Monday, February 25, 2013

True Confessions: Admissibility of TV interviews

By Obiter07

As enshrined in Article III of the Constitution, a suspect is guaranteed certain rights:

SECTION 12. (1) Any person under investigation for the commission of an offense shall have the right to be informed of his right to remain silent and to have competent and independent counsel preferably of his own choice. If the person cannot afford the services of counsel, he must be provided with one. These rights cannot be waived except in writing and in the presence of counsel.

(2)        . . .
(3)        Any confession or admission obtained in violation of this or Section 17 hereof shall be inadmissible in evidence against him.
(4)        . . ."[1]

Convictions have been thrown out because of confessions secured illegally since this was not made in the presence of counsel.  What is not commonly known is the fact that certain admissions can actually be used against the accused even in the absence of counsel.  And this was what happened in PEOPLE vs. ANDAN [G.R. No. 116437.  March 3, 1997.]

The accused in this case was charged with rape and homicide.  The victim, a 2nd year Nursing student, was invited inside the accused’s house on the pretext that she was to take the blood pressure of his grandmother-in-law.  As established by the prosecution, she agreed.  He “then punched her in the abdomen, brought her to the kitchen and raped her. His lust sated, appellant dragged the unconscious girl to an old toilet at the back of the house and left her there until dark.  Night came and appellant pulled Marianne, who was still unconscious, to their backyard.  The yard had a pigpen bordered on one side by a six-foot high concrete fence.  On the other side was a vacant lot.  Appellant stood on a bench beside the pigpen and then lifted and draped the girl's body over the fence to transfer it to the vacant lot.  When the girl moved, he hit her head with a piece of concrete block.  He heard her moan and hit her again on the face. After silence reigned, he pulled her body to the other side of the fence, dragged it towards a shallow portion of the lot and abandoned it. xxx”

The mayor formed a police team to apprehend the culprit.  They found the “a broken piece of concrete block stained with what appeared to be blood” at the crime scene, among other items.  When the accused’s nearby house was searched, they found bloodstains on the pigpen’s wall at the backyard. They traced the accused to his parent’s house and brought him to police headquarters.  He denied any knowledge of the crime during the initial interrogation.  When confronted with the concrete block, he pointed to his two neighbors as the killers, stating that he was only the lookout.  He then indicated where the victim’s two bags could be found which were recovered at his house.

The three suspects were then brought back to headquarters.  During a medical examination, the suspect was found to have multiple scratches on his neck and abrasions on his chest and back.  The mayor arrived and at the investigation room, the suspect approached him and asked for a private audience.  He then “broke down and said "Mayor, patawarin mo ako! I will tell you the truth. I am the one who killed Marianne."

The mayor then allowed the public and media to witness the confession.  He asked for a lawyer to assist but since one could not be found, he directed that the proceedings be photographed and videotaped.  In the presence of the mayor, the police, representatives of the media and his own wife and son, the accused confessed his guilt.  His confession was captured on videotape and covered by the media.  Over the next two days, he was again interviewed and he affirmed his confession to the mayor and reenacted the crime. However, at trial, he entered a plea of "not guilty."  His alibi was that he had attended a birthday party and was with his family until picked up by the police. And that he was brought to a hotel by the police and tortured to confess.

He was convicted by the trial court. Upon review with the Supreme Court, he questioned the “admission of the testimonies of the policemen, the mayor and the news reporters because they were made during custodial investigation without the assistance of counsel.”  Hence, any confession or admission made is inadmissible against him.

The Court ruled that his confession to the police as well as the two bags found at his house were inadmissible.  He was already a suspect when interrogated and he was already entitled to his rights under the Constitution.  However, the Court ruled against him with respect to his public confessions to the mayor and media.  While the “mayor has "operational supervision and control" over the local police and may arguably be deemed a law enforcement officer for purposes of applying Section 12 (1) and (3) of Article III of the Constitution, his “confession to the mayor was not made in response to any interrogation by the latter. In fact, the mayor did not question appellant at all. No police authority ordered appellant to talk to the mayor.” He “spontaneously, freely and voluntarily” sought the mayor for a meeting. As observed by the Court: “The mayor did not know that appellant was going to confess his guilt to him. When appellant talked with the mayor as a confidant and not as a law enforcement officer, his uncounselled confession to him did not violate his constitutional rights.  Thus, it has been held that the constitutional procedures on custodial investigation do not apply to a spontaneous statement, not elicited through questioning by the authorities, but given in an ordinary manner whereby appellant orally admitted having committed the crime.  What the Constitution bars is the compulsory disclosure of incriminating facts or confessions.  The rights under Section 12 are guaranteed to preclude the slightest use of coercion by the state as would lead the accused to admit something false, not to prevent him from freely and voluntarily telling the truth.  Hence we hold that appellant's confession to the mayor was correctly admitted by the trial court.”

As to the confessions before media, these “were likewise properly admitted. The confessions were made in response to questions by news reporters, not by the police or any other investigating officer. We have held that statements spontaneously made by a suspect to news reporters on a televised interview are deemed voluntary and are admissible in evidence.”

The Court further stated thus: “Clearly, appellant's confessions to the news reporters were given free from any undue influence from the police authorities.  The news reporters acted as news reporters when they interviewed appellant.  They were not acting under the direction and control of the police.  They were there to check appellant's confession to the mayor.  They did not force appellant to grant them an interview and reenact the commission of the crime.  In fact, they asked his permission before interviewing him.  They interviewed him on separate days not once did appellant protest his innocence.  Instead, he repeatedly confessed his guilt to them.  He even supplied all the details in the commission of the crime, and consented to its reenactment.  All his confessions to the news reporters were witnessed by his family and other relatives. There was no coercive atmosphere in the interview of appellant by the news reporters.”

“We rule that appellant's verbal confessions to the newsmen are not covered by Section 12 (1) and (3) of Article III of the Constitution. The Bill of Rights does not concern itself with the relation between a private individual and another individual It governs the relationship between the individual and the State.  The prohibitions therein are primarily addressed to the State and its agents.  They confirm that certain rights of the individual exist without need of any governmental grant, rights that may not be taken away by government, rights that government has the duty to protect.  Governmental power is not unlimited and the Bill of Rights lays down these limitations to protect the individual against aggression and unwarranted interference by any department of government and its agencies.”

It is a truism that a liar is sometimes caught by his own tongue.  Even a criminal can be caught in the same manner as well.  It is sad to note that the accused here could have gotten away scot-free if the only evidence came from the police.  Fortunately, driven by his conscience or loquacity, and with the help of a quick-thinking mayor and media, the victim here got some measure of justice.  Confessions, no matter how true, will not be heard by the courts if secured through foul means.  And confessions, though made without counsel, are admissible if made voluntarily.  As the accused here found, talk is not always so cheap.

[1]  This has been further codified in R.A. No. 7438 55 which requires that "[a]ny person arrested, detained or under custodial investigation shall at all times be assisted by counsel." The last paragraph of Section 3 of the same law mandates that "[i]n the absence of any lawyer, no custodial investigation shall be conducted."


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