Recently, in my class on contemporary issues at the College of Law of Silliman University, we critiqued the Supreme Court decision in People v. Hubert Webb (Vizconde case). A student asked me if any motion for reconsideration following the judgment of acquittal might not constitute double jeopardy from which the accused is constitutionally protected.
I answered it might, if the motion for reconsideration used language that could be read or interpreted as admitting the validity of the judgment sought to be reconsidered.
For instance, a motion for reconsideration that simply states that the court was wrong in giving credence to the alibi of Webb while rejecting the testimony of Jessica Alfaro, and should right that wrong by going the other way (that is, give credence to the testimony of Alfaro and reject the alibi of Webb) could be barred by double jeopardy, because that kind of motion for reconsideration impliedly admits the validity of the reweighing process employed by the court to reach the judgment of acquittal, and simply requests the court to use the same reweighing process to reach the opposite conclusion.
Asking the court to reweigh the same evidence twice would be wrong. Why would the Supreme Court want to do that? The presumption is that the Supreme Court spent a lot of time and scarce court resources in reweighing the record evidence to arrive at the conclusion that Alfaro’s testimony was unworthy of belief and that Webb had presented a strong alibi to establish his innocence.
Therefore, a motion for reconsideration that simply asks the court to redo the whole reweighing process again so that it could conclude that Alfaro, and not Webb, was the credible witness is a tremendous waste of premium court time and resources.
More than that, such a process would subject Webb to double jeopardy because if the first reweighing process was valid, then that process could have validly convicted Webb, and so a repeat of that process could subject Webb to a second jeopardy of conviction. The fact that the first reweighing process resulted in acquittal makes no difference; double jeopardy still applies.
So long, therefore, as any motion for reconsideration can be viewed as impliedly admitting the validity of the reweighing process that was used to reverse the judgment of the trial court and the Court of Appeals, the rule on double jeopardy would preclude a repetition of the process.
If the reweighing process was a valid process, then the conclusion reached was valid, however strongly one may disagree with the court’s appreciation of the evidence.
But if, on the other hand, the motion challenges the validity of the reweighing process for being the wrong process, and asks the court to look at the record evidence again using a different (but the correct) process, double jeopardy would not apply.
There is no double jeopardy because the flawed process that was used to decide the appeal did not result (and could not have resulted) in a valid conclusion.
Any conclusion reached, for or against any party, through the employment of a flawed process, is null and void as a denial of constitutional due process.
Reweighing the evidence, which the Supreme Court employed in Webb, is the wrong process to use in reviewing the judgment of a trial court.
As pointed out in an earlier article published in this paper, the correct process is to review the record under the deferential substantial evidence standard of review. (See Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, which supplanted the no evidence standard in Thompson v. Louisville, 362 U.S. 199.)
The proper motion to file to strike at the heart (the validity) of the process is not a motion for reconsideration; it is a motion to vacate or set aside the judgment.
For if the judgment is vacated, or set aside, it is, in law, as if there was no judgment at all. Vacating a judgment puts back the case to where it was prior to the void judgment.
At that point, the accused was not in double jeopardy of conviction.
Atty. Marcelino C. Maxino
Retired Lead Lawyer, California Court of Appeal, 6th Appellate District (San Jose)
Bar examiner, State Bar of California