Criminal Law, Remedial Law

Cajipe v. People G.R. No. 203605 April 23, 2014 Dismissal of Complaint/Information due to Lack of Probable Cause

FACTS:

Lilian De Vera filed a complaint before the DOJ charging with multiple murder several PNP Highway Patrol Group (HPG) officers, herein petitioners P/C Insp. Lawrence B. Cajipe, P/C Insp. Mendoza, P/C Insp. Balatucan, PO3 Mamanao, Jr., P03 Gapuz, PO2 Blanco, P02 Santos, and PO1 Lucena. 

The other group of accused consisted of police officers from the PNP Special Action Force (SAF).

In her complaint Lilian alleged that joint elements of the SAF and the HPG conspired in carrying out a plan to kill her husband, Alfonso (“Jun”) and their 7-year-old daughter, Lia. 

Lilian said that she was to meet with Jun and Lia in Pasay City at around 9:30 p.m. on December 5, 2008, but the two did not show up. When she called their house helper, she was informed that there had been a shootout in their subdivision.

Lilian decided to go home. At the entrance of their subdivision, the police had blocked the area and did not allow civilians to pass through. She got a call from her house helper who told-her that Jun and Lia had been involved in the shootout. 

Lilian immediately went to the hospital where Lia had been rushed. When she got there, she learned that Lia had died of gunshot wound on the head, while Jun was found dead near a passenger jeepney with a gunshot wound on his head.

Witnesses said that Jun and Lia were riding in his van when police officers wearing Regional SAF vests suddenly fired at the van. Jun got out, went to the passenger side, and tried to carry Lia out to safety as she had been wounded. The police officers went after Jun, however, and shot him on the head.

The DOJ found probable cause to indict all the police officers involved for two counts of murder. The DOJ filed the information before the RTC of Paranaque City. 

Petitioner HPG officers filed an omnibus motion for judicial determination of probable cause with a prayer to hold in abeyance the issuance of the warrants for their arrest. 

They also sought the annulment of the DOJ resolution on the ground of violation of their constitutional rights. Further, they asked that the information be quashed on the ground that the facts it alleged did not constitute an offense.

The RTC dismissed the case for lack of probable cause primarily on the absence of evidence directly linking the petitioner HPG officers to the shooting of the victim and their physical presence at the crime scene. 

On the other hand the RTC issued an arrest warrant for the accused SAF officers, having found probable cause against them. Lilian moved for reconsideration of the dismissal order covering petitioner HPG officers but the RTC denied the same.

The OSG filed a petition for certiorari under Rule 65 before the CA, alleging grave abuse of discretion on the RTC’s part. 

The CA granted the petition. It ruled that the RTC gravely abused its discretion in failing to evaluate the sworn statements of the witnesses on whom the DOJ relied on.  

The CA thus ordered the issuance of warrants of arrest against the petitioner HPG officers. 

The CA denied the motion for reconsideration of its decision and the urgent motion to quash warrants of arrest and/or motion to suspend the implementation of the warrants of arrest, hence, this petition.

ISSUE:

Whether or not there was grave abuse of discretion on the part of the RTC Judge in dismissing the case due to lack of probable cause.

RULING:

The RTC judge was within his powers to dismiss the case against petitioner HPG officers. 

Section 6, Rule 112 of the Rules of Criminal Procedure provides that the judge “may immediately dismiss the case if the evidence on record clearly fails to establish probable cause.” 

The CA should have denied the People’s petition for special civil action of certiorari that assails the correctness of the order of dismissal since Section 1 of Rule 65 provides that such action is available only when “there is no appeal, or any plain, speedy, and adequate remedy in the ordinary course of law.”

The fact, however, is that Section 1, Rule 122 of the same rules provides that an appeal may be taken in a criminal action from a judgment or final order like the RTC’s order dismissing the case against petitioner HPG officers for lack of probable cause. 

It is a final order since it disposes of the case, terminates the proceedings, and leaves the court with nothing further to do with respect to the case against petitioner HPG officers. 

The Court had made a similar pronouncement in Santos v. Orda, Jr. Of course, the People may refile the case if new evidence adduced in another preliminary investigation will support the filing of a new information against them. But that is another matter. For now, the CA clearly erred in not denying the petition for being a wrong remedy.

It is clear from witness’ testimony that the man he saw shoot Jun was an RSAF officer, accompanied by another RSAF, both wearing Regional SAF vests. 

The HPG men belonged to another unit and there is no claim that they wore another unit’s vest. The crime laboratory report which revealed that none of the HPG operatives discharged their firearms during the shootout. Witness’ testimony pointed out that the police officers involved in the shootout carried long firearms, but the National Police Commission issued two certifications to the effect that the petitioner HPG officers had not been issued long firearms from 2007 up to 2010.

Probable cause for purposes of filing a criminal information is defined as such facts as are sufficient to engender a well-founded belief that a crime has been committed and the respondent is probably guilty thereof, and should be held for trial. 

The prosecution evidence fails to establish probable cause against petitioner HPG officers.

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