Villareal vs. People (GR. No. 151258)

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In light of the finding of violation of the right of Escalona et al. to speedy trial, the CA’s dismissal of the criminal case against them amounted to an acquittal, and that any appeal or reconsideration thereof would result in a violation of their right against double jeopardy. Though we have recognized that the acquittal of the accused may be challenged where there has been a grave abuse of discretion, certiorari would lie if it is convincingly established that the CA’s Decision dismissing the case was attended by a whimsical or capricious exercise of judgment equivalent to lack of jurisdiction. It must be shown that the assailed judgment constitutes “a patent and gross abuse of discretion amounting to an evasion of a positive duty or to a virtual refusal to perform a duty imposed by law or to act in contemplation of law; an exercise of power in an arbitrary and despotic manner by reason of passion and hostility; or a blatant abuse of authority to a point so grave and so severe as to deprive the court of its very power to dispense justice.

FACTS:

Leonardo “Lenny” Villa was among the seven (7) Ateneo de Manila University School of Law students and neophytes of the Aquila Legis Juris Fraternity (Aquila Fraternity). He and his other fellow neophytes joined Aquila Fraternity’s three-day initiation rites. However, on his second day of initiation, Lenny received several strong paddle blows in addition to the previous ones he and his fellow neophytes received that same day. During the night, after just an hour of sleep, Lenny roused the other neophytes with his shivering and incoherent mumbling. When his condition worsened, the Aquilans brought him to the hospital. Unfortunately, Lenny was pronounced dead on arrival.

These turn of events prompted the filing of a criminal case for homicide against thirty five (35) Aquilans. The RTC convicted twenty six (26) of them of the crime charged. Upon appeal, the Court of Appeals acquitted nineteen (19) of these accused, sentenced four (4) of them of only slight physical injuries, convicted two of them (Artemio and Dizon) of the crime of homicide, and dismissed the case as to Concepcion, Escalona, Ramos, Saruca, and Adriano, on the basis of the violation of the latter’s right to speedy trial. (No clear-cut mention as to other three was made in the case. Meanwhile, one of the accused, De Leon, died during the pendency of the criminal case.)

Unsatisfied with the February 1, 2012 decision of the Supreme Court, Petitioner Gerarda Villa filed the present Motion for Reconsideration asserting that the Court of Appeals committed grave abuse of discretion when it dismissed the case as to Escalona, Ramos, Saruca, and Adriano. Villa opined that their right to speedy trial was not violated since they had failed to assert it within a reasonable period of time. She stresses that, unlike their co-accused Reynaldo Concepcion, respondents Escalona et al. did not timely invoke their right to speedy trial during the time that the original records and pieces of evidence were unavailable. She again emphasizes that the prosecution cannot be faulted entirely for the lapse of 12 years from the arraignment until the initial trial, as there were a number of incidents attributable to the accused themselves that caused the delay of the proceedings.

ISSUE:

Did the CA committed grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction when it dismissed the case against Escalona, Ramos, Saruca, and Adriano for violation of their right to speedy trial?

RULING:

No. After taking a second look on the records of the case, the CA’s decision and the petitioners’ arguments, the Supreme Court found no basis to rule that the appellate court committed grave abuse of discretion in concluding that the aforesaid accused’s right to speedy trial was violated. Its findings were sufficiently supported by the records of the case and grounded in law.

The Supreme Court emphasized that in light of the finding of violation of the right of Escalona et al. to speedy trial, the CA’s dismissal of the criminal case against them amounted to an acquittal, and that any appeal or reconsideration thereof would result in a violation of their right against double jeopardy.

Though we have recognized that the acquittal of the accused may be challenged where there has been a grave abuse of discretion, certiorari would lie if it is convincingly established that the CA’s Decision dismissing the case was attended by a whimsical or capricious exercise of judgment equivalent to lack of jurisdiction. It must be shown that the assailed judgment constitutes “a patent and gross abuse of discretion amounting to an evasion of a positive duty or to a virtual refusal to perform a duty imposed by law or to act in contemplation of law; an exercise of power in an arbitrary and despotic manner by reason of passion and hostility; or a blatant abuse of authority to a point so grave and so severe as to deprive the court of its very power to dispense justice.” Thus, grave abuse of discretion cannot be attributed to a court simply because it allegedly misappreciated the facts and the evidence.

WHEREFORE, premises considered, the Motion for Partial Reconsideration of petitioner Gerarda H. Villa in connection with G.R. Nos. 178057 & 178080 is hereby DENIED. The Motion for Reconsideration filed by the Office of the Solicitor General concerning G.R. Nos. 155101 and 154954 is also DENIED.

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