THE Supreme Court on Monday, April 20, directed judges of first and second level courts nationwide to immediately review pending cases and release qualified persons deprived of liberty (PDL) to decongest detention facilities amid the continued spread of the novel coronavirus.
The Office of the Court Administrator issued OCA Circular No. 91-2020 Monday, or three days after nine detainees at the Quezon City Jail and nine personnel of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) were confirmed to have tested positive for the new virus.
The circular signed by Court Administrator Jose Midas Marquez directed all judges of these courts to “comply with the said guidelines (for decongesting jails) without unnecessary delay, using their sound discretion.”
“They shall immediately act motu proprio on cases of PDLs who have been detained for a period at least equal to the minimum of the penalty for the oftense charged, and if warranted, may release such detainees on their own recognizance, provided the court is assured of where the accused can be located while their cases are on-going trial,” the circular stated.
The detainees who will be released are required to provide contact numbers and the exact address where they will be residing as well as the contact numbers and exact addresses of two of their nearest kin.
“Motions for recognizance and provisional dismissal of cases resulting to the release of PDLs from detention may be considered urgent and must be immediately set for hearing,” the circular stated.
Judges may transmit release orders electronically based on Supreme Court Administrative Circular 33-2020 and OCA Circular 89-2020.
First level courts include the metropolitan trial courts, municipal trial courts, municipal circuit trial courts and Shari’a circuit court.
Second level courts are the regional trial courts, Shari’a district court and family courts.
The release of detainees will be based on the guidelines for decongesting jails by enforcing the rights of the accused to bail and to speedy trial as provided in the Supreme Court en banc Resolution No. 12-11-2-SC dated March 18, 2014.
Section 5 of this resolution provides that a PDL may be released after serving the minimum imposable penalty.
“The accused who has been detained for a period of at least equal to the minimum of the penalty for the offense charged against him shall be ordered released motu proprio or upon motion and after notice and hearing, on his own recognizance without prejudice to the continuation of the proceedings against him,” the resolution stated.
Section 10 of the same resolution allows provisional dismissal “when the delays are due to the absence of an essential witness whose whereabouts are unknown or cannot be determined,” or “whose presence cannot be obtained by due diligence though his whereabouts are known.”
A case may also be provisionally dismissed if: the hearing has been twice postponed due to the non-appearance of the essential witness, and both the witness and the offended party; there is proof of service of the pertinent notices of hearing or subpoenas upon the witness and offended party; and the public or private prosecutor shall first present during the trial the essential witness to the case before anyone else.
An essential witness refers to the person “whose testimony dwells on the presence of some or all of the elements of the crime and whose testimony is indispensable to the conviction of the accused”. (MVI/SunStar Philippines)