Constitutional Law

PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES vs. JAIME OCHOA et. al. G.R. No. 157399 Custodial Investigation

FACTS:

Petitioners were charged before the Sandiganbayan for allegedly diverting and collecting funds of the National Power Corporation (NPC) intended for the purchase of US Dollars from the United Coconut Planters Bank (UCPB), and were indicted for the complex crime of Malversation through Falsification of Commercial Documents defined and penalized under Articles 217 and 171 (8), in relation to Article 48 of the Revised Penal Code, in an amended Information, docketed as Criminal Case No. 19558.

The petitioners are accused of having falsified the NPC’s application for managers checks with the Philippine National Bank (PNB), NPC Branch in the total amount of ONE HUNDRED EIGHTY THREE MILLION EIGHT HUNDRED FIVE THOUSAND TWO HUNDRED NINETY ONE PESOS and TWENTY FIVE CENTAVOS (P183,805,291.25), Philippine Currency, intended for the purchase of US dollars from the United Coconut Planters Bank (UCPB), and thus succeeded in diverting, collecting and receiving the total amount of ONE HUNDRED EIGHTY THREE MILLION EIGHT HUNDRED FIVE THOUSAND TWO HUNDRED NINETY ONE PESOS AND TWENTY FIVE CENTAVOS (P183,805,291.75), Philippine Currency from the National Power Corporation, which they thereafter malverse, embezzle, misappropriate and convert to their own personal use and benefit to the damage and prejudice of the National Power Corporation.

 

ISSUE:

What is custodial investigation?

 

RULING: 

The “investigation” under Section 12 (1), Article III of the 1987 Constitution refers to a “custodial” investigation where a suspect has already been taken into police custody and the investigating officers begin to ask questions to elicit information and confessions or admissions from the suspect.  More specifically –

 

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. And, the rule begins to operate at once as soon as the investigation ceases to be a general inquiry into an unsolved crime and direction is then aimed upon a particular suspect who has been taken into custody and to whom the police would then direct interrogatory question which tend to elicit incriminating statements.

 

Succinctly stated, custodial investigation refers to the critical pre-trial stage when the investigation ceases to be a general inquiry into an unsolved crime but has begun to focus on a particular person as a suspect. Clearly, therefore, the rights enumerated by the constitutional provision invoked by accused-appellant are not available before government investigators enter the picture.

 

Thus, the flaw in appellant’s argument in this regard becomes immediately apparent vis-à-vis the foregoing legal yardsticks, considering that his statement was taken during the administrative investigation of NPC’s audit team before he was taken into custody.  As such, the inquest was still a general inquiry into an unsolved offense at the time and there was, as yet, no specific suspect.

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