Civil liability may be appealed despite acquittal

The private party may appeal the judgment of acquittal insofar as he seeks to enforce the accused’s civil liability.

The parties have conflicting interpretations of the last paragraph of Section 2, Rule 111 of the ROC, which states:
The extinction of the penal action does not carry with it extinction of the civil action. However, the civil action based on delict shall be deemed extinguished if there is a finding in a final judgment in the criminal action that the act or omission from which the civil liability may arise did not exist.
In Co v. Muñoz (G.R. No. 181986, December 04, 2013), Muñoz claims that the last paragraph of Section 2, Rule 111 of the ROC applies only if the civil liability ex delicto is separately instituted or when the right to file it separately was properly reserved. In contrast, Co claims that Muñoz’ acquittal of the crime of libel did not extinguish the civil aspect of the case because Muñoz’ utterance of the libelous remarks remains undisputed.

The Supreme Court rejected Muñoz’ claim. The last paragraph of Section 2, Rule 111 of the ROC applies to civil actions to claim civil liability arising from the offense charged, regardless if the action is instituted with or filed separately from the criminal action. Undoubtedly, Section 2, Rule 111 of the ROC governs situations when the offended party opts to institute the civil action separately from the criminal action; hence, its title “When separate civil action is suspended.”

Despite this wording, the last paragraph, by its terms, governs all claims for civil liability ex delicto. This is based on Article 100 of the RPC which states that that “every person criminally liable for a felony is also civilly liable.” Each criminal act gives rise to two liabilities: one criminal and one civil.Reflecting this policy, our procedural rules provide for two modes by which civil liability ex delicto may be enforced: (1) through a civil action that is deemed impliedly instituted in the criminal action;[1] (2) through a civil action that is filed separately, either before the criminal action or after, upon reservation of the right to file it separately in the criminal action.[2] The offended party may also choose to waive the civil action.[3] This dual mode of enforcing civil liability ex delicto does not affect its nature, as may be apparent from a reading of the second paragraph of Section 2, Rule 120 of the ROC, which states:
Section 2. Contents of the judgment. – x x x

In case the judgment is of acquittal, it shall state whether the evidence of the prosecution absolutely failed to prove the guilt of the accused or merely failed to prove his guilt beyond reasonable doubt. In either case, the judgment shall determine if the act or omission from which the civil liability might arise did not exist.
If, as Muñoz suggests, the extinction of the penal action carries with it the extinction of the civil action that was instituted with the criminal action, then Section 2, Rule 120 of the ROC becomes an irrelevant provision. There would be no need for the judgment of the acquittal to determine whether “the act or omission from which the civil liability may arise did not exist.”

The Rules precisely require the judgment to declare if there remains a basis to hold the accused civilly liable despite acquittal so that the offended party may avail of the proper remedies to enforce his claim for civil liability ex delicto.

In Ching v. Nicdao and CA,[4] the High Court ruled that an appeal is the proper remedy that a party – whether the accused or the offended party – may avail with respect to the judgment:
If the accused is acquitted on reasonable doubt but the court renders judgment on the civil aspect of the criminal case, the prosecution cannot appeal from the judgment of acquittal as it would place the accused in double jeopardy. However, the aggrieved party, the offended party or the accused or both may appeal from the judgment on the civil aspect of the case within the period therefor.

From the foregoing, petitioner Ching correctly argued that he, as the offended party, may appeal the civil aspect of the case notwithstanding respondent Nicdao’s acquittal by the CA. The civil action was impliedly instituted with the criminal action since he did not reserve his right to institute it separately nor did he institute the civil action prior to the criminal action.
Moreover, an appeal is favored over the institution of a separate civil action because the latter would only add to our clogged dockets.[5]

To reiterate, the extinction of the penal action does not necessarily carry with it the extinction of the civil action, whether the latter is instituted with or separately from the criminal action. The offended party may still claim civil liability ex delicto if there is a finding in the final judgment in the criminal action that the act or omission from which the liability may arise exists.

Jurisprudence has enumerated three instances when, notwithstanding the accused’s acquittal, the offended party may still claim civil liability ex delicto: (a) if the acquittal is based on reasonable doubt as only preponderance of evidence is required; (b) if the court declared that the liability of the accused is only civil; and (c) if the civil liability of the accused does not arise from or is not based upon the crime of which the accused is acquitted.[6]

[1] Rules of Court, Rule 111, Section 1.

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] G.R. No. 141181, April 27, 2007, 522 SCRA 316, 353.

[5] Padilla v. CA, 214 Phil. 492 (1984).

[6] G.R. No. 181986, December 04, 2013.

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