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Celebrity surgeon acquitted

The Court of Appeals has acquitted Dr. Joel Mendez, an aesthetic surgeon to celebrities, of estafa charges for issuing unfunded checks amount to P3.4 million in 2008.

In a decision written by Associate Justice Amy Lazaro Javier, the CA ruled that the trial court should have acquitted Mendez on the ground of reasonable doubt.

“If the prosecution fails to discharge its heavy burden, then it is not only the right of the accused to be freed, it becomes the Court’s constitutional duty to acquit him,” the CA said.

The Pasig City Regional Trial Court found Mendez guilty of estafa and sentenced him to six to 12 years of imprisonment.

The trial court also directed Mendez to indemnify the complainant, Digichive Philippines and Total Data Central Solution Inc., the amount of P3.4 million. Mendez elevated the case to the CA.

Granting the surgeon’s appeal, the CA said there was no intention on the part of Mendez to defraud the complainants.

In fact, the surgeon showed good faith when he offered to fully settle his obligation by suggesting a payment scheme.

It stressed that in in estafa through false pretense or fraudulent act under Article 315, par.2 (d) of the Revised Penal Code, what is penalized is criminal fraud or deceit in the issuance of check, and not the non-payment of debt. (Rey G. Panaligan)