Mar 31, 2021 @ 13:05

CA reverses Capiz court’s grant of plea bargain in drug case sans prosecutors’ consent

The Court of Appeals (CA) has set aside a Roxas City, Capiz, court’s grant of a plea bargaining proposal by accused drug pushers without the consent of the prosecutors.

In a 15-page decision on CA-G.R. SP No. 13111, the CA Special 18th Division granted the petition of the Office of the City Prosecutor seeking to annul the April 29, 2019 order of the Roxas City RTC Branch 18 that downgraded the charge against Mary Jane de Asis (alias Bebe Love) and Anthony Eduardo.

Records showed that Judge Ignacio Alajar disregarded the prosecution’s objection and accepted De Asis and Eduardo’s guilty plea for possession of drug paraphernalia under Section 12 of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.

For that specific case concerning the sale of a 0.0197-gram sachet of shabu during an August 10, 2016 buybust operaton, De Asis and Eduardo were sentenced to serve 2 years and 4 months up to 3 years in prison and pay a fine of P10,000 each.

They had been originally charged with sale of dangerous drugs under Section 5 of the anti-drug law, which would have carried a penalty of life imprisonment and a fine of P500,000 to P10 million.

The prosecution argued that pleading guilty to a lesser crime under Section 12 from the offense of Section 5 was not allowed under Department of Justice (DOJ) Department Circular Number 027, dated June 16, 2018.

In reversing the RTC orders, the CA held that “the prosecutor may still refuse the offer of the accused when it is not in accordance with DOJ Circular No. 27.”

It noted that the circular’s validity was already resolved by the Supreme Court (SC) in its February 18, 2020 decision in the case of Sayre versus Xenos (G.R. No. 244413).

The Sayre decision emphasized that plea bargaining “still requires the mutual agreement of the parties and remains subject to the approval of the court” and that the circular serves as an “internal guideline” for the prosecution on whether it should give its consent.

“Ultimately, the Court instructs that the refusal of the prosecutor to adopt the acceptable plea bargain provided in A.M. No. 18-03-16- SC should be treated as a continuing objection, such that ‘the parties failed to arrive at a mutually satisfactory disposition of the case’ that may be submitted for the court’s approval,'” read the decision penned by Associate Justice Dorothy Montejo-Gonzaga.

Associate Justices Gabriel Ingles and Roberto Quiroz concurred in the decision.

With the reversal of the RTC orders, the CA directed the lower court to immediately proceed not just with the erroneously downgraded drug sale case but also the other charges against De Asis and Eduardo.

Under the disapproved plea bargain, De Asis also pleaded guilty to possession of five sachets of shabu with a total weight of 2.146 grams, while Eduardo admitted to possession of a caliber .38 revolver and ammunition without the proper license or permit.

They were supposed to serve respective prison terms of 2 years and 4 months to 3 years and 5 months to 3 years and pay respective fines of P10,000 and P5,000 under the now-reversed RTC orders. #

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