MANILA (UPDATE) — The justice department has issued a new circular that requires prosecutors to take an "active role" in the investigation of certain crimes, a departure from the traditional role of prosecutors handling criminal probes.
The agency's Circular No. 20, signed by Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla on March 31, mandated prosecutors to ensure close coordination and cooperation with law enforcers.
“[A]ll prosecutors shall take an active role in the investigation of crimes covered by these guidelines, particularly during the case build-up stage where they may require, assist or otherwise cooperate with the complainants and/or law enforcement agencies,” the circular said.
The new circular is a "game changer," Justice Undersecretary Raul Vasquez told ANC last week.
Under the current setup, prosecutors rely solely on affidavits and evidence filed by parties during preliminary investigation.
But under the new circular, close coordination will include prosecutors providing legal guidance to law enforcers in all planned operations like buy bust, controlled delivery operation, entrapment and application for search warrant from the inception until the termination of the case.
“Prosecutors shall be available at any hour of the day or night, even remotely via available telecommunications technology, for purposes of consultation, cooperation and coordination on matters involving proper collection and preservation of evidence, such as but not limited to interviewing of witnesses, preparation of Judicial Affidavits, and vetting for evidence,” read the circular.
Prosecutors are required to certify the existence of prima facie case and reasonable certainty of conviction before a complaint is docketed for preliminary investigation.
If there is no sufficient evidence, prosecutors are required to advice law enforcers about the lack of evidence and direct them to submit the lacking evidence.
The complaint shall be deemed closed or terminated if the complaint still cannot be supported by sufficient evidence or the lacking evidence cannot be secured despite the referral to law enforcement agencies within a reasonable time.
In cases subject to inquest, an assisting prosecutor is required to certify if there is sufficient ground to conduct inquest proceedings.
If grounds are insufficient, the assisting prosecutor shall recommend whether to continue case buildup or proceed to preliminary investigation.
CRIMES COVERED, NEW QUANTUM OF PROOF
The crimes covered under the new DOJ circular include heinous crimes, dangerous drugs, money laundering, terrorism, terrorism financing and capital offenses punishable by reclusion perpetua (up to 40 years in prison) or life imprisonment.
The new quantum of proof required is the existence of a prima facie case and a reasonable certainty of conviction, which, according to Vasquez is higher than “probable cause,” the traditional standard for preliminary investigation.
Prima facie evidence, as defined by the circular, is “such status of evidence which on its own and if left uncontroverted, is sufficient to establish all the elements of a crime.”
The Rules of Court, under Rule 112, section 1 on preliminary investigations, currently requires only that there should be a “well-founded belief that a crime has been committed and the respondent is probably guilty thereof, and should be held for trial" before cases are filed in court.
Remulla earlier explained the need for the higher quantum of proof in filing of cases before the municipal trial courts, municipal trial courts in cities and metropolitan trial courts.
But the new circular now include cases cognizable by regional trial courts.
“We all know that there is a need to narrow the great divide between the current degree of proof needed for the filing of a criminal information, probable cause, and that of conviction, which is proof beyond reasonable doubt,” he was quoted as saying in a press briefer earlier released by the Supreme Court
The new DOJ circular on case build-up for prosecutors takes effect immediately and will only apply suppletorily (only to cover deficiencies) to the guidelines on:
- AO 35 task force
- Pres'l task force on violence against media workers
- National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict