MANILA – The Supreme Court (SC) on Monday directed first and second level courts to conduct an inventory of pending criminal cases and determine if any persons deprived of liberty (PDLs) in these cases are entitled to be released under existing guidelines of the high court for speedy trials of accused persons.

In Circular 91-2020, Court Administrator Jose Midas Marquez said that “considering the continuing congestion of detention facilities nationwide” and the “consequent high risk of persons deprived of liberty being affected with Covid-19”, there is a need to effectively implement existing policies laid down as provided in earlier resolutions of the court en banc in 2014.

Marquez directed judges of the first and second level courts to immediately conduct an inventory of their pending criminal cases to determine if they have cases which may be covered by guidelines on the matter, and if so, “to comply with the said guidelines without unnecessary delay, using their sound discretion”.

The guidelines cover:

-Instances where the PDL has been detained while the case against him is pending for a period equal to the minimum of the penalty of the offense if had been found guilty; and

-Provisional dismissal of cases when the delays are due to the absence of an essential witness whose whereabouts are unknown or cannot be determined.

Marquez directed the lower courts to “immediately act motu proprio (on their own without a motion from a party)” on cases of PDLs who have been detained for a period at least equal to the minimum 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 ongoing trial.

Under the guidelines, the accused, before release, must provide contact numbers and exact address where they will be residing.

“Motions for recognizance and provisional dismissal of cases resulting in the release of the PDLs from detention may be considered urgent and must be immediately set for hearing,” Marquez said.

He added that if release orders are warranted, judges may apply provisions on the electronic transmission of release orders. (PNA)

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