Correction of penalties despite final judgment or failure to perfect appeal

Both People v. Gatward,[1] and People v. Barro[2] cited the duty and inherent power of the Court to correct the erroneous penalties meted on the accused in a final and executory judgments, and make it conform to the penalty prescribed by law.

The interest of justice and the duty and inherent power of the Court were the reasons anchored upon in Estrada v. People[3] in ruling that it is befitting to modify the penalty imposed on petitioner even though the notice of appeal was belatedly filed.

In Almuete v. People,[4] the penalty imposed upon the petitioner which is outside the range of the penalty prescribed by law was duly corrected even if it was already final on the ground of substantial justice, thus:

In this case, it cannot be gainsaid that what is involved is the life and liberty of petitioner. If his penalty of imprisonment remains uncorrected, it would be not conformable with law and he would be made to suffer the penalty of imprisonment of 18 years, 2 months and 21 days of reclusion temporal as minimum, to 40 years of reclusion perpetua, as maximum, which is outside the range of the penalty prescribed by law. Contrast this to the proper imposable penalty the minimum of which should only be within the range of 2 years, 4 months and 1 day to 6 years of prision correccional, while the maximum should only be anywhere between 11 years, 8 months and 1 day of prision mayor to 13 years of reclusion temporal. Substantial justice demands that we suspend our Rules in this case. “It is always within the power of the court to suspend its own [R]ules or except a particular case from its operation, whenever the purposes of justice require. x x x Indeed, when there is a strong showing that a grave miscarriage of justice would result from the strict application of the Rules, this Court will not hesitate to relax the same in the interest of substantial justice.” Suspending the Rules is justified “where there exist strong compelling reasons, such as serving the ends of justice and preventing a miscarriage thereof.” After all, the Court’s “primordial and most important duty is to render justice x x x.”[5]

All the accused in Almuete v. People,[6] People v. Barro,[7] Estrada v. People,[8] and Rigor v. The Superintendent, New Bilibid Prison,[9] failed to perfect their appeal on their respective judgments of conviction, but the Court corrected the penalties imposed, notwithstanding the finality of the decisions because they were outside the range of penalty prescribed by law. There is, thus, no reason to deprive the petitioner in the present case of the relief afforded the accused in the cited cases. Verily, a sentence which imposes upon the defendant in a criminal prosecution a penalty in excess of the maximum which the court is authorized by law to impose for the offense for which the defendant was convicted, is void for want or excess of jurisdiction as to the excess.[10]

[1] 335 Phil. 440, 460 (1997).

[2] 392 Phil. 857, 876 (2000).

[3] 505 Phil. 339, 357-360 (2005).

[4] G.R. No. 179611, March 12, 2013, 693 SCRA 167.

[5] Id. at 185-186.

[6] Supra note 4.

[7] Supra note 2.

[8] Supra note 3.

[9] 458 Phil. 561 (2003).

[10] Caluag v. Pecson, 82 Phil. 8, 14-15 (1948). See also Cruz v. Director of Prisons, 17 Phil. 269, 272-273 (1910).