G.R. No. 172777 October 19, 2011
Benjamin Bangayan, Jr.
Sally Go-Bangayan filed a complaint for bigamy against Benjamin Bangayan and Resally Delfin. Later, Sally learned that Benjamin, Jr. had taken Resally as his concubine whom he subsequently married under the false name, “Benjamin Z. Sojayco.” Furthermore, Sally discovered that on September 10, 1973, Benjamin, Jr. also married a certain Azucena Alegre in Caloocan City. After pleading not guilty, Benjamin and Resally both filed their motions for leave to file a demurrer to evidence.
Benjamin, Jr. filed his Demurrer to Evidence, praying that the criminal case for bigamy against him be dismissed for failure of the prosecution to present sufficient evidence of his guilt. His plea was anchored on two main arguments: (1) he was not legally married to Sally Go because of the existence of his prior marriage to Azucena; and (2) the prosecution was unable to show that he and the “Benjamin Z. Sojayco Jr.,” who married Resally, were one and the same person.
RTC dismissed the criminal case against Benjamin, Jr. and Resally for insufficiency of evidence. Sally Go elevated the case to the CA via a petition for certiorari. The CA promulgated its Decision granting her petition and ordering the remand of the case to the RTC for further proceedings. The CA held that the following pieces of evidence presented by the prosecution were sufficient to deny the demurrer to evidence: (1) the existence of three marriages of Benjamin, Jr. to Azucena, Sally Go and Resally; (2) the letters and love notes from Resally to Benjamin, Jr.; (3) the admission of Benjamin, Jr. as regards his marriage to Sally Go and Azucena; and (4) Benjamin, Jr.’s admission that he and Resally were in some kind of a relationship. CA further stated that Benjamin, Jr. was mistaken in claiming that he could not be guilty of bigamy because his marriage to Sally Go was null and void in light of the fact that he was already married to Azucena. A judicial declaration of nullity was required in order for him to be able to use the nullity of his marriage as a defense in a bigamy charge.
Whether or not petitioners’ right against double jeopardy was violated by the CA when it reversed the RTC Order dismissing the criminal case against them.
Yes, Double Jeopardy had already set-in. Even if the trial court had incorrectly overlooked the evidence against the petitioners, it only committed an error of judgment, and not one of jurisdiction, which could not be rectified by a petition for certiorari because double jeopardy had already set in.
A demurrer to evidence is filed after the prosecution has rested its case and the trial court is required to evaluate whether the evidence presented by the prosecution is sufficient enough to warrant the conviction of the accused beyond reasonable doubt. If the court finds that the evidence is not sufficient and grants the demurrer to evidence, such dismissal of the case is one on the merits, which is equivalent to the acquittal of the accused. Well-established is the rule that the Court cannot review an order granting the demurrer to evidence and acquitting the accused on the ground of insufficiency of evidence because to do so will place the accused in double jeopardy.
The only instance when the accused can be barred from invoking his right against double jeopardy is when it can be demonstrated that the trial court acted with grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction, such as where the prosecution was not allowed the opportunity to make its case against the accused or where the trial was a sham. In this case, all four elements of double jeopardy are doubtless present. Valid information for the crime of bigamy was filed against the petitioners, resulting in the institution of a criminal case against them before the proper court. They pleaded not guilty to the charges against them and subsequently, the case was dismissed after the prosecution had rested its case.
Therefore, the CA erred in reversing the trial court’s order dismissing the case against the petitioners because it placed them in double jeopardy. An acquittal by virtue of a demurrer to evidence is not appealable because it will place the accused in double jeopardy. However, it may be subject to review only by a petition for certiorari under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court showing that the trial court committed grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction or a denial of due process.