Filing of complaint suspends, interrupts prescriptive period

Philippine jurisprudence shows that the filing of the complaint, even if merely for purposes of preliminary examination or investigation, suspends and interrupts the running of the prescriptive period. (Paras)

The general rule, as stated in 22 CJS, Criminal Law, sec. 225b, is "as a general rule, one indicted for an offense not barred by limitation, but convicted of a lesser included offense which is so barred, is entitled to discharge", and in 15 Am. Jur., Criminal Law, Sec. 343; "It frequently happens that a change of felony includes an offense of a lower grade with a different period of limitation so that, while the felony is not barred, the statute has ran as to the lesser offense. In this situation, the rule is that if the statute has not run against the felony, while the lesser offense is barred. the bar cannot be evaded by the defendant for the felony and convicting him of the lesser offense."

Article 91 of the Revised Penal Code provides that "the period of prescription shall commence to run from the day on which the crime is discovered by the offended party, the authorities. or their agents, and shall be interrupted by the filing of the complaint or information, and shall commence to run again when such proceedings terminate without the accused being convicted or acquitted, or are unjustifiably stopped for any reason not imputable to him."

Interpreting the foregoing provision, the Supreme Court in People vs. Tayco (73 Phil. 509) held that the complaint or information referred to in Article 91 is that which is filed in the proper court and not the denuncia or accusation lodged by the offended party in the Fiscal's Office. This is so, according to the court, because under this rule it is so provided that the period shall commence to run again when the proceedings initiated by the filing of the complaint or information terminate without the accused being convicted or acquitted, adding that the proceedings in the Office of the Fiscal cannot end there in the acquittal or conviction of the accused. (G.R. No. L-45674, May 30, 1983)

The basis of the doctrine in the Tayco case, however, was disregarded by this Court in the Olarte case, cited by the Solicitor General. It should be recalled that before the Olarte case there was diversity of precedents on the issue of prescription. One view declares that the filing of the complaint with the justice of the (or municipal judge) does in the course of prescriptive term. This view is found in People v. Olarte, L-13027, June 30, 1960 and cases cited therein; People vs. Uba, L-13106, October 16, 1959; People v. Aquino, 68 Phil. 588, 590. The other pronouncement is that to produce interruption, the complainant or information must have been filed in the proper court that has jurisdiction to try the case on its merits, found in the cases of People v. del Rosario, L-15140, December 29, 1960; People v. Coquia, L- 15456, June 29, 1963.

In view of this diversity of precedents, and in order to provide guidance for Bench and Bar, this Court has re-examined the question and, after mature consideration, has arrived at the conclusion that the true doctrine is, and should be, the one established by the decisions holding that the filing of the complaint in the Municipal Court, even if it be merely for purposes of preliminary examination or investigation, should, and does, interrupt the period of prescription of the criminal responsibility, even if the court where the complaint or information is filed can not try the case on its merits. Several reasons buttress this conclusion: first, the text of Article 91 of the Revised Penal Code, in declaring that the period of prescription "shall be interrupted by the filing of the complaint or information" without distinguishing whether the complaint is filed in the court for preliminary examination or investigation merely, or for action on the merits. Second, even if the court where the complaint or information is filed may only proceed to investigate the case, its actuations already represent the initial step of the proceedings against the offender. Third, it is unjust to deprive the injured party of the right to obtain vindication on account of delays that are not under his control. All that the victim of the offense may do on his part to initiate the prosecution is to file the requisite complaint. (G.R. No. L-45674, May 30, 1983)

And it is no argument that Article 91 also expresses that the interrupted prescription "shall commence to run again when such p terminate without the accused being convicted or acquitted", thereby indicating that the court in which the complaint or information is filed must have power to acquit or convict the accused. Precisely, the trial on the merits usually terminates in conviction or acquittal not otherwise. But it is in the court conducting a preliminary investigation where the proceedings may terminate without conviction or acquittal if the court should discharge the accused because no prima facie case has been shown. (G.R. No. L-45674, May 30, 1983)

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