SC Sets Rules on When Private Offended Party Can Appeal Judgments, Orders in Criminal Proceedings
February 04, 2023
The Supreme Court has laid down guidelines on the legal standing of private offended parties when questioning judgments or orders in criminal proceedings.
In a 36-page Decision penned by Justice Mario V. Lopez, the Supreme Court En Banc denied the Petition for Certiorari filed by Mamerto Austria challenging the ruling of the Court of Appeals (CA) which overturned the Regional Trial Court’s (RTC) acquittal of Austria on criminal charges of acts of lasciviousness.
In 2006, the RTC convicted Austria, a public school teacher, of five counts of acts of lasciviousness against two 11-year old female students (“private complainants”). Austria’s conviction, however, was reversed when a new presiding judge granted Austria’s motion for reconsideration.
After the private complainants’ own motion for reconsideration was denied, they elevated the case to the CA alleging grave abuse of discretion on the part of the RTC. The CA ruled in favor of the private complainants, finding that the RTC disregarded the constitutional requirement that a decision must express clearly and distinctly the facts and the law on which it is based. The CA also held that as the assailed RTC orders were void, double jeopardy did not attach. Nullifying the RTC’s orders, the CA ruled that the previous decision convicting Austria be reinstated.
This prompted Austria to challenge the appellate court’s ruling before the Supreme Court, invoking his right against double jeopardy and claiming that the private complainants had no legal personality to question his acquittal. The Supreme Court then required the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) to file a comment on the private complainants’ legal standing in a criminal case.
In denying Austria’s petition, the High Court reviewed existing jurisprudence on the issue of the legal personality of a private offended party in criminal proceedings.
Harmonizing the divergent doctrines laid down in previous decisions, the Court formulated the following guidelines in determining the legal personality of a private offended party in questioning criminal judgments or orders:
- As to the civil liability of the accused, the private complainant has the legal personality to appeal. The private offended party’s specific pecuniary interest should be alleged in the appeal or petition for certiorari.
If such appeal or petition necessarily affects the criminal aspect of the case or the right to prosecute, the reviewing court shall require the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) to file a comment within a non-extendible period of 30 days from notice. The OSG’s comment must state whether it conforms or concurs with the remedy of the private complainant. If the OSG is not given an opportunity to comment, the private complainant’s relief may be set aside.
- As to the criminal aspect of the case or the right to prosecute, the private complainant has no legal personality to appeal without the conformity of the OSG, to be requested by the private complainant within the period to appeal or file a petition for certiorari. If the OSG’s conformity is not granted within such period, the private complainant must allege in his or her appeal/petition that the request is still pending with the OSG. If the OSG denies the request for conformity, the reviewing court shall dismiss the private complainant’s appeal/petition for lack of legal personality.
- When the petition for certiorari filed by the private complainant challenges the acquittal of the accused, the dismissal of the criminal case, and the interlocutory orders in criminal proceedings on the ground of grave abuse of discretion or denial of due process, the reviewing court shall require the OSG to file a comment within a non-extendible period of 30 days from notice.
- These guidelines shall apply prospectively.
In Austria’s case, while the private complainants filed the petition before the CA without the OSG’s prior conformity, the Court held that they cannot be faulted for relying on jurisprudence allowing them to assail the criminal aspect of the case through a petition for certiorari on the grounds of grave abuse of discretion and denial of due process.
The Court also noted that in any event, the OSG later joined the cause of the private complainants and gave its conformity to the petition for certiorari filed before the CA.
The Court held further that the private complainants sufficiently established that the RTC’s acquittal orders were rendered “with grave abuse of discretion that is arbitrary, capricious, whimsical, or despotic exercise of judgment as when the assailed order is bereft of any factual and legal justification or when the disputed act of the trial court goes beyond the limits of discretion thus effecting an injustice.”
Thus, the CA was correct in nullifying the RTC’s orders, which simply copied the allegations of Austria in his motions for reconsideration and memoranda. “The Joint Orders are mere recital of facts with a dispositive portion. They contained neither an analysis of the evidence nor a reference to any legal basis for the conclusion,” said the Court.
Finally, as to the issue of double jeopardy, the Court ruled that as the RTC’s acquittal orders were void judgments, they have no legal effect and thus did not terminate the case. Hence, Austria’s right against double jeopardy was not violated.
While the Supreme Court affirmed the ruling of the CA in favor of the private complainants, the case was ordered remanded to the RTC for resolution of Austria’s motion for reconsideration in accordance with the constitutional requirement that a decision must express clearly and distinctly the facts and the law on which it is based.
FULL TEXT OF G.R. No. 205275 dated June 28, 2022 at https://sc.judiciary.gov.ph/32735/