The RTC denied the motion, hence appealing the case to CA. CA affirmed the decision of the RTC in denying the petitioners motion for new trial. Hence this case.
Whether the lower courts erred in denying the motion for new trial or to re-open the same in order to allow the petitioner to present evidence on his behalf.
No, The Court finds that no errors of law or irregularities, prejudicial to the substantial rights of the petitioner, have been committed during trial. The petitioner’s claims that he had not testified because he did not know the schedule of the hearings, and mistakenly believed that the case had already been terminated with the departure of the complainant do not merit our consideration.
The holding of trial in absentia is authorized under Section 14(2), Article III of the 1987 Constitution which provides that after arraignment, trial may proceed notwithstanding the absence of the accused provided that he has been duly notified and his failure to appear is unjustifiable. It is established that notices have been served to the counsel of the petitioner and his failure to inform his counsel of his whereabouts is the reason for his failure to appear on the scheduled date. Thus, the arguments of the petitioner against the validity of the proceedings and promulgation of judgment in absentia for being in violation of the constitutional right to due process are doomed to fail.
The negligence of the petitioner in believing that the case was already terminated resulting to his failure to attend the hearings, is inexcusable.