ABELLANA VS. PEOPLE - 655 SCRA 683
An Information was filed charging petitioner with Estafa through Falsification of Public Document in connection with a Deed of Sale over a certain parcel of land owned by the spouses Alonto. After trial in the RTC, the trial court found that petitioner had no intention to defraud and that the spouses Alonto actually signed the document although they did not personally appear before the notary public for its notarization. Hence, the RTC instead convicted petitioner of falsification of public document. The trial court sentenced petitioner with imprisonment, ordered him to restore full ownership and possession of the land to Sps. Alonto, and in case of his failure to do so, he shall pay Sps. Alonto the value of the properties. He was further adjudged to pay damages and costs of suit to Sps. Alonto. On appeal, CA acquitted petitioner as it opined that the conviction for an offense not alleged in the Information or one not necessarily included in the offense charged violated petitioner’s constitutional right to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation against him. Nevertheless, the imposition of the civil liability was sustained. Petitioner then filed a motion for reconsideration but the same was denied. Hence, a Petition for Review on Certiorari before the Court.
1. Whether or not petitioner could still be held civilly liable notwithstanding his acquittal by the trial court and the Court of Appeals.
2. Whether or not the alternative sentence imposed by the trial court to petitioner should be sustained.
1. No. It is an established rule in criminal procedure that a judgment of acquittal shall state whether the evidence of the prosecution absolutely failed to prove the guilt of the accused or merely failed to prove his guilt beyond reasonable doubt. In either case, the judgment shall determine if the act or omission from which the civil liability might arise did not exist. When the exoneration is merely due to the failure to prove the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt, the court should award the civil liability in favor of the offended party in the same criminal action. In other words, the extinction of the penal action does not carry with it the extinction of civil liability unless the extinction proceeds from a declaration in a final judgment that the fact from which the civil liability might arise did not exist. In case of exoneration of the accused, the civil liability may still arise when one, by reason of his own act or omission, done intentionally or negligently, causes damage to another. Hence, for petitioner to be civilly liable to spouses Alonto, it must be proven that the acts he committed had caused damage to the spouses. Based on the records of the case, Court found that the acts allegedly committed by the petitioner did not cause any damage to spouses Alonto. Moreover, the defective notarization does not ipso facto invalidate the Deed of Absolute Sale, the transfer of said properties from spouses Alonto to petitioner remains valid. Hence, when on the basis of said Deed of Absolute Sale, petitioner caused the cancellation of spouses Alonto’s title and the issuance of new ones under his name, and thereafter sold the same to third persons, no damage resulted to the spouses Alonto.
2. No. the Court cannot sustain the alternative sentence imposed upon the petitioner, to wit: to institute an action for the recovery of the properties of spouses Alonto or to pay them actual and other kinds of damages. Sentences should not be in the alternative. There is nothing in the law which permits courts to impose sentences in the alternative. While a judge has the discretion of imposing one or another penalty, he cannot impose both in the alternative. He must fix positively and with certainty the particular penalty.
Wherefore, Petition granted.