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O. Right to the speedy disposition of cases

1. CONCEPT

All persons shall have the right to a speedy disposition of their cases before all judicial, quasi-judicial, or administrative bodies. (Section 16, Article III, 1987 Constitution)

This right to a speedy trial may be defined as one free from vexatious, capricious and oppressive delays, its “salutary objective” being to assure that an innocent person may be free from the anxiety and expense of a court litigation or, if otherwise, of having his guilt determined within the shortest possible time compatible with the presentation and consideration of whatsoever legitimate defense he may interpose. (Tan v. People, G.R. No. 173637, 21 April 2009)

Intimating historical perspective on the evolution of the right to speedy trial, the old legal maxim, “justice delayed is justice denied.” This oft-repeated adage requires the expeditious resolution of disputes, much more so in criminal cases where an accused is constitutionally guaranteed the right to a speedy trial. (Ibid.)

a. Purpose

The right of the accused to a speedy trial and to a speedy disposition of the case against him was designed to prevent the oppression of the citizen by holding criminal prosecution suspended over him for an indefinite time, and to prevent delays in the administration of justice by mandating the courts to proceed with reasonable dispatch in the trial of criminal cases. Such right to a speedy trial and a speedy disposition of a case is violated only when the proceeding is attended by vexatious, capricious and oppressive delays. (Corpuz v. Sandiganbayan, G.R. No. 162214, 11 November 2004)

b. How long

The inquiry as to whether or not an accused has been denied such right is not susceptible by precise qualification. The concept of a speedy disposition is a relative term and must necessarily be a flexible concept. (Ibid.)

While justice is administered with dispatch, the essential ingredient is orderly, expeditious and not mere speed. It cannot be definitely said how long is too long in a system where justice is supposed to be swift, but deliberate. It is consistent with delays and depends upon circumstances. It secures rights to the accused, but it does not preclude the rights of public justice. Also, it must be borne in mind that the rights given to the accused by the Constitution and the Rules of Court are shields, not weapons; hence, courts are to give meaning to that intent. (Ibid.)

1) Factors to consider

In determining whether the accused has been deprived of his right to a speedy disposition of the case and to a speedy trial, four factors must be considered:

1) Length of delay;

2) The reason for the delay;

3) The defendant’s assertion of his right; and,

4) Prejudice to the defendant. (Tan v. People, G.R. No. 173637, 21 April 2009)

a) Length of delay

In determining the right of an accused to speedy trial, courts are required to do more than a mathematical computation of the number of postponements of the scheduled hearings of the case. A mere mathematical reckoning of the time involved is clearly insufficient, and particular regard must be given to the facts and circumstances peculiar to each case. (Ibid.)

a) Reason for delay

Delay is a two-edge sword. It is the government that bears the burden of proving its case beyond reasonable doubt. The passage of time may make it difficult or impossible for the government to carry its burden. The Constitution and the Rules do not require impossibilities or extraordinary efforts, diligence or exertion from courts or the prosecutor, nor contemplate that such right shall deprive the State of a reasonable opportunity of fairly prosecuting criminals. (Corpuz v. Sandiganbayan, supra.)

For the government to sustain its right to try the accused despite a delay, it must show two things:

1) That the accused suffered no serious prejudice beyond that which ensued from the ordinary and inevitable delay; and,

2) That there was no more delay than is reasonably attributable to the ordinary processes of justice. (Ibid.)

Different weights should be assigned to different reasons or justifications invoked by the State. For instance, a deliberate attempt to delay the trial in order to hamper or prejudice the defense should be weighted heavily against the State. Also, it is improper for the prosecutor to intentionally delay to gain some tactical advantage over the defendant or to harass or prejudice him. On the other hand, the heavy case load of the prosecution or a missing witness should be weighted less heavily against the State. (Ibid.)

Case Law

1) In Alvizo v. Sandiganbayan, the Court took into account the reasons for the delay, i.e., the frequent amendments of procedural laws by presidential decrees, the structural reorganizations in existing prosecutorial agencies and the creation of new ones by executive fiat, resulting in changes of personnel, preliminary jurisdiction, and the functions and powers of prosecuting agencies. The Court also considered the failure of the accused to assert such right, and the lack of prejudice caused by the delay to the accused. (cited in Tan v. People, supra.)

2) In Defensor-Santiago v. Sandiganbayan, the complexity of the issues and the failure of the accused to invoke her right to speedy disposition at the appropriate time spelled defeat for her claim to the constitutional guarantee. (Ibid.)

3) In Cadalin v. Philippine Overseas Employment Administration’s Administrator, the Court, considering also the complexity of the cases and the conduct of the parties’ lawyers, held that the right to speedy disposition was not violated therein. (Ibid.)

b) Prejudice to the defendant

Prejudice should be assessed in the light of the interest of the defendant that the speedy trial was designed to protect, namely: to prevent oppressive pre-trial incarceration; to minimize anxiety and concerns of the accused to trial; and to limit the possibility that his defense will be impaired. Of these, the most serious is the last, because the inability of a defendant adequately to prepare his case skews the fairness of the entire system. (Ibid.)

There is also prejudice if the defense witnesses are unable to recall accurately the events of the distant past. Even if the accused is not imprisoned prior to trial, he is still disadvantaged by restraints on his liberty and by living under a cloud of anxiety, suspicion and often, hostility. His financial resources may be drained, his association is curtailed, and he is subjected to public obloquy. (Ibid.)

2. TIME LIMITS

a. Time limit for trial

In criminal cases involving persons charged of a crime, except those subject to the Rules on Summary Procedure, or where the penalty prescribed by law does not exceed six (6) months imprisonment, or a fine of One thousand pesos (P1,000.00) or both, irrespective of other imposable penalties, the justice or judge shall, after consultation with the public prosecutor and the counsel for the accused, set the case for continuous trial on a weekly or other short-term trial calendar at the earliest possible time so as to ensure speedy trial. (Section 6, R.A. 8493, Speey Trial Act of 1998)

In no case shall the entire trial period exceed one hundred eighty (180) days from the first day of trial, except as otherwise authorized by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court pursuant to Section 3, Rule 22 of the Rules of Court. (Ibid.)

b. Time limit between filing of information and arraignment and between arraignment and trial

The arraignment of an accused shall be held within thirty (30) days from the filing of the information, or from the date the accused has appeared before the justice, judge or court in which the charge is pending, whichever date last occurs. (Section 7, Ibid.)

Thereafter, where a plea of not guilty is entered, the accused shall have at least fifteen (15) days to prepare for trial. Trial shall commence within thirty (30) days from arraignment as fixed by the court. (Ibid.)

If the accused pleads not guilty to the crime charged, he/she shall state whether he/she interposes a negative or affirmative defense. A negative defense shall require the prosecution to prove the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt, while an affirmative defense may modify the order of trial and require the accused to prove such defense by clear and convincing evidence. (Paragraph 2, Section 7, Ibid.)

c. Time limit following an order for new trial

If the accused is to be tried again following an order of a court for a new trial, the trial shall commence within thirty (30) days from the date the order for a new trial becomes final, except that the court retrying the case may extend such period but in any case shall not exceed one hundred eighty (180) days from the date the order for a new trial becomes final if unavailability of witnesses or other factors resulting from passage of time shall make trial within thirty (30) days impractical. (Section 8, Ibid.)

d. Extended time limit

Notwithstanding the provisions of Section 7 of this Act, for the first twelve-calendar-month period following its effectivity, the time limit with respect to the period from arraignment to trial imposed by Section 7 of this Act shall be one hundred eighty (180) days. (Section 9, Ibid.)

For the second twelve-month period the time limit shall be one hundred twenty (120) days, and for the third twelve-month period the time limit with respect to the period from arraignment to trial shall be eighty (80) days. (Ibid.)

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