Propriety of Appeal by the Prosecution
The prosecution asks this Court to modify the RTC Decision by imposing the supreme penalty of death on the accused. It argues that it has proven that the victim is the daughter of the accused, and that she was below eighteen (18) years old when the rapes took place. As a consequence, the trial court should have imposed the penalty of death pursuant to Section 11 of RA 7659.
Under Section 1, Rule 122 of the 2000 Rules of Criminal Procedure, any party may appeal from a judgment or final order, unless the accused will be placed in double jeopardy. This provision is substantially the same as that provided by the 1985 Rules.
The question now is whether an increase in the penalty imposed by the lower court will violate the right of the accused against double jeopardy.
In several cases, this Court has already definitively ruled on this issue. Recently, in People v. Leones, it unmistakably declared that “[w]hile it is true that this Court is the Court of last resort, there are allegations of error committed by a lower court which we ought not to look into to uphold the right of the accused. Such is the case in an appeal by the prosecution seeking to increase the penalty imposed upon the accused for this runs afoul of the right of the accused against double jeopardy.”It added:
“This Court has not just once ruled that where the accused after conviction by the trial court did not appeal his conviction, an appeal by the government seeking to increase the penalty imposed by the trial court places the accused in double jeopardy and should therefore be dismissed.”
This doctrine was applied as early as 1904 in Kepner v. United States (hereinafter “Kepner”), as follows:
“The Court of First Instance, having jurisdiction to try the question of the guilt or innocence of the accused, found Kepner not guilty; to try him again upon the merits, even in an appellate court, is to put him a second time in jeopardy for the same offense.”
The Kepner doctrine was clarified in a 1987 case. Speaking through Justice Isagani A. Cruz, the Court explained that an “appeal of the prosecution from a judgment of acquittal (or for the purpose of increasing the penalty imposed upon the convict) would place him in double jeopardy.”
Double jeopardy provides three related protections: (1) against a second prosecution for the same offense after acquittal, (2) against a second prosecution for the same offense after conviction, and (3) against multiple punishments for the same offense.
Although Kepner technically involved only a single proceeding, the Court regarded the practice as equivalent to two separate trials, and the evil that the Court saw in the procedure was plainly that of multiple prosecution.
The ban on double jeopardy is deeply rooted in jurisprudence. The doctrine has several avowed purposes. Primarily, it prevents the State from using its criminal processes as an instrument of harassment to wear out the accused by a multitude of cases with accumulated trials. It also serves the additional purpose of precluding the State, following an acquittal, from successively retrying the defendant in the hope of securing a conviction. And finally, it prevents the State, following conviction, from retrying the defendant again in the hope of securing a greater penalty.
Being violative of the right against double jeopardy, the instant appeal filed by the prosecution cannot prosper. The rule is clear — the prosecution cannot appeal on the ground that the accused should have been given a more severe penalty.
Besides, even assuming that the penalties imposed by the RTC were erroneous, these cannot be corrected by this Court on an appeal by the prosecution. Said the Court:
“Whatever error may have been committed by the lower court was merely an error of judgment and not of jurisdiction. It did not affect the intrinsic validity of the decision. This is the kind of error that can no longer be rectified on appeal by the prosecution no matter how obvious the error may be.”
The only way to nullify an acquittal or to increase the penalty is through a proper petition for certiorari to show grave abuse of discretion. This was explained in People v. CA and Maquiling as follows:
“While certiorari may be used to correct an abusive acquittal, the petitioner in such extraordinary proceeding must clearly demonstrate that the lower court blatantly abused its authority to a point so grave as to deprive it of its very power to dispense justice. On the other hand, if the petition, regardless of its nomenclature, merely calls for an ordinary review of the findings of the court a quo, the constitutional right against double jeopardy would be violated. Such recourse is tantamount to converting the petition for certiorari into an appeal, contrary to the express injunction of the Constitution, the Rules of Court and prevailing jurisprudence on double jeopardy.”