Remedial Law

Mendoza v. People -J.Leonen, G.R. No. 197293, April 21, 2014 Executive and Judicial determination of Probable Cause

FACTS:

A complaint-affidavit was filed by Juno Cars, Inc. for qualified theft and estafa against Alfredo Mendoza, alleging that it hired Alfredo as Trade-In/Used Car Supervisor; that on November 19, 2007, its Dealer/Operator, Rolando Garcia, conducted a partial audit of the used cars and discovered that five (5) cars had been sold and released by Alfredo without Rolando’s or the finance manager’s permission; that the buyers of the five cars made payments, but Alfredo failed to remit the payments totalling ₱886,000.00; and that while there were 20 cars under Alfredo’s custody, only 18 were accounted for, among others, to its prejudice and damage.

On March 4, 2008, Provincial Prosecutor Delgado issued a Resolution finding probable cause and recommending the filing of an information against Alfredo for qualified theft and estafa.

Two informations for qualified theft and estafa were filed before the RTC, Branch 212, Mandaluyong City. 

Alfredo filed a motion for determination of probable cause before the trial court, as well as a motion to defer arraignment.

On March 3, 2009, the trial court, through Presiding Judge Rizalina Capco-Umali, issued an order dismissing the complaint, stating that:

After conducting an independent assessment of the evidence on record which includes the assailed Resolution dated 04 March 2008, the court holds that the evidence adduced does not support a finding of probable cause for the offenses of qualified theft and estafa. x x x.

Juno Cars filed a motion for reconsideration, which the trial court denied.

Juno Cars then filed a petition for certiorari with the CA arguing that the trial court acted without or in excess of its jurisdiction and with grave abuse of discretion when it dismissed the complaint. It argued that “the determination of probable cause and the decision whether or not to file a criminal case in court, rightfully belongs to the public prosecutor.”

The CA reversed the trial court, and reinstated the case. In its decision, the appellate court ruled that the trial court acted without or in excess of its jurisdiction “in supplanting the public prosecutor’s findings of probable cause with her own findings of insufficiency of evidence and lack of probable cause.”

Aggrieved, Alfredo filed a petition for review under Rule 45 before this court. 

ISSUE:

Whether or not the trial court may dismiss an information filed by the prosecutor on the basis of its own independent finding of lack of probable cause.

RULING:

In People v. Castillo and Mejia, this court has stated:

There are two kinds of determination of probable cause: executive and judicial. 

The executive determination of probable cause is one made during preliminary investigation. It is a function that properly pertains to the public prosecutor who is given a broad discretion to determine whether probable cause exists and to charge those whom he believes to have committed the crime as defined by law and thus should be held for trial. 

Otherwise stated, such official has the quasi-judicial authority to determine whether or not a criminal case must be filed in court. Whether or not that function has been correctly discharged by the public prosecutor, i.e., whether or not he has made a correct ascertainment of the existence of probable cause in a case, is a matter that the trial court itself does not and may not be compelled to pass upon.

The judicial determination of probable cause, on the other hand, is one made by the judge to ascertain whether a warrant of arrest should be issued against the accused. The judge must satisfy himself that based on the evidence submitted, there is necessity for placing the accused under custody in order not to frustrate the ends of justice. If the judge finds no probable cause, the judge cannot be forced to issue the arrest warrant.

The difference is clear: The executive determination of probable cause concerns itself with whether there is enough evidence to support an Information being filed. 

The judicial determination of probable cause, on the other hand, determines whether a warrant of arrest should be issued. In People v. Inting:

x x x Judges and Prosecutors alike should distinguish the preliminary inquiry which determines probable cause for the issuance of a warrant of arrest from the preliminary investigation proper which ascertains whether the offender should be held for trial or released. Even if the two inquiries are conducted in the course of one and the same proceeding, there should be no confusion about the objectives. The determination of probable cause for the warrant of arrest is made by the Judge. The preliminary investigation proper—whether or not there is reasonable ground to believe that the accused is guilty of the offense charged and, therefore, whether or not he should be subjected to the expense, rigors and embarrassment of trial—is the function of the Prosecutor.

While it is within the trial court’s discretion to make an independent assessment of the evidence on hand, it is only for the purpose of determining whether a warrant of arrest should be issued. The judge does not act as an appellate court of the prosecutor and has no capacity to review the prosecutor’s determination of probable cause; rather, the judge makes a determination of probable cause independent of the prosecutor’s finding.

While the information filed by Prosecutor Delgado was valid, Judge Capco-Umali still had the discretion to make her own finding of whether probable cause existed to order the arrest of the accused and proceed with trial.

Accordingly, with the present laws and jurisprudence on the matter, Judge Capco-Umali correctly dismissed the case against Alfredo.

Although jurisprudence and procedural rules allow it, a judge must always proceed with caution in dismissing cases due to lack of probable cause, considering the preliminary nature of the evidence before it. It is only when he or she finds that the evidence on hand absolutely fails to support a finding of probable cause that he or she can dismiss the case. On the other hand, if a judge finds probable cause, he or she must not hesitate to proceed with arraignment and trial in order that justice may be served.

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