Prejudicial questions

QUESTION: In the context that the term is used in civil law, state the [1] concept, [2] requisites and [3] consequences of a prejudicial question.

ANSWER: A prejudicial question generally comes into play in a situation where a civil action and a criminal action are both pending, and there exists in the former an issue that must first be determined before the latter may proceed, because howsoever the issue raised in the civil action is resolved would be determinative juris et de jure of the guilt or innocence of the accused in the criminal case. The rationale for the suspension on the ground of a prejudicial question is to avoid conflicting decisions.

Two elements that must concur in order for a civil case to be considered a prejudicial question are expressly stated in Section 7, Rule 111 of the 2000 Rules of Criminal Procedure, to wit: Section 7. Elements of prejudicial question. – The elements of a prejudicial question are: (a) the previously instituted civil action involves an issue similar or intimately related to the issue raised in the subsequent criminal action, and (b) the resolution of such issue determines whether or not the criminal action may proceed.

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, 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.
If both civil and criminal cases have similar issues or the issue in one is intimately related to the issues raised in the other, then a prejudicial question would likely exist, provided the other element or characteristic is satisfied. It must appear not only that the civil case involves the same facts upon which the criminal prosecution would be based, but also that the resolution of the issues raised in the civil action would be necessarily determinative of the guilt or innocence of the accused.

If the resolution of the issue in the civil action will not determine the criminal responsibility of the accused in the criminal action based on the same facts, or there is no necessity "that the civil case be determined first before taking up the criminal case," therefore, the civil case does not involve a prejudicial question. Neither is there a prejudicial question if the civil and the criminal action can, according to law, proceed independently of each other. (G.R. No. 159823)

The consequences of prejudicial questions are as follows. First, if there is a prejudicial question, the criminal action is suspended. If there is none, the latter shall proceed.

Second, if the prejudicial question is resolved in favor of the accused-defendant, the criminal action against him will fail. If otherwise, such resolution shall work against him because the findings of the civil court, if final, shall be conclusive upon the criminal case.

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