Voluntary confession but inadmissible

This case involves an admission or confession of guilt made while under police investigation and before being charged in court.

Under the Constitution said confession is admissible only if the person is informed of his right to remain silent and to have competent and independent counsel preferably of his own choice; and no torture, force, violence, threat or intimidation or any other means which vitiate free will is used against him (Sec 12, Article III of Constitution). It is presumed to be voluntary and shall be sustained in the absence of conclusive evidence showing declarant’s consent in executing the same has been vitiated. But even if it is voluntarily given, when can it still be inadmissible? This is answered and explained in this case. Read more: Jose C. Sison (January 9, 2019). Voluntary but inadmissible. https://www.philstar.com/opinion/2019/01/09/1883417/voluntary-inadmissible.

This is the case of Alex, who finished only fourth grade and who worked as a delivery boy employed by Aling Connie, engaged in the business of delivering chickens to customers. One morning Alex was asked to deliver dressed chickens to Mrs. Fe, a regular customer. When Alex came back at about 10:20 a.m., he turned over his collection to Aling Connie and left for the province allegedly to attend the burial of his grandfather. Then Aling Connie received a call from Mrs. Fe, informing her that her house had been robbed and her two maids, Hilda and Myla, had been killed.

Responding to Mrs. Fe’s report, the police sent four policemen led by a police lieutenant (Villamor Valdez), to investigate the case. They were told by Myrna, Alex’s sister, that Alex went to the province after confiding to her that he had done something wrong. After a thorough search in several provinces, the police were able to apprehend Alex whom they brought to their station. The other accused Bogs remained at large. He was positively identified by Nimfa, the neighbor of Aling Connie, who declared in a sworn statement that she saw Alex with blood in his hands, together with his companion Bogs running down the stairs.

On the same day, Alex gave a detailed Tagalog confession in writing with the assistance of another counsel who happened to be also the station commander of the police and who was also representing an accused of illegal recruitment. In said confession, Alex said: that he started working for Aling Connie three or four months before the incident; that Mrs Fe was a regular customer to whom he made deliveries in the morning; that on the day of the incident, his fellow employee, Bogs, proposed that they rob Mrs. Fe so they can go to the province to visit their family; that the next day, after learning that there were only two helpers at Mrs. Fe’s residence, they decided to carry out the robbery; that Bogs covered the mouth of one of the helpers, Hilda to prevent her from shouting, but she tried to run away, so Bogs stabbed and killed her th en gave to him the knife as he stabbed the younger maid, Myla from which she died; and that afterwards, they divided the loot and went to their respective provinces.

Alex was thus charged with the crime of robbery with homicide before the Regional Trial Court (RTC). Based on his detailed confession, the testimonies of the police captain and the counsel who assisted Alex in his confession, the prosecution rested its case. The defense presented Alex as sole witness. He said that he delivered the dressed chickens to Mrs. Fe and came back from the errand at around 10:20 a.m. and remitted the amount he collected. He denied participation in the commission of the crime and claimed he was arrested without warrant; beaten up and detained for a week then made to execute an extrajudicial confession. He denied having known or seen the counsel who allegedly assisted him and did not understand the confession he signed because he does not know how to read.

But after trial, the RTC still found him guilty as charged and sentenced him to reclusion perpetua and pay the heirs of the victims the corresponding indemnity. In his appeal, Alex insisted that his confession is not valid and admissible because the counsel who assisted him was not of his own choice and that the confession was involuntarily signed by him. In fact he said he was forced to sign it five times.

The Supreme Court said that it cannot be said that his confession was obtained by force and threat as there was no proof of use of violence on him and he did not even seek medical treatment nor even physical examination. He did not actually signed the confession five times but only different parts thereof. Moreover the confession contains details that only the perpetrator of the crime could have given. Voluntariness of the confession may be inferred from its being replete with details which could possibly be supplied only by the accused reflecting spontaneity and coherence.

But Alex’s confession is still inadmissible because he was not given the following warnings: (1) He must be informed of his right to remain silent; (2) he must be warned that anything he says can and will be used against him; and (3) he must be told that he has right to counsel, and that if he is indigent, a lawyer will be appointed to represent him. In this case there was only a perfunctory reading of his foregoing rights without any effort to find out from him whether he wanted to have counsel and, if so, whether he had his own counsel or he wanted the police to appoint one for him. Moreover the counsel assisting him must be competent and independent. Here, he was assisted by a counsel who though competent, cannot be considered an “independent counsel” because he was a station commander of the police department at the time he assisted Alex.

So the extrajudicial confession of Alex is inadmissible in evidence and he should be acquitted of the crime charged on the ground of reasonable doubt. It may be that by this decision a guilty person is set free because the prosecution stumbled, but it is far better to acquit several guilty persons than to convict one single innocent person. (People vs. Obrero, G.R.122142, May 17, 2000). Read more: Jose C. Sison (January 9, 2019). Voluntary but inadmissible. philstar.com/opinion/2019/01/09/1883417/voluntary-inadmissible.