CABADOR vs. PEOPLE, G.R. No. 186001, October 2, 2009

On June 23, 2000 the public prosecutor accused petitioner Antonio Cabador before the RTC of Quezon City for murdering, in conspiracy with others.

On February 13, 2006, after presenting only five witnesses over five years of intermittent trial, the RTC declared at an end the prosecution’s presentation of evidence and required the prosecution to make a written or formal offer of its documentary evidence within 15 days from notice. But the public prosecutor asked for multiple extensions of time. on July 28, 2006 the prosecution asked the RTC for another extension of the period for its formal offer, which offer it eventually made on August 1, 2006, the day Cabador filed his motion to dismiss.

On August 1, 2006 petitioner Cabador filed a motion to dismiss the case, complaining of a turtle-paced proceeding in the case since his arrest and detention in 2001 and invoking his right to a speedy trial. Further, he claimed that in the circumstances, the trial court could not consider any evidence against him that had not been formally offered. He also pointed out that the prosecution witnesses did not have knowledge of his alleged part in the crime charged.

On August 31, 2006 the RTC issued an Order treating petitioner Cabador’s motion to dismiss as a demurrer to evidence. And, since he filed his motion without leave of court, the RTC declared him to have waived his right to present evidence in his defense. The trial court deemed the case submitted for decision insofar as he was concerned. Cabador filed a motion for reconsideration but was denied.

On February 19, 2007 Cabador questioned the RTC’s actions before the CA but on August 4, 2008 the latter denied his petition and affirmed the lower court’s actions. With the CA’s denial of his motion for reconsideration, on October 28, 2008 petitioner came to this Court via a petition for review on certiorari.

Whether Cabador’s motion to dismiss before the trial court was in fact a demurrer to evidence filed without leave of court, with the result that he effectively waived his right to present evidence in his defense and submitted the case for decision insofar as he was concerned.

No, to determine whether the pleading filed is a demurer to evidence or a motion to dismiss, the Court must consider (1) the allegations in it made in good faith; (2) the stage of the proceeding at which it is filed; and (3) the primary objective of the party filing it.

In criminal cases, a motion to dismiss may be filed on the ground of denial of the accused’s right to speedy trial. This denial is characterized by unreasonable, vexatious, and oppressive delays without fault of the accused, or by unjustified postponements that unreasonably prolonged the trial. This was the main thrust of Cabador’s motion to dismiss and he had the right to bring this up for a ruling by the trial court.
Demurrer to evidence. – After the prosecution rests its case, the court may dismiss the action on the ground of insufficiency of evidence (1) on its own initiative after giving the prosecution the opportunity to be heard or (2) upon demurrer to the evidence filed by the accused with or without leave of court.

Here, after the prosecution filed its formal offer of exhibits on August 1, 2006, the same day Cabador filed his motion to dismiss, the trial court still needed to give him an opportunity to object to the admission of those exhibits. It also needed to rule on the formal offer. And only after such a ruling could the prosecution be deemed to have rested its case. Since Cabador filed his motion to dismiss before he could object to the prosecution’s formal offer, before the trial court could act on the offer, and before the prosecution could rest its case, it could not be said that he had intended his motion to dismiss to serve as a demurrer to evidence.

In sum, tested against the criteria laid down in Enojas, the Court finds that petitioner Cabador filed a motion to dismiss on the ground of violation of his right to speedy trial, not a demurrer to evidence. He cannot be declared to have waived his right to present evidence in his defense.

On a final note, a demurrer to evidence shortens the proceedings in criminal cases. Caution must, however, be exercised in view of its pernicious consequence on the right of the accused to present evidence in his defense, the seriousness of the crime charged, and the gravity of the penalty involved.

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