Expedited Rules In Criminal Cases

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“The accused continue to enjoy rights.”

The Rules on Expedited Procedures in the First Level Courts (Expedited Rules) (A.M. No. 08-8-7-SC) included revisions on the Rule on Summary Procedure (RSP) in criminal cases. The revisions “[took] into account the recent developments in procedural and substantive law and jurisprudence, as well as technological advancements”.

An interesting innovation in the Expedited Rules is the discretion given to the courts to determine whether the conduct of a videoconference hearing is practicable and beneficial to the fair, speedy and efficient administration of justice. The court may, on its own initiative or upon a motion, set the case for a videoconference hearing at any stage of the proceedings (Rule II, Section 3, Expedited Rules).

Under the Expedited Rules, the Metropolitan Trial Courts and Municipal Trial Courts (First Level Courts) continue to have criminal jurisdiction over the following cases: (a) violations of traffic laws, rules and regulations; (b) violations of the rental law; (c) violations of municipal and city ordinances; and (d) violations of Batas Pambansa (BP) Blg. 22 or the Bouncing Checks Law. (Rule I(B), Expedited Rules).

However, the criminal jurisdiction of the First Level Courts was expanded to cover offenses wherein the penalty of imprisonment does not exceed 1 year, or where the fine does not to exceed P50,000, or both, regardless of other imposable penalties. For offenses involving damage to property through criminal negligence, the RSP shall apply if the imposable fine does not exceed P150,000.00 (Rule I(B)(5), Expedited Rules).

If the criminal case is commenced by a complaint, the court may, after examination of the complaint and the judicial affidavits and other evidence, dismiss the case outright for lack of probable cause. However, if commenced by information, the court shall issue an order requiring the accused to submit a judicial counter-affidavit with the accompanying judicial affidavits of witnesses and other evidence (Rule III(B), Section 2, Expedited Rules).

The accused’s judicial counter-affidavit should be filed in court and served to the private complainant and the public prosecutor within fifteen calendar days from the receipt of the order. The judicial affidavit or judicial counter-affidavit must be prepared earnestly by the parties because it shall take the place of their direct testimonies (Rule III(B), Section 2, Expedited Rules).

Upon receipt of the judicial counter-affidavit or once its period to submit has elapsed, the court shall determine the existence of probable cause. If probable cause exists, the court shall set the case for arraignment and pre-trial. However, if no probable cause exists, the court shall order the dismissal of the case and the immediate release of the detained accused (Rule III(B), Section 3, Expedited Rules).

On the other hand, the prosecution may, in lieu of judicial affidavits, submit: (a) the complainant and the witnesses’ written sworn statements prepared by the law enforcement agents, or (b) the affidavits filed by the contending parties with the public prosecutor during preliminary investigation. The sworn statements and affidavits shall be supplemented by additional direct examination, if allowed by the court (Rule III(B), Section 2, Expedited Rules).

Unlike in regular procedure, the court in criminal RSP cases shall not issue a warrant of arrest against the accused, except for failure to appear despite notice by the court. Release of the person arrested under the RSP shall either be on bail, on the accused’s own recognizance or that of a responsible citizen of the community (Rule III(B), Section 4, Expedited Rules). Recognizance is an undertaking by an accused or responsible person that the former will appear in court.

If the warrant of arrest cannot be served because the accused’s whereabouts are unknown, the court shall issue an order archiving the case. This order shall be issued after a return or report is filed by the law enforcement agency showing its failure to locate the accused, or after six months have elapsed from the issuance of the warrant of arrest (Rule III(B), Section 4, Expedited Rules).

The notice of arraignment and pre-trial shall require the attendance of the private complainant, the accused, their respective counsels and witnesses, and the law enforcement agents assigned to the case. Before the accused is arraigned, the court shall inquire about the possibility of a plea bargain between the parties (Rule III(B), Section 5, Expedited Rules).

If the accused pleads guilty to the original charge or the lesser offense as a result of a plea bargain offer, the court shall sentence the accused. If the accused pleads not guilty, the court shall conduct the Pre-Trial Conference. Admissions to be taken against the accused must be in writing and signed by the accused and counsel either in the Pre-Trial Order or the Minutes of the Pre-Trial Conference (Rule III(B), Section 5, Expedited Rules).

At the trial, the direct examination of witnesses shall consist of the duly subscribed written statements given to law enforcement agents, the affidavits submitted before the investigating officer, or their judicial affidavits; subject to cross, re-direct, and re-cross examinations. The affidavit of the affiant who fails to appear in court to testify shall not be considered as competent evidence for the party presenting the affidavit (Rule III(B), Section 6, Expedited Rules).

The prosecution and defense shall each have sixty (60) calendar days to complete its evidence presentation. The prosecution will be required to present evidence ahead of the defense. On the last day of each of their presentations of evidence, the presenting party shall orally offer the evidence, and the other party will be allowed to make oral comments. Thereafter, the court shall orally resolve the offer of evidence (Rule III(B), Section 6, Expedited Rules).

Postponements of hearings will be allowed only for acts of God, force majeure, or the physical inability of the counsel or witness to appear. Any authorized postponement shall not extend the period for presentation of a party’s evidence. In effect, the party who sought the postponement shall only have the remaining trial dates assigned to him or her to complete the presentation of evidence (Rule III(B), Section 6, Expedited Rules).

The court shall promulgate the judgment no later than thirty calendar days from the court’s action on the last presenting party’s offer of evidence (Rule III(B), Section 7, Expedited Rules). The accused, if convicted, may appeal by filing a notice of appeal together with the proof of payment of filing fees with the First Level Court that rendered the judgment or final order, within fifteen calendar days from receipt thereof (Rule III(C), Section 1, Expedited Rules).

Thereafter, the records will be elevated by the First Level Court to the Regional Trial Court (RTC) for review. The judgment or final order by the RTC on the appeal affirming the conviction shall be final, executory, and unappealable (Rule III(C), Section 2, Expedited Rules). Henceforth, no further appeal can be made to or entertained by the Court of Appeals.

Essentially, there is only a one-step appeal for RSP cases: that is, from the First Level Court to the RTC. However, if the RTC judgment or final order of conviction is tainted with grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction, then the accused may file a Petition for Certiorari to the Court of Appeals – but not an appeal.

The public should not be concerned about the unusual speed of the disposition of criminal RSP cases, as the protection of the rights of the accused under the Constitution are not sacrificed for swiftness. The accused’s right to be presumed innocent, to be informed of the accusations against him, to be heard by the court, and to meet in person the witnesses testifying against him remain to be untouched and unimpaired.

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Tranquil G.S. Salvador III
  • Tranquil G.S. Salvador III