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Notwithstanding the presumption of regularity, our Constitution still recognized the fact that State agents may at times abuse their power. As such, a protective measure is enshrined in our Bill of Rights:
Section 2. The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures of whatever nature and for any purpose shall be inviolable, and no search warrant or warrant of arrest shall issue except upon probable cause to be determined personally by the judge after examination under oath or affirmation of the complainant and the witnesses he may produce, and particularly describing the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized.
Section 3. xxx
(2) Any evidence obtained in violation of this or the preceding section shall be inadmissible for any purpose in any proceeding.
These provisions are often referred to as the Doctrine of the Fruit of the Poisonous Tree, an exclusionary rule, which provides that all evidence obtained through illegality by law enforcement agents shall be inadmissible in evidence.
In a long line of cases decided by the Philippine Supreme Court, this doctrine seem to have found application mostly in object evidence obtained in illegal search and seizure cases. In fact, I am yet to encounter a case where the doctrine was applied to oral/written evidence obtained after an illegal arrest. It would seem that our Supreme Court is yet to be confronted with a judicial controversy in relation to the admissibility of admissions made by an accused after an illegal arrest has been made.
In the case of Wong Sun vs. United States (371 U.S. 471), Wong Sun and James Toy were illegally arrested by policemen. During the arrest, James Toy made an incriminating admission while Wong Sun kept his silence. However, after posting bail, Wong Sun returned and made an incriminating admission. The admission made by James Toy was ruled inadmissible while the admission made by Wong Sun was ruled admissible. The reason for the different treatment was that James Toy would not have made the incriminating admission at the time of the arrest had he not been intimidated by the presence of the police. In the case of Wong Sun, sufficient time had already lapsed from the time of the illegal arrest to the time he made the admission. Wong Sun had sufficient time to reflect on his action. Hence, the possibility that his admission was tainted by the illegal arrest was already attenuated. As such, it can be ruled that his admission was made voluntarily.
This case illustrates the application of the exclusionary rule as to oral evidence, not object/physical evidence. At the same time, the case illustrates the exception, which is the Doctrine of Attenuation. The Doctrine of Attenuation inquires whether or not there is sufficient causation/connection between the illegal arrest and the admission/confession made. If the connection is so remote or attenuated, then the confession made after the illegal arrest may still be admitted against the accused. The conclusion here is that the accused made the admission voluntarily and free from police coercion.
Wong Sun was a 1963 case. Since then, there were several cases which sought to challenge the ruling therein. The challenges advance a strict exclusionary rule against admission made after an illegal arrest. This is to deter illegal police conduct. Their point is, an absolute exclusionary rule, a strict observance of the Doctrine of the “Fruit of the Poisonous Tree” in relation to admissions made after illegal arrest, will discourage police officers from engaging in illegal arrests for they know that no valid result will ever arise therefrom. To this date, the Doctrine of Attenuation still stand as an exception.
In the 2004 case of US vs. Patane, it was even ruled that voluntary admissions made after an illegal arrest which resulted in the seizure of physical evidence will not render such physical evidence inadmissible in court.
When it comes to illegal arrests, our rule is that any illegality in the arrest must be raised before arraignment, otherwise the issue on the illegality of the arrest will be deemed waived and the accused can no longer question the jurisdiction of the court over his person – but this will not bar the accused from questioning the admissibility of the evidence obtained as a result of the illegal arrest (Veridiano vs. People, G.R. No. 200370, 07 June 2017). But then again, the evidence contemplated in this case and the other cases is physical or object evidence.
So in this scenario, if a person was illegally arrested and thereafter made an incriminatory admission, prior to arraignment, he can still invoke illegal arrest via a motion to quash and cause the dismissal of the criminal case. Here, his incriminatory admission will no longer matter because the case will be dismissed based on lack of jurisdiction. But in case he fails to invoke the illegality of the arrest, then the case will proceed to trial. Question now is, will the court admit the incriminatory admission he made? His failure to invoke the illegality of the arrest did not cure the illegality of the arrest. He merely waived the right to question the court’s jurisdiction over his person. The arrest was still illegal notwithstanding his failure to invoke it. So how will the court treat the incriminatory admission?
I would bet that the Wong Sun case will be adopted. Thus, the court will have to probe whether or not the incriminatory admission, written or verbal, was a result of the illegal arrest. Is there a causal connection between the illegal arrest and the incriminatory admission? If the connection is so remote, then the link may be too attenuated and the admission will have to be admitted against the accused. In fact, this is in keeping with Section 3, Rule 133 of the Rules of Court which provides: “An extrajudicial confession made by an accused, shall not be sufficient ground for conviction, unless corroborated by evidence of corpus delicti“. The mandate of the court is to rule on the guilt of the accused based on the strength of the prosecution evidence and not on the weakness of the defense.
Admissions made before the media (Theoretical Application)
The next question now is, supposed an illegally arrested person made an admission before a news reporter. The case went to trial and it was found that his admission was a direct result of police coercion. Will the incriminatory admission he made before the media still admissible?
Remember that in the cases of People vs Dacanay (G.R. No. 216064, 07 November 2016) and People vs Andan (G.R. No. 116437, 03 March 1997), the Supreme Court recognized the spontaneous nature of admissions made before the media. The media is presumed to be independent and free from any pressure from the police. Thus, admissions made before them are excluded from the coverage of 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.” In short, your right against self-incrimination is not violated if you make an admission before the media.
Although the Doctrine of the Fruit of the Poisonous Tree is a measure against law enforcement agents, the Supreme Court opined in People v. Domantay (366 Phil. 459) that if there will be a showing that the media men were acting in behalf of the police, then the admission may be questioned.
Please note that the PNP previously banned the practice of presenting arrested persons before the media as it recognized that the same is a violation of their constitutional right to be presumed innocent as well as their rights under the Anti-Torture Act which prohibits “show trials”. This is a recognition that an uncounseled accused might unwittingly make an incriminatory and precipitate admission before the media. The ban actually started in 2008 but still there were times when the PNP still initiate this type of press conferences. Other law enforcement agencies also call for press conferences to show their accomplishments in arresting wanted persons. Further, there is no stopping news reporters from visiting jail cells in the hope of getting the latest scoop.
In another scenario, a likely problem involving admissions after illegal arrest may arise in drugs cases particularly in buy-bust cases. These cases require the presence of media men. After the buy-bust operation, and the inventory of seized pieces of evidence, media men usually approach the arrested person and most of the time, the arrested person makes incriminatory admissions. Now what if on trial it was found that the operation was illegal, hence the arrest was also illegal, all the object evidence will be inadmissible. But how about the oral admission of the accused? Will that be tossed out in court? Again, an application of the Wong Sun case will be of great aid to the court. The defense lawyer in me would elect the application of a strict exclusionary rule in such cases, but for the general good, an application of the Doctrine of Attenuation is better. The rule is, if the court can rely on other pieces of evidence, it shall do so instead of clinging on to technicalities.