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G.R. No. 148193 – 443 Phil. 454 – 395 SCRA 366 – Remedial Law – Criminal Procedure – Arraignment; Deferment – Prejudicial Question
In 1997, Rafael Jose Consing, Jr. and his mother Cecilia dela Cruz sold to Plus Builders, Inc. (PBI) a huge parcel of lot in Imus, Cavite. Later, PBI was ejected by the true owners of the lot. It turns out that Consing and his mother presented to PBI a fake land title. As a result, PBI demanded Consing and his mother to pay them damages.
In July 1999, Consing filed an injunctive relief against PBI and other creditors. Consing was seeking that he be declared as a mere agent of his mother and that the creditors should collect from his mother.
In October 1999, PBI sued Consing and his mother for damages.
In January 2000, PBI filed an estafa through falsification case against Consing and his mother.
In April 2000, Consing moved for the deferment of his arraignment alleging the ground of prejudicial question. Consing argued that the two previous civil cases must first be resolved in order to determine whether or not a criminal case against him is proper.
The trial court granted the deferment. The Solicitor General, via Rule 45, questioned the deferment of the arraignment.
ISSUE: Whether or not there is prejudicial question in this case.
HELD: No. prejudicial question is defined as that which arises in a case, the resolution of which is a logical antecedent of the issue involved therein, and the cognizance of which pertains to another tribunal. The prejudicial question must be determinative of the case before the court but the jurisdiction to try and resolve the question must be lodged in another court or tribunal. It is a question based on a fact distinct and separate from the crime but so intimately connected with it that it determines the guilt or innocence of the accused.
For a civil action to be considered prejudicial to a criminal case as to cause the suspension of the criminal proceedings until the final resolution of the civil action, the following requisites must be present:
(1) the civil case involves facts intimately related to those upon which the criminal prosecution would be based;
(2) in the resolution of the issue or issues raised in the civil action, the guilt or innocence of the accused would necessarily be determined; and
(3) jurisdiction to try said question must be lodged in another tribunal.
In this case, there is no prejudicial question. The issue in the Injunctive Relief is whether or not Consing merely acted as an agent of his mother while in the damages case, the question is whether Consing and his mother are liable to pay damages and to return the amount paid by PBI for the purchase of the disputed lot. Even if Consing is declared merely an agent of his mother in the transaction involving the sale of the questioned lot, he cannot be adjudged free from criminal liability. An agent or any person may be held liable for conspiring to falsify public documents. Hence, the determination of the issue involved in the Injunctive Relief is irrelevant to the guilt or innocence of Consing in the estafa case.
Likewise, the resolution of the damages case will not be determinative of the culpability of Consing in the criminal case for even if PBI is held entitled to the return of the purchase price plus damages, it does not automatically mean that Consing should be held guilty of estafa nor will a ruling that PBI should not be paid the purchase price plus damages necessarily absolve Consing of liability in the criminal case where his guilt may still be established under penal laws as determined by other evidence.