In an Information dated May 30, 2011, respondents City Mayor Randolph S. Ting and City Treasurer Salvacion I. Garcia, both of Tuguegarao City in the year 2004, were charged with violation of Section 261 (w)(b) of Batas Pambansa Bilang R81, otherwise known as the Omnibus Election Code, for issuing a treasury warrant during the forty-five (45)-day election ban period as payment for two (2) parcels of land to be used as a public cemetery for the city.
Upon arraignment, respondents entered a plea of not guilty to the offense charged. After the pre-trial, the prosecution filed its Formal Offer of Evidence on October 23, 2013. But instead of presenting their evidence, respondents filed a Motion for Leave to File a Demurrer to Evidence and, subsequently, a Demurrer to Evidence. In an Order dated December 16, 2013, the RTC granted the same and acquitted the respondents. According to the RTC, while it is uncontested that the treasury warrant or the Landbank check in issue bears the date “April 30, 2004,” which is well within the prohibited period, the date of the instrument is not necessarily the date of issue. The Negotiable Instruments Law provides that an instrument is issued by “the first delivery of the instrument, complete in form, to a person who takes it as a holder.” But the prosecution failed to prove that the subject check was delivered to the vendors of the lots within the prohibited period. In fact, the dorsal side of the instrument bears “May 18, 2004” as the date of payment as annotated by the drawee bank, which is beyond the said period. The RTC added that just because the title was issued in favor of the City Government of Tuguegarao on May 5, 2004, it does not follow that payment was in fact made on the same day. The Law on Sales provides that payment of the purchase price is not a condition tor the transfer of title, in the absence of stipulation to the contrary.
In a Decision dated June 16, 2015, the CA denied the Petition for Certiorari under Rule 65 and affirmed the RTC’s Order. Aggrieved by the CA’s denial of its Motion for Reconsideration, the OSG filed the instant petition on January 7, 2016.
1. Whether the Rule on Double Jeopardy sets when the grant to Demurrer to Evidence was attended with Grave Abuse of Discretion.
2. Whether the RTC committed a grave abuse of discretion in granting the demurrer to evidence of the respondent.
1. No, The rule on double jeopardy, however, is not without exceptions. It has been held in the past that the only instance when the accused can be barred from invoking his right against double jeopardy is when it can be demonstrated that the trial court acted with grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction, such as where the prosecution was not allowed the opportunity to make its case against the accused or where the trial was a sham. For instance, there is no double jeopardy (1) where the trial court prematurely terminated the presentation of the prosecution’s evidence and forthwith dismissed the information for insufficiency of evidence; and (2) where the case was dismissed at a time when the case was not ready for trial and adjudication.
In the instant case, the Court finds that the elements of double jeopardy are present herein. A valid information was filed against respondents for violation of Section 261 (w)(b) of the Omnibus Election Code resulting in the institution of a criminal case before the proper court of competent jurisdiction. Subsequently, respondents pleaded not guilty to the offense charged and were acquitted; the dismissal of the case against them being based on a demurrer to evidence filed after the prosecution rested its case.
2. No, It must be noted, moreover, that while an acquittal by virtue of a demurrer to evidence may be subject to review via a petition for certiorari under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court, not by a petition for review under Rule 45 like in this case, there is no showing that the RTC committed grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction or a denial of due process. “Grave abuse of discretion has been defined as that capricious or whimsical exercise of judgment which is tantamount to lack of jurisdiction. The abuse of discretion must be patent and gross as to amount to an evasion of a positive duty or a virtual refusal to perform a duty enjoined by law, or to act at all in contemplation of law, as where the power is exercised in an arbitrary and despotic manner by reason of passion and hostility. The party questioning the acquittal of an accused should be able to clearly establish that the trial court blatantly abused its discretion such that it was deprived of its authority to dispense justice.”
A review of the records of the instant case reveals no abuse of discretion on the part of the trial court so grave as to result in the reversal of its judgment of acquittal. While the law provides certain exceptions to the application of the rule on double jeopardy as when a trial court prematurely terminates the prosecution’s presentation of evidence, the Court finds these exceptions inapplicable to the case at hand. It must be noted that the RTC herein duly gave the prosecution ample opportunity to present its case by allowing the latter to submit the pieces of evidence necessary for conviction. It cannot, therefore, be gainsaid that the prosecution was deprived of due process of law. In fact, in its petition before the Court, the OSG made no mention of any objection as to the manner by which the RTC conducted the proceedings. Neither did it particularly allege a denial of its right to due process. Instead, the OSG merely argued that the RTC granted respondents’ demurrer to evidence without any clear and factual basis, failing to make a careful consideration of its evidence and merely focusing on the highly technical provisions of the Negotiable Instruments Law. To the Court, however, this cannot result in a complete reversal of the judgment of acquittal. Even if we are to assume that the RTC had overlooked certain facts in arriving at its conclusions, this supposed misappreciation of evidence will, at most, be considered only as a mere error of judgment, and not of jurisdiction or a manifestation of grave abuse of discretion. It is, therefore, not correctible by a writ of certiorari.
To reiterate, for an acquittal to be considered tainted with grave abuse of discretion, there must be a showing that the prosecution’s right to due process was violated or that the trial conducted was a sham. Accordingly, notwithstanding the alleged errors in the interpretation of the applicable law or appreciation of evidence that the RTC and the CA may have committed in ordering respondents’ acquittal, absent any showing that said courts acted with caprice or without regard to the rudiments of due process, their findings can no longer be reversed, disturbed and set aside without violating the rule against double jeopardy. Indeed, errors or irregularities, which do not render the proceedings a nullity, will not defeat a plea of autrefois acquit. We are bound by the dictum that whatever error may have been committed effecting the dismissal of the case cannot now be corrected because of the timely plea of double jeopardy. “[I]t bears to stress that the fundamental philosophy behind the constitutional proscription against double jeopardy is to afford the defendant, who has been acquitted, final repose and safeguard him from government oppression through the abuse of criminal processes.