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People v. Esparas (1996) J. Puno Facts: Esparas was charged with violation of DDA for importing 20kg of shabu.

After arraignment and pleading not guilty, she escaped from jail and was tried in absentia. She was found guilty and was sentenced to death. She remains at large at present. This is the issue. Issue: Whether the Court may proceed to automatically review Esparass death sentence despite her absence. Held: Yes. In US v. Laguna (1910), the Court held that its power to review a decision imposing the death penalty cannot be waived either by the accused or by the courts. There, the Court said, mainly, that the judgment of conviction (capital punishment of death) entered on trial is not final, cannot be executed, and is wholly without force or effect until the cause has been passed upon by the Supreme Court. TC acts as a commissioner who takes the testimony and reports the same to the Court with its recommendation. A decision of TC does not become final unless and until it has been reviewed by the Court. An accused who was sentenced with the highest penalty is entitled under the law to have the sentence and all the facts and circumstances upon which it is founded placed before the Court, as the highest tribunal of the land, to the end that its justice and legality may be clearly and conclusively determined. Such procedure is merciful. It gives a second chance for life. Neither the courts nor the accused can waive it. It is a positive provision of the law that brooks no interference and tolerates no evasions. (The Court here applied Sec. 50, Gen. Orders No. 58.) A little history on the matter: The 1935 Constitution did not prohibit the imposition of the death penalty. Section 2(4) of Art. VIII provided for review by the Court of death penalty cases. Both the Rules of Court of 1940 and 1964 require the transmission to the Court of the records of all cases in which the death penalty was imposed by TC, whether the defendant has appealed or not, for review and judgment. These rules were taken from the General Orders itself. The 1973 Constitution did not also prohibit death penalty. Sec. 9, Rule 122 provided the procedure for review of death penalty cases by the Court. Sec. 10, Rule 122 of the 1985 Rules on Criminal Procedure even reenacted said procedure of review and even expressly used the term "automatic review and judgment" by the Court. So in People v. Villanueva (1953), the Court held that the withdrawal of appeal by a death convict does not deprive the Court of jurisdiction to review his conviction. In People v. Cornelio (1971), which involved the escape of a death convict, the Court held that said escape does not relieve the Court of its duty of reviewing his conviction. In People v. Daban (1972), the Court said, speaking about convictions by TC of death penalty on the defendant, that until after the Court has spoken en consulta, no finality could be attached to said decision. This automatic review cannot be waived by the accused nor by the courts. The mere fact of escape of the accused cannot be a bar at all. In People v. Saliling (1976), the Court said that it is not precluded from reviewing the death sentence of an accused who is at large. In People v. Buynay (1984), the Court reiterated the rule that escape of a death convict will not automatically result in the dismissal of his appeal.

But finally, the 1987 Constitution was enacted. It prohibits the imposition of the death penalty unless for compelling reasons involving heinous crimes as determined by Congress. On December 13, 1993, Congress reimposed the death penalty in cases involving the commission of heinous crimes. This revived the procedure by which the Court reviews death penalty cases per the Rules. It remains automatic, does not depend on the whims of the death convict, continues to be mandatory, and leaves the Court without any option. Sec. 8, Rule 124, authorizing the dismissal of an appeal when the appellant jumps bail, does not apply to cases where the death penalty is imposed. In death penalty cases, automatic review is mandatory. This is the text and tone of Sec. 10, Rule 122, which is the more applicable rule. There is more wisdom in mandating the review by the Court of all death penalty cases, regardless of the wish of the convict and regardless of the will of the Court. Nothing less than life is at stake and any court decision authorizing the State to take life must be as error-free as possible. An appellant may withdraw his appeal not because he is guilty but because of his wrong perception of the law, or because he may want to avail of the more speedy remedy of pardon, or because of his frustration and misapprehension that he will not get justice from the authorities. Nor should the Court be influenced by the seeming repudiation of its jurisdiction when a convict escapes. The Court has the duty to review all death penalty cases. No litigant can repudiate this power which is bestowed by the Constitution. The power is more of a sacred duty which the Court has to discharge to assure the People that the innocence of a citizen is the main concern especially in crimes that that shock the conscience. This concern cannot be diluted. An accused does not cease to have rights just because of his conviction. This principle is implicit in the Constitution which recognizes that an accused, to be right, while the majority, even if overwhelming, has no right to be wrong. COUNSEL FOR THE ACCUSED IS GIVEN A NEW PERIOD OF 30 DAYS FROM NOTICE HEREOF TO FILE THE BRIEF OF ESPARAS. - P.R. Manalo