Hastening trials in criminal cases
In rejecting the bid of Sen. Gringo Honasan to quash his P29.1 million pork barrel case and his subsequent motion for reconsideration, the Sandiganbanyan (Second Division, composed of Justices Oscar C. Herrera Jr., chair, and Michael Frederick L. Musngi and Lorifel L. Pahimna, members) cited the “Revised Guidelines for Continuous Trial of Criminal Cases (RGs).”
Continuous trial. Effective last Sept. 1 as a supplement to the Rules of Court, the RGs were issued by the Supreme Court to hasten the disposition of the more than 600,000 cases (77 percent are criminal in nature) pending in the trial courts, the Sandiganbayan and the Court of Tax Appeals. They were drafted by the Special Committee on Speedy Trial headed by Justice Diosdado M. Peralta.
At 56 pages, including annexes, the RGs are a formidable read, but I’ll try to squeeze them in my limited space, thus:
1) Trial shall be held continuously morning and afternoon, Monday to Thursday, to begin “at exactly 8:30 a.m. and 2:00 p.m… Hearing on motions, arraignment and pretrial, and promulgation of decisions shall be held on the morning of Fridays…”
2) Motions prohibited by the Rules of Court (but filed anyway and argued endlessly by enterprising lawyers) like motions for judicial determination of probable cause, for preliminary investigation filed beyond the allowable period, etc. “shall be denied outright before the scheduled arraignment without need of comment and/or opposition.”
3) Motions for postponement are prohibited except those “based on acts of God, force majeure or physical inability of the witness to appear and testify,” and if granted, “the presentation of evidence shall still be finished on the dates previously agreed upon.”
4) If one is not qualified to avail oneself of the services of the Public Attorney’s Office, the local chapter of the Integrated Bar shall provide the needed legal assistance. The local chapter shall submit a list of its members from which the judge could appoint counsels de officio. Thus, the lack of legal assistance is not a ground for postponement.
Multiple accused. 5) When a new accused is charged and his/her case is consolidated with an ongoing case involving the same set of facts against a different set of accused (as in the long-pending Maguindanao massacre), “the parties may be allowed to adopt the evidence so far presented, without prejudice to additional direct questions and cross-examination questions.” This will save valuable time in presenting anew the witnesses and documents already taken up in the existing case.
6) In these cases with multiple accused, the court, with the express consent of the accused and his/her lawyer, may allow a waiver of the reading of the information. This will save valuable time rereading it over and over to the many accused.
7) If the accused desires to enter a plea of guilty to a lesser offense, plea bargaining will immediately proceed, provided the offended party in private crimes, or the arresting officer in victimless crimes is present and gives his/her consent, with the conformity of the public prosecutor. Thereafter, judgment shall immediately be rendered.
Flow charts and templates. 8) To facilitate compliance with the strict deadlines set by the RGs, the trial court shall prepare a flow chart showing the final schedules of the arraignment and pretrial, presentation of the evidence which shall not exceed 180 days (60 in drug cases), and promulgation of the decision shall be rendered within 90 days (15 in drug cases) thereafter.
9) To speed up the issuance of court orders to implement the foregoing items, the RGs included “fill-in-the-blanks” templates that the parties, lawyers and judges could simply fill out, thereby preempting any excuse for not submitting on time the needed pleadings and rendering the pertinent orders/decisions.
In sum, I think the RGs would indeed hasten criminal trials. But they do not, by their very terms, address all the problems of delay since they refer only to criminal cases. At another time, I shall try, perhaps in a series of columns, to explain the comprehensive reforms that are being (or ought to be) done to speed up quality justice.
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