Befuddling, especially to nonlawyers, are the many complex and sometimes conflicting standards used in judging legal controversies and investigations.
Criminal cases. “Proof beyond reasonable doubt” is the standard or yardstick used in convicting the accused in criminal cases. This standard is very strict because a conviction deprives the accused of the constitutional right to “life, liberty or property.”
According to jurisprudence, “proof beyond reasonable doubt” refers to “that degree of proof which, after an examination of the entire records of the case, produces in an unprejudiced mind, moral certainty of the culpability of the accused.” And yet, to file a criminal case in court, all that is needed by the prosecutors, after conducting preliminary investigations, is merely “probable cause,” a less strict standard.
Per the Supreme Court, “probable cause is a reasonable ground of presumption that a matter is, or may be, well-founded, such a state of facts in the mind of the prosecutor as would lead a person of ordinary caution and prudence to believe, or entertain an honest or strong suspicion, that a thing is so.”
Thus, “probable cause does not require an inquiry into whether there is sufficient evidence to procure a conviction. It is enough that … the act or omission complained of constitutes the offense charged. Precisely, there is a trial for the reception of evidence of the prosecution to support the charge.”
The Constitution counterchecks prosecutors by requiring judges to determine again, this time “personally,” the existence of probable cause before issuing an arrest warrant on the accused.
Indeed, the law requires only the existence of “probable cause” to support the filing of a criminal charge in the courts. However, I think that before such filing, prosecutors—as a matter of prudence and common sense—should already have at hand the evidence necessary to procure the conviction of the accused. Why should they sue if they cannot prove the criminal culpability of the accused?
This question is especially important in capital offenses (like plunder or murder) in which the accused is detained upon the filing of the information. And to continue such detention, all that the prosecution is required to prove is “strong” evidence. Yet, the accused may languish in jail for many decades while awaiting trial and final judgment, only to be acquitted due to insufficiency of evidence.
Prosecutors are required by the Rules of Court to be prepared for pretrial and trial after the accused pleads “not guilty” to the charge. They are expected to have at hand enough credible witnesses and documents to secure a conviction. Why then should they sue, if all they have is evidence showing “probable cause,” which is not enough to secure a conviction?
No wonder prosecutors have a poor conviction rate. Worse, many poor innocents are needlessly harassed and deprived of liberty. Even worst, court dockets are clogged with frivolous cases that delay the truly meritorious. In many other countries, prosecutors sue only when they have enough evidence to secure a conviction.
Other cases. In civil cases, in which money or property or civil status (not liberty) is at stake, what is needed is only “preponderance of evidence.”
This “means that, as a whole, the evidence adduced by one side outweighs that of the adverse party…” It refers to “evidence that has greater weight or is more convincing than that which is offered in opposition; at bottom, it means probability of truth.”
In administrative cases, which involve deprivation of a public office (not of life, liberty or property), truth may be proven by “substantial evidence”—i.e., “that amount of evidence which a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to justify a conclusion.”
“Proof beyond reasonable doubt,” “preponderance of evidence” and “substantial evidence” are difficult to comprehend and to apply in real-life cases. Lawyers argue endlessly about them. That is why, to assure the triumph of justice, “competence, integrity, probity and independence” are required by the Constitution from all members of the judiciary. I think similar standards should be imposed on prosecutors.
Congressional investigations are not judicial contests. They do not determine guilt or innocence of a crime, and do not result in penalties like imprisonment. Neither do they decide civil and administrative matters. Hence, they do not use any of the foregoing judicial standards.
There are no accused or adverse parties, not even witnesses, only “resource persons” who are examined by legislators to provide information and sometimes opinions on how to craft new or remedial legislation. There being no adverse parties, no cross-examination is allowed. In short, congressional inquiries are conducted merely “in aid of legislation.”
Many times, congressional hearings are covered live by TV-radio, plastered on the front pages of broadsheets, and given wide public attention. They could be dangerous to the political health of public officials. Indeed, they form public perceptions and become the basis of electoral choices.
Congressional inquiries can sometimes engender the belief that a crime had been committed and that certain individuals are possibly guilty thereof. But Congress cannot pass upon their guilt. It may however recommend their prosecution to the appropriate agencies. For more on congressional inquiries, please see my column “Assessing Ruby Tuason’s testimony” (2/23/14).
* * *
Comments to firstname.lastname@example.org