Between the devil and the deep blue sea

Damned if you don’t, damned if you do. Such familiar phrases that define certain situations that leave a person the choice of taking either of two undesirable courses of action. Such situations mostly come as a result of earlier actions made without proper care of their outcome, or even of those deliberately planned but whose expected results are negated by some unforeseen or unavoidable intervening occurrences. 

However, as experience tells, even in the field of law, at least in the Philippine context, there are certain instances where such a tight fix become the result of the interplay between the carefully drafted provisions of the rules of court on one hand, and the application of stare decisis on the other, under a given set of circumstances.

Take, for example, the case of an illegal arrest in relation the rule on the Motion to Quash and the decisions of the Supreme Court on the subject.

Everyone endowed with the basic common sense can readily say, and with a good deal of correctness, that by reason of such illegal arrest alone, all subsequent proceedings are rendered invalid and thus entitles the arrested person an acquittal or the dismissal of the case against him.

However, from a jurisprudential point of view, such an acquittal or dismissal does not necessarily come as easily as initially thought of or it may not come at all. After all, Philippine jurisprudence is replete with rulings to the effect that the fact of illegal arrest by itself is not a ground for the dismissal of the case when the prosecution is able to prove the guilt of the accused with the required quantum of evidence or proof beyond reasonable doubt; that by entering a plea, and subsequently actively participating in the trial, the accused is deemed to have submitted to the jurisdiction of the court, and his right to question the legality of his arrest is deemed waived.

The accused must therefore raise this issue in a motion to quash filed before entering his plea, under Rule 117 of the 2000 Rules of Criminal procedure, on the ground of lack of jurisdiction over the person of the accused; otherwise, he is deemed to have waived this right, and he can no longer bring up the matter during trial, much less on appeal. And so, at the price of the possibility of delay in the proceedings of his case, through counsel, he files a motion to quash stating the facts relied upon as required by the rules. Delay, because of the time it takes for the court to resolve the motion. While there are courts that can dispose of the motion in a day, those that take months to arrive at a resolution are not uncommon. That, and those instances the defense opts to elevate the matter to as high as the Supreme Court in the event the that motion is denied by both the trial and appellate courts, take up for what may be considered as delay in the main proceedings of the case. For the whole time, the accused (whose arrest was illegal) remains behind bars, if he is charged for a non-bailable offense. He cannot avail of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, because under the circumstances, any irregularity that tainted his arrest and detention are, so to speak, cured by the subsequent filing of the case in court.

Anyway, after the motion to quash is filed, what are the chances for the accused who was illegally arrested of obtaining a favorable outcome, that is, an outright dismissal of his case and immediate release from custody? To this question, the answers can be as varied as the views of the judges or justices before whom the task of passing upon it falls. But, again, with jurisprudence as barometer, it might as well be said the odds of getting such an outcome, within the circumstances under consideration, is next to nil.

This is so because the prevailing doctrine in jurisprudence is that in a motion to quash, matters that require the introduction of evidence aliunde or those matters that are outside the four corners of the sheet that is called the Information, are not allowed. Those are the so-called matters of defense that are said to be proper for consideration only in the course of trial, and have no place in a motion to quash. That a motion to quash partakes the nature of a hypothetical admission of the allegations contained in the information, and is limited only to the infirmities that are apparent on its face.

Now, consider the fact that an Information is deemed sufficient if it alleges the elements of the crime charged, the court’s jurisdiction, and the time the offense was committed, among other things. The rules do not require that the manner in which the accused was arrested be likewise alleged in the information. Thus, any factual allegations made in a motion to quash regarding the illegal arrest of the accused to demonstrate that the court has no jurisdiction over his person are in effect due to be considered as matters outside the confines of the information that require the introduction of additional evidence, for which reason, the subject motion is bound for an inevitable denial.

And so, the resulting situation is that the accused cannot raise the matter of his illegal arrest during trial if he omitted raising the same in a motion to quash prior to entering his plea. But, when he does file a motion to quash on the ground of lack of jurisdiction over his person by reason of the illegality of his arrest, he does so with the knowledge (or at least as far as his counsel is concerned) that his motion faces an inevitable denial by the court, considering that at such an instance the issues raised therein go beyond the letter of the information, which is not allowed per jurisprudential mandate. In such a situation, which ever way the accused will go the prospects that await him him are not really good.

On one hand, the waiver of his right to assail the legality of his arrest, and on the other, a motion to quash that is doomed from its inception which does not provide him with a speedy remedy for his unlawful arrest, and which only serves the purpose of forestalling the waiver of the aforementioned right. In both instances, the accused must endure the rigors of a drawn out trial with all its accompanying expenses and traumatizing nature, notwithstanding the fact that his arrest was illegal to begin with.

Of course, the waiver of the right to assail the legality of one’s arrest does not carry with it the waiver of the inadmissibility of the evidence obtained in a search following the unlawful arrest.

However, too much reliance on this doctrine may prove to be a dangerous card to play. After all, the inadmissible nature of the evidence obtained stems from the illegality of the arrest, which the accused himself is already precluded from raising as an issue. Reliance on this doctrinal pronouncement is therefore akin to leaving it to the discretion of the court the matter of whether or not to pass upon the legality of the arrest, on its own instance, in order to rule on the inadmissibility of the evidence. True, there were a number of instances where the Supreme Court took upon itself, as the accused is already barred from doing so, the pronouncement of the illegality of the arrest as the basis for ruling on the inadmissibility of the evidence obtained. But only in such rare and extraordinary situations as to make them more of the exception than the rule.

Between the devil and the deep blue sea, a person illegally arrested therefore must choose which of the two is more appealing to him, or for that matter, his counsel.

– shortstab

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