My friends and I went to a bar. Unfortunately, before the night peaked a brawl erupted inside the bar, and instead of partying all night, we ended up in the police station. Inside the police station, a police officer asked us one by one about what happened in the bar, and repeatedly told us to admit that we were involved in the fight. I’m not sure if that is legal or if he followed the procedure. May I know what our rights are after they took us to the police station?
The investigation that took place inside the police station is referred to as custodial investigation. Custodial investigation involves any questioning initiated by law enforcement authorities after a person is taken into custody or otherwise deprived of his freedom of action in any significant manner (People vs. Marra, G.R. 108494, September 20, 1994). This is what happened in your case, when the police officers took you to the police station and probed you on your involvement in the brawl. As such, the following rights are granted to you.
Due to the inherently coercive psychological, if not physical, atmosphere of custodial investigation, no less than our Constitution guaranteed certain rights to persons under investigation. These rights are enshrined in Article III Section 12 of our Constitution. Its first paragraph states that “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.”
The said provision contains a bundle of rights. Not only is the person being investigated given the right to remain silent and to have a counsel, but he also has the right to be informed that he has such right. This means that the police officers must tell the person under investigation of his constitutional rights, and he must do so in a language known to or understood by the person (Section 2 (b), Republic Act (R.A.)7438). Stressing the importance of this constitutional right of the accused, the Supreme Court held that the right to be informed “contemplates the transmission of meaningful information rather than just the ceremonial and perfunctory recitation of an abstract constitutional principle” (People vs. Basay, G.R. 86941, March 3, 1993). Hence, the police officer must take measures to make the person under investigation understand his constitutional rights.
In order to ensure the protection of the person under investigation against threat, harassment and abuse, the Constitution guarantees him with the right to not just any counsel, but a competent and independent one, preferably of his own choice. In one case, our Supreme Court interpreted competent and independent to mean that the lawyer must be “willing to fully safeguard the constitutional rights of the accused, as distinguished from one who would merely be giving a routine, peremptory and meaningless recital of the individual’s constitutional rights” (People vs. Deniega, G.R. 103499, December 29, 1995). The term “preferably of his own choice” means that the person under investigation may choose his own counsel, and is not limited to the lawyer provided by the police officers. But if the person cannot afford to hire his own counsel, the police officers are duty bound to provide him with one.
Aside from the foregoing, the person under investigation also has the constitutional right not to be subjected to torture and not to be forced, threatened or intimidated. Secret detention places, solitary, incommunicado, or other similar forms of detention are prohibited (Article III, Section 12, Constitution). Hence, persons under investigation may not be taken to such places.
Moreover, the person under investigation has the right to be visited by his immediate family, medical doctor, religious minister, or by any national non-governmental organization duly accredited by the Commission on Human Rights or by any international non-governmental organization duly accredited by the Office of the President. The person’s “immediate family” shall include his or her spouse, fiancé or fiancée, parent or child, brother or sister, grandparent or grandchild, uncle or aunt, nephew or niece, and guardian or ward (Sec. 2 (f), R.A. 7438).
These rights are guaranteed by the Constitution and our laws to a person under investigation and should the investigating officers violate them, they may be subjected to appropriate criminal, civil and administrative charges.
We hope we were able to shed light on the matter. Please bear in mind that this opinion is based solely on the facts you narrated and our appreciation of the same. Our opinion may vary should circumstances change.
Editor’s note: Dear PAO is a daily column of the Public Attorney’s Office. Questions for Chief Acosta may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org