Dismissal of criminal actions
"Sleepless nights, anxiety, stress"
A person prosecuted for a criminal case harbors the fear of being arrested and later convicted. The fear brings about sleepless nights, anxiety, and stress to him and his loved ones. The accused will start to reflect on why he has to go through criminal litigation and how it could have been avoided. It is at this time that the accused needs a lawyer.
The accused needs competent and reliable legal services because the subsequent legal proceedings require the assistance of someone skilled in the law. When the lawyer is hired, he is expected to conduct a reasonable inquiry of the factual disclosures of the accused. This is essential for the adequate preparation of the defense of the accused.
It is important to take note that the use of the legal remedies discussed in this article may vary depending on the strength or weakness of the criminal case against the accused.
The first opportunity to dismiss the criminal case is at the Office of the Prosecutor. Immediately after filing the affidavit-complaint, the investigating prosecutor “shall dismiss the case if he finds no ground to continue with the investigation” (Section 3 (b), Rule 112, Rules on Criminal Procedure).
Another opportunity to dismiss the criminal complaint is when the Office of the Prosecutor finds no probable cause to hold the respondent (the person sued) for trial after the preliminary investigation. However, if the Office of the Prosecutor finds cause to hold the respondent for trial, the criminal information will be filed in court (Section 4, Rule 112, Rules on Criminal Procedure).
After the criminal information is filed in court but before the issuance of the warrant of arrest, the trial court may immediately dismiss the case if the evidence on record clearly fails to establish probable cause. The dismissal is based on the personal evaluation of the judge; therefore, the accused does not need to file a Motion for Determination of Probable Cause (Section5, Rule 112, Rules on Criminal Procedure), the latter motion being a prohibited pleading (2017 Guidelines for Continuous Trial in Criminal Cases).
The next opportunity to dismiss the criminal action is to quash the information or complaint in court. The motion to quash may be filed by the accused before he enters a plea. The information or complaint may be quashed if there is more than one offense charged, except when there is a single punishment for various offenses (Section 3, Rule 117, Rules on Criminal Procedure); the rule being that the criminal information should contain only one offense.
The information may also be quashed if the facts alleged do not constitute an offense; meaning the information charges no crime. With this, the prosecution shall be given an opportunity to amend the information to correct the defect. The court shall dismiss the case or quash the information if the prosecution fails to make the amendment, or the information continues to suffer the same defect despite the amendment (Sections 3 and 4, Rule 117, Rules on Criminal Procedure).
The criminal action may be dismissed or the information quashed if the court trying the case has no jurisdiction over the offense charged (Section 3, Rule 117, Rules on Criminal Procedure). This may happen when the criminal case is filed in the wrong court. For example, a criminal case is filed in the Metropolitan Trial Court when it should have been filed in the Regional Trial Court. The court also has no jurisdiction over the offense if the crime was committed outside the territorial jurisdiction of the court trying the case.
Even if the criminal action was filed in the proper court but the accused has not been arrested or is yet to surrender, the criminal case may be dismissed (Section 3, Rule 117, Rules on Criminal Procedure). However, the court has an option to archive the case. The criminal case can also be dismissed if the action has prescribed, meaning the complainant or offended party slept on his or her rights. For example, an action for oral defamation will be dismissed if filed more than six months from its commission (Article 90, Revised Penal Code).
There are other grounds to dismiss or quash the information, such as when the officer filing the information had no authority in doing so, when the information does not conform to the prescribed form, or if the accused has been previously convicted, acquitted, or the case against him dismissed without his express consent (Section 3, Rule 117, Rules on Criminal Procedure). The latter instance is more popularly known as double jeopardy or res judicata in prison grey.
The criminal case may also be dismissed provisionally at any stage of the proceedings in the trial court. A criminal case is provisionally dismissed when the accused expressly consents and the offended party is notified of such a dismissal (Section 8, Rule 117, Rules on Criminal Procedure). Interestingly, there are no grounds for a provisional dismissal. However, the reasons may range from the repeated excused absence of the prosecution’s material witnesses, supervening insanity of the offended party, or the unavailability of documentary or object evidence through no fault of the prosecution.
The dismissal, being provisional, may be revived within one year after issuance of the order of dismissal if the penalty for the offense upon which the accused is charged does not exceed six years. However, if the penalty for the offense exceeds six years then the provisionally dismissed criminal case can be revived within two years. After the lapse of the said periods without the case being revived the dismissal will become permanent (Section 8, Rule 117, Rules on Criminal Procedure).
The criminal case can also be dismissed after the prosecution (State) rests its case or completes the presentation of its evidence and the accused files a Demurrer to Evidence (Section 23, Rule 119, Rules on Criminal Procedure). The filing of a Demurrer to Evidence is based on the grounds of insufficiency of evidence, meaning that the prosecution’s evidence failed to prove the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt. The demurring party or the accused challenges the sufficiency of the entirety of the evidence to sustain a verdict.
It is highly recommended that the filing party applies for a leave to file a Demurrer to Evidence before filing one. If the Demurrer to Evidence is denied, the accused can still present evidence in support of his or her defense. However, if the Demurrer to Evidence is filed without leave or permission from the court and the same is denied, the accused waives the right to present evidence and submits the case to judgment based on the evidence of the prosecution (Section 23, Rule 119, Rules on Criminal Procedure). The granting of a Demurrer to Evidence is equivalent to an acquittal of the accused.
Under the 2017 Guidelines for Continuous Trial in Criminal Cases, the schedule of trial dates for both the prosecution and the accused shall be continuous and within the periods provided in the Regular Rules or Special Rules. In regular cases, the arraignment and pre-trial have to be completed within 30 days, the trial completed within 180 days, and the promulgation of the decision within 90 days from the submission of the case for judgment. If the periods are not observed except for meritorious reasons, the case may be dismissed for violation of the right of the accused to a speedy or continuous trial.
The criminal case can also be dismissed based on the person’s right to a speedy disposition of cases under Section 16, Article III, 1987 Constitution which provides that “All persons shall have the right to a speedy disposition of their cases before all judicial, quasi-judicial, or administrative bodies.” It is not limited to the accused in a criminal case but extends to all parties in all cases, be they civil, administrative, judicial, or quasi-judicial.
Any party to a case may demand expeditious action from all officials who are tasked with the administration of justice. Unlike the right to a speedy trial which is limited only to the proceedings in the trial court, the right to the speedy disposition of cases covers the proceedings prior to the filing of the information in court such as is done in the Offices of the Prosecutor or the Ombudsman. This right is violated when the delay is vexatious, capricious, and oppressive.
There is no fixed rule on what period of delay constitutes a denial of the right to speedy disposition of the case. In Anchangco v. Ombudsman, the delay of almost six years in resolving the criminal charges constitutes a violation of the right to speedy disposition. In People of the Philippines v. Sandiganbayan, the delay of almost 15 years from the filing of the complaint to the filing of the information in court was likewise held to be a violation of the accused’s right to the speedy disposition of his case (Criminal Procedure, Tranquil Salvador III, 2019, page 393).