My uncle needs advice. He is renting a small commercial space near their house where he has a small sari-sari/merchandise store. He supports his family through this store’s income. In the middle of last year, he filed a complaint against his then store helper who stole some merchandise from him. He initiated a complaint before the police and was endorsed to the fiscal’s office. He said the fiscal dismissed his complaint because there was not enough evidence.
Just recently, he obtained CCTV video footage from the owner of the commercial building where he is renting. The footage showed several instances of his helper stealing from his makeshift cash register, as well as some merchandise. He is planning to refile the case, but someone told him that he may not be able to do so, because of double jeopardy. What is this double jeopardy about, and can’t the case be refiled now even if he has evidence to support his accusations?
The principle of double jeopardy is embodied, no less, under the 1987 Philippine Constitution. Section 21, Article III of the law provides, “No person shall be twice put in jeopardy of punishment for the same offense. If an act is punished by law or an ordinance, conviction or acquittal under either shall constitute a bar to another prosecution for the same act.”
According to the Supreme Court, it is essential for three elements to exist in order to validly claim double jeopardy, to wit: (1) A first jeopardy must have attached prior to the second; (2) the first jeopardy must have been validly terminated; and (3) the second jeopardy must be for the same offense as that in the first (Canceran vs. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 206442). Furthermore, there is double jeopardy only (a) when there has been a valid indictment, (b) before a competent court, (c) after arraignment, (d) a valid plea having been entered, and (e) the case was dismissed or otherwise terminated without the express consent of the accused (Ibid., Icasiano vs. Sandiganbayan, G.R. No. 95642, May 28, 1992).
In the situation that you have mentioned, it is safe to say that there can be no double jeopardy yet as the elements thereof are all absent. The first jeopardy has not attached to your uncle’s former helper given that there was no valid indictment against him before a competent court, since your uncle’s complaint against him before the Office of the Prosecutor was dismissed on the basis of insufficiency of evidence.
Consequently, we see no reason for your uncle not to be able to refile his complaint against his former helper. But it is necessary for your uncle to present, this time around, sufficient amount of evidence in order for him to convince the prosecutor that there is a probable cause or well-founded belief that the crime of qualified theft was committed by his former helper, that the latter is probably guilty thereof and should be held for trial. Otherwise, his complaint will most likely result in another dismissal.
We hope that we were able to answer your queries. Please be reminded that this advice is based solely on the facts you have narrated and our appreciation of the same. Our opinion may vary when other facts are changed or elaborated.
Editor’s note: Dear PAO is a daily column of the Public Attorney’s Office. Questions for Chief Acosta may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org