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Zuño v. Judge Cabebe, A.M. OCA No. 03-1800-RTJ, 26 November 2004.

17 May

Third Division

[SANDOVAL-GUTIERREZ, J.]

FACTS: The instant administrative case stemmed from the sworn complaint of Chief State Prosecutor Jovencito R. Zuño of the Department of Justice, against Judge Alejandrino C. Cabebe, then Presiding Judge, Regional Trial Court, Batac, Ilocos Norte. The charges are knowingly rendering an unjust judgment, gross ignorance of the law and partiality in a case where: The accused filed a motion to dismiss invoking as ground the right of the accused to a speedy trial; Respondent judge motu propio issued an Order granting bail to the accused; Respondent judge issued the Order without the accused’s application or motion for bail. The prosecution then filed a motion for reconsideration. Instead of acting thereon, respondent judge issued an order inhibiting himself from further proceeding with the case, realizing that what he did was patently irregular. Complainant thus prays that respondent judge be dismissed from the service with forfeiture of all benefits and be disbarred from the practice of law. In his comment, respondent denied the charges. While admitting that he issued the Order granting bail to the accused without any hearing, “the same was premised on the constitutional right of the accused to a speedy trial.” There was delay in the proceedings due to complainant’s frequent absences and failure of the witnesses for the prosecution to appear in court, resulting in the cancellation of the hearings.

ISSUE#1: Is the Judge correct in granting bail sans the application or motion for bail and without conducting a hearing?

HELD#2: NO, the Judge is not correct.

In Docena-Caspe vs. Judge Arnulfo O. Bugtas, we held that jurisprudence is replete with decisions on the procedural necessity of a hearing, whether summary or otherwise, relative to the grant of bail, especially in cases involving offenses punishable by death, reclusion perpetua, or life imprisonment, where bail is a matter of discretion. Under the present Rules, a hearing is mandatory in granting bail whether it is a matter of right or discretion. It must be stressed that the grant or the denial of bail in cases where bail is a matter of discretion, hinges on the issue of whether or not the evidence of guilt of the accused is strong, and the determination of whether or not the evidence is strong is a matter of judicial discretion which remains with the judge. In order for the latter to properly exercise his discretion, he must first conduct a hearing to determine whether the evidence of guilt is strong. In fact, even in cases where there is no petition for bail, a hearing should still be held.

There is no question that respondent judge granted bail to the accused without conducting a hearing, in violation of Sections 8 and 18, Rule 114 of the Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure xxx.

[T]he court’s order granting or refusing bail must contain a summary of the evidence of the prosecution and based thereon, the judge should formulate his own conclusion as to whether the evidence so presented is strong enough to indicate the guilt of the accused. Respondent judge did not follow the above Rules and procedure enumerated in Cortes. He did not conduct a hearing before he granted bail to the accused, thus depriving the prosecution of an opportunity to interpose objections to the grant of bail. Irrespective of his opinion on the strength or weakness of evidence to prove the guilt of the accused, he should have conducted a hearing and thereafter made a summary of the evidence of the prosecution. The importance of a bail hearing and a summary of evidence cannot be downplayed, these are considered aspects of procedural due process for both the prosecution and the defense; its absence will invalidate the grant or denial of bail

ISSUE#2: Is the contention of the Respondent Judge, in granting bail on the ground that the accused were entitled to their right to a speedy trial, meritorious?

HELD#2: NO. Respondent’s contention is bereft of merit.

There is no indication in the records of the criminal case that the prosecution has intentionally delayed the trial of the case. Even assuming there was delay, this does not justify the grant of bail without a hearing. This is utter disregard of the Rules. The requirement of a bail hearing has been incessantly stressed by this Court. In the same vein, the Code of Judicial Conduct enjoins judges to be conversant with the law and the Rules and maintain professional competence; and by the very nature of his office, should be circumspect in the performance of his duties. He must render justice without resorting to shortcuts clearly uncalled for. Obviously, respondent failed to live up to these standards.

 

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