Louel Uy and Teofilo Panangin were charged for the killing of Rabel Campos who was found dead with several stab wounds. The RTC granted the separate demurrer to evidence of accused Uy and Panangin resulting in their acquittal for murder due to insufficiency of evidence, but nevertheless holding them jointly and severally liable to pay
P35,000 to the heirs of the victim representing vigil and burial expenses is being assailed in the present petition for certiorari under Rule 65.
Can an acquittal on demurrer to evidence be challenged on certiorari?
The general rule in this jurisdiction is that a judgment of acquittal is final and unappealable. People v. Court of Appeals explains the rationale of this rule:
In our jurisdiction, the finality-of-acquittal doctrine as a safeguard against double jeopardy faithfully adheres to the principle first enunciated in Kepner v. United States. In this case, verdicts of acquittal are to be regarded as absolutely final and irreviewable.
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.
As succinctly observed in Green v. United States “(t)he underlying idea, one that is deeply ingrained in at least the Anglo-American system of jurisprudence, is that the State with all its resources and power should not be allowed to make repeated attempts to convict an individual for an alleged offense, thereby subjecting him to embarrassment, expense and ordeal and compelling him to live in a continuing state of anxiety and insecurity, as well as enhancing the possibility that even though innocent, he may be found guilty.”
The same rule applies in criminal cases where a demurrer to evidence is granted. As held in the case of People v. Sandiganbayan:
The demurrer to evidence in criminal cases, such as the one at bar, is filed after the prosecution had rested its case, and when the same is granted, it calls for an appreciation of the evidence adduced by the prosecution and its sufficiency to warrant conviction beyond reasonable doubt, resulting in a dismissal of the case on the merits, tantamount to an acquittal of the accused. Such dismissal of a criminal case by the grant of demurrer to evidence may not be appealed, for to do so would be to place the accused in double jeopardy. The verdict being one of acquittal, the case ends there.
Like any other rule, however, the above-said rule is not absolute. By way of exception, a judgment of acquittal in a criminal case may be assailed in a petition for certiorari under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court upon a clear showing by the petitioner that the lower court, in acquitting the accused, committed not merely reversible errors of judgment but also grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction or a denial of due process, thus rendering the assailed judgment void.
In People v. Court of Appeals, this Court had the occasion to elucidate on the special civil action of certiorari, the remedy availed of by petitioners:
To question the jurisdiction of the lower court or the agency exercising judicial or quasi-judicial functions, the remedy is a special civil action for certiorari under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court. The petitioner in such cases must clearly show that the public respondent acted without jurisdiction or with grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction. Grave abuse of discretion defies exact definition, but it generally refers to capricious or whimsical exercise of judgment as is equivalent to lack of jurisdiction. The abuse of discretion must be patent and gross as to amount to an evasion of 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.