When To Invoke Right To Speedy Trial

Bill of rightsIn the recent case of Dante T. Tan vs. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 173637, 21 April 2009, the Supreme Court laid down the principles when the right to speedy trial can be invoked.

Dante Tan, along with other persons, was charged for his alleged participation in the manipulation of stock prices of the BW shares.

Tan was arraigned on 16 January 2001, and pleaded not guilty to the charges. On 6 February 2001, the pre-trial was concluded, and a pre-trial order set, among other things, the first date of trial on 27 February 2001.

On 2 December 2003, Tan moved to dismiss the criminal case against him due to the prosecution’s alleged failure to prosecute.  Claiming violation of his right to speedy trial, Tan faults the prosecution for failing to prosecute the case for an unreasonable length of time and without giving any excuse or justification for the delay.  According to Tan, he was persistent in asserting his right to speedy trial, which he had allegedly done on several instances.  Finally, he claimed to have been substantially prejudiced by this delay.

The Supreme Court, in ruling that there was no sufficient ground to conclude that the prosecution is guilty of violating Tan’s right to speedy trial, found that:  

“In determining the right of an accused to speedy trial, courts are required to do more than a mathematical computation of the number of postponements of the scheduled hearings of the case.  A mere mathematical reckoning of the time involved is clearly insufficient, and particular regard must be given to the facts and circumstances peculiar to each case.

"Tan’s objection to the prosecution’s stand that he gave an implied consent to the separate trial of Criminal Case No. 119830 is belied by the records of the case.  No objection was interposed by his defense counsel when this matter was discussed during the initial hearing. Tan’s conformity thereto can be deduced from his non-objection at the preliminary hearing when the prosecution manifested that the evidence to be presented would be only for Criminal Cases No. 119831-119832.  His failure to object to the prosecution’s manifestation that the cases be tried separately is fatal to his case.  The acts, mistakes and negligence of counsel bind his client, except only when such mistakes would result in serious injustice.  

"Moreover, although periods for trial have been stipulated, these periods are not absolute.  Where periods have been set, certain exclusions are allowed by law.  After all, this Court and the law recognize that it is but a fact that judicial proceedings do not exist in a vacuum and must contend with the realities of everyday life.  In spite of the prescribed time limits, jurisprudence continues to adopt the view that the fundamentally recognized principle is that the concept of speedy trial is a relative term and must necessarily be a flexible concept.

"As to the assertion that delay in the presentation of evidence for Criminal Case No. 119830 has prejudiced Tan because the witnesses for the defense may no longer be available at this time, suffice it to say that the burden of proving his guilt rests upon the prosecution.  Should the prosecution fail for any reason to present evidence sufficient to show his guilt beyond reasonable doubt, Tan will be acquitted.  It is safely entrenched in our jurisprudence that unless the prosecution discharges its burden to prove the guilt of an accused beyond reasonable doubt, the latter need not even offer evidence in his behalf.  

"In the cases involving Tan, the length of delay, complexity of the issues and his failure to invoke said right to speedy trial at the appropriate time tolled the death knell on his claim to the constitutional guarantee. More importantly, in failing to interpose a timely objection to the prosecution’s manifestation during the preliminary hearings that the cases be tried separately, one after the other, Tan was deemed to have acquiesced and waived his objection thereto.

"The old adage that justice delayed is justice denied has never been more valid than in our jurisdiction, where it is not a rarity for a case to drag in our courts for years and years and even decades.  It was this difficulty that inspired the constitutional requirement that the rules of court to be promulgated by the Supreme Court shall provide for a simplified and inexpensive procedure for the speedy trial and disposition of cases.  Indeed, for justice to prevail, the scales must balance, for justice is not to be dispensed for the accused alone." (Atty. Mark Anthony C. Aldave)