Court Administrator Jose Midas Marquez on Monday (April 20) directed all first and second level courts to immediately help in decongesting jails due to the threat of the deadly 2019 coronavirus (COVID-19).
In a circular, Marquez reminded first and second level courts to adhere the Supreme Court’s (SC) Gudelines for Decongesting Holding Jails by Enforcing Rights of the Accused to Bail and to Speedy Trial.
“All judges of the first and second level courts are therefore directed to immediately conduct an inventory of their pending criminal cases to determine if they have cases which may be covered by the above Gudelines, and if so, to comply with the said Guidelines without unnecessary delay, using their sound discretion,” Marquez instructed.
“They shall immediately act motu propio on cases of PDLs who have been detained for a period at least equal to the minimum of the penalty for the offense charged, and if warranted, may release such detainees on their own recognizance, provided the court is assured of where the accused can be located while their cases are on-going trial, e.g., the accused must provide contact numbers and exact addresses where they will be residing and contact numbers of at least two of their nearest of kin with their exact addresses as well,” he added.
If release orders are needed, Marquez told the judges to follow pertinent provisions under circulars issued by the SC and the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA).
Under the guidelines set by the SC, a judge should order motu propio or upon motion an accused should be released if the detention period is “equal to the minimum penalty for the offense charged” after notice and hearing without prejudice to the continuation of the proceedings.
Also the guidelines state the court may provisionally dismiss an action with the express consent of the accused due to the absence of an essential witness whose whereabouts are unknown and caused the trial to exceed 180 days,
If the whereabouts of the essential witness is known, the judge may provisionally dismiss actions if the hearings have been postponed thrice despite the receipt of notices and warnings.