Sunday, March 30, 2014

Probable cause: where there is conflict in findings of trial court and the public prosecution - A.M. No. RTJ-14-2367

Read  -  A.M. No. RTJ-14-2367
Also -

"x x x.

The trial court is not bound to adopt the resolution of the Secretary of Justice since it is mandated to independently evaluate or assess the merits of the case; in the exercise of its discretion, it may agree or disagree with the recommendation of the Secretary of Justice. Reliance on the resolution of the Secretary of Justice alone would be an abdication of the trial court's duty and jurisdiction to determine a prima facie case.6We stress that once a criminal complaint or information is filed in court, any disposition of the case (whether it be a dismissal, an acquittal or a conviction of the accused) rests within the exclusive jurisdiction, competence, and discretion of the trial court; it is the best and sole judge of what to do with the case before it.7

In resolving a motion to dismiss a case or to withdraw the information filed by the public prosecutor (on his own initiative or pursuant to the directive of the Secretary of Justice), either for insufficiency of evidence in the possession of the prosecutor or for lack of probable cause, the trial court should not merely rely on the findings of the public prosecutor or of the Secretary of Justice that no crime had been committed or that the evidence in the possession of the public prosecutor is insufficient to support a judgment of conviction of the accused.8 To do so is to surrender a power constitutionally vested in the Judiciary to the Executive.

In the present case, Judge Cacatian-Beltran does not appear to have arbitrarily denied the joint motion to withdraw informations. The records show that she evaluated and assessed the informations, the resolution of the City Prosecutor, the affidavit and reply-affidavit of the complainants, the counter-affidavit and rejoinder and the appeal memorandum of Junio and Lorica, and the supporting documents attached to them.

In her January 6, 2012 order, Judge Cacatian-Beltran notably explained the basis for her denial. No proof whatsoever exists in all these, showing that bad faith, malice or any corrupt purpose attended the issuance of her order. It is also important to note in this regard that the issue of whether Judge Cacatian-Beltran correctly denied the joint motion to withdraw informations, despite the finding of Secretary De Lima of lack of probable cause, is judicial in nature: Junio and Lorica’s remedy under the circumstances should have been made with the proper court for the appropriate judicial action, not with the OCA by means of an administrative complaint.

We also find unmeritorious Junio and Lorica’s argument that Judge Cacatian-Beltran "arrogated unto herself the role of a prosecutor and a judge"9 when she insisted that the accused stand trial although she did not find any grave abuse of discretion on the part of Justice Secretary de Lima. When a court acts, whether its action is consistent or inconsistent with a prosecutor’s recommendation, it rules on the prosecutor’s action and does not thereby assume the role of a prosecutor. The case of Hipos, Sr. v. Bay10 best explains why we so rule:

To clarify, we never stated in Ledesma that a judge is allowed to deny a Motion to Withdraw Information from the prosecution only when there is grave abuse of discretion on the part of the prosecutors moving for such withdrawal. Neither did we rule therein that where there is no grave abuse of discretion on the part of the prosecutors, the denial of the Motion to Withdraw Information is void. What we held therein is that a trial judge commits grave abuse of discretion if he denies a Motion to Withdraw Information without an independent and complete assessment of the issues presented in such Motion.

With the independent and thorough assessment and evaluation of the merits of the joint motion to withdraw information that Judge Cacatian-Beltran undertook before dismissing it, she acted as a judge should and can in no way be said to have assumed the role of a prosecutor. The parties for their part are not without any remedy as the Rules of Court amply provide for the remedy against a judicial action believed to· be grossly abusive when the remedy of direct appeal is not available. We cannot rule on this point in the present case however as this is a matter not before us in this administrative recourse against Judge Cacatian-Beltran.

x x x."