Executive function of determining probable cause

The determination of probable cause for purposes of filing of information in court is essentially an executive function that is lodged, at the first instance, with the public prosecutor and, ultimately, to the Secretary of Justice.[1] The prosecutor and the Secretary of Justice have wide latitude of discretion in the conduct of preliminary investigation;[2] and their findings with respect to the existence or non-existence of probable cause are generally not subject to review by the Supreme Court.Consistent with this rule, the settled policy of non-interference in the prosecutor’s exercise of discretion requires the courts to leave to the prosecutor and to the DOJ the determination of what constitutes sufficient evidence to establish probable cause.[3] Courts can neither override their determination nor substitute their own judgment for that of the latter. They cannot likewise order the prosecution of the accused when the prosecutor has not found a prima facie case.[4]

Nevertheless, this policy of non-interference is not without exception.

The Constitution itself allows (and even directs) court action where executive discretion has been gravely abused.[5] In other words, the court may intervene in the executive determination of probable cause, review the findings and conclusions, and ultimately resolve the existence or non-existence of probable cause by examining the records of the preliminary investigation when necessary for the orderly administration of justice.[6]
[1] Baron A. Villanueva, et al. v. Edna R. Caparas, G.R. No. 190969, January 30, 2013, 689 SCRA 679, 685.

[2] Callo-Claridad v. Esteban, G.R. No. 191567, March 20, 2013, 694 SCRA 185, 199.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Elma v. Jacobi, G.R. No. 155996, June 27, 2012, 675 SCRA 20, 56-57.

[5] Section 1, Article VIII of the Constitution states:

"Section 1. The judicial power shall be vested in one Supreme Court and in such lower courts as may be established by law.

Judicial power includes the duty of the courts of justice to settle actual controversies involving rights which are legally demandable and enforceable, and to determine whether or not there has been a grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction on the part of any branch or instrumentality of the Government."

[6] Callo-Claridad v. Esteban, G.R. No. 191567, March 20, 2013, 694 SCRA 185, 199.

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