G.R. No. 101236. January 30, 1992 (Case Brief / Digest)

### Title:
**Yap vs. Paras & Barcelona: A Case of Prejudicial Question in a Double Sale Dispute**

### Facts:
The root of this legal battle is a dispute between siblings Juliana P. Yap and Martin Paras over property they inherited. On October 31, 1971, Paras allegedly sold his share in their parents’ estate to Yap for P300, as evidenced by a private document. Fast forward to May 2, 1990, Paras sold the same property to Santiago Saya-ang for P5,000, documented by a notarized Deed of Absolute Sale. Upon discovering this second sale, Yap filed an estafa complaint against Paras and Saya-ang with the Provincial Prosecutor of General Santos City and a civil suit to nullify the sale with the Regional Trial Court of the same city.

Upon investigation, the Provincial Prosecutor filed a criminal complaint for estafa against Paras in the Municipal Circuit Trial Court of Glan-Malapatan, South Cotabato, presided over by Judge Alfredo D. Barcelona, Sr. Before the arraignment, Judge Barcelona issued an order motu proprio dismissing the criminal case, citing a prejudicial question that needed to be resolved in civil court. Yap’s motion for reconsideration was denied, prompting her to petition the Supreme Court for certiorari. The operation was peculiar due to the involvement of Judge Barcelona’s son as counsel for Paras and the questionable dismissal of the criminal case on prejudicial grounds without a motion for suspension from the defense.

### Issues:
1. Whether a criminal action can be dismissed outright by the judge on the ground of prejudicial question without a motion from the defendant.
2. Whether the identified prejudicial question indeed warrants the suspension or dismissal of the criminal action for estafa.
3. The application of the double jeopardy rule in the context of the dismissal before arraignment.

### Court’s Decision:
The Supreme Court ruled that Judge Barcelona committed grave abuse of discretion by dismissing the criminal case motu proprio, as both the 1985 Rules on Criminal Procedure and prior jurisprudence establish that a criminal action can only be suspended (not dismissed) due to a prejudicial question upon petition by the defendant. The Court emphasized that a prejudicial question is characterised by a civil action that raises issues similar or intimately related to those in the criminal action, where resolution of such issues in the civil action would determine whether the criminal action can proceed. Furthermore, the Court clarified that the dismissal before arraignment does not invoke double jeopardy. Consequently, the Supreme Court reversed and set aside the orders issued by Judge Barcelona, reinstated the criminal case, and directed its reassignment to a different judge.

### Doctrine:
The doctrine of prejudicial question requires that for a civil case to suspend a criminal action, (a) the civil case must involve issues similar or intimately related to those in the criminal case, and (b) the resolution of the civil case must be determinative of the guilt or innocence of the accused in the criminal case. The suspension of a criminal case on the ground of prejudicial question can only be effected upon petition by the defendant and not motu proprio by the judge.

### Class Notes:
– **Prejudicial Question**: A legal principle where a civil lawsuit’s determination is essential before proceeding with a criminal case because the issues involved are so closely related that the resolution of the civil action would conclusively determine the criminal action’s outcome.
– **Grave Abuse of Discretion**: An instance where a public official acts in a capricious or whimsical manner in the exercise of judgment, such as when the law is grossly misinterpreted or ignored.
– **Double Jeopardy**: A procedural defense that prevents an accused person from being tried again on the same (or similar) charges following a valid acquittal or conviction in the same jurisdiction.

### Historical Background:
This case reflects the complex interplay between civil and criminal proceedings in Filipino jurisprudence, especially in disputes involving property rights and fraudulent acts. It highlights the procedural intricacies and safeguards against unjust decision-making, such as the prohibition against motu proprio actions by judges in criminal cases based on prejudicial questions, reinforcing the autonomy of legal processes and the rights of the accused.


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