Sunday, October 23, 2016

Overdue process?

No person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law…” is the most basic right enshrined in the first section of our Constitution’s Bill of Rights. Deprivation is not necessarily unconstitutional. What is prohibited is deprivation without due process.

Illegal arrests and searches. Moreover, the second section of the Bill of Rights guarantees “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.”

To deprive a person of this right—that is, to be able to arrest him/her, or to search his/her “body, houses, papers, and effects”—the arresting officer must first secure an arrest or search warrant from a judge.

In turn, to issue either or both warrants, the judge is required to personally determine “probable cause” by examining under oath the complainants (or the police officers) and the witnesses they may produce. The warrant must specify the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized. It cannot be used to search any place or to seize any person or thing other than those specified therein.

My Oct. 6 column (“Dismal record in prosecuting drug cases”) explained the exceptions to the need for warrants, like those made in flagrante delicto and in “hot pursuit.

Note that courts strictly construe these exceptions. Defects in the warrants, like where the judge did not personally examine the witnesses, or where the arresting officer did not have personal knowledge of the facts and depended merely on “surveillance operations,” make the arrest and/or search illegal.

Similarly, our Constitution grants suspects the so-called “Miranda rights” requiring the arresting officer to inform suspects of their rights to remain silent and to have competent and independent counsel; otherwise, the arrest and search would likewise be illegal.

Moreover, confessions extracted with “torture, force, violence, threat, intimidation, or any other means which vitiate the free will” would also be illegal.

In all these instances, the illegally obtained evidence, even if tending to prove guilt, would be inadmissible in evidence, and would thus result in the acquittal of the accused.

Libertarian pendulum. Why is the Constitution so protective of suspects and so strict on police officers? Because when it was crafted in 1987, the horrifying abuses during the martial law regime were still fresh. Our constitution drafters wanted iron-clad protection for the innocent, especially the poor and the marginalized.

However, the libertarian pendulum swung too much to the opposite direction, resulting in the timidity of the police, lest they be held liable administratively and criminally. The net result is the rise in criminality. Grafters, killers, rapists and drug lords misuse the liberality of the Constitution to evade liability for their crimes and misdeeds.

And even when police officers strictly observe constitutional rights, some prosecutors and judges, out of sheer ignorance, apathy, laziness, or corruption, fail the justice system. So, too, witnesses are bribed, lose their memory, or otherwise disappear. Many lawyers thrive in technicalities and delays, rather than in their sworn duty to do justice to everyone.

Extralegal solutions. The consequence is a general revulsion against democratic methods, overlooking that means are as important as ends. Due process is equated with costly suits, tiring delays, inexplicable technicalities, long-winded trials, interminable appeals, unwelcome acquittals and plain injustice.

In frustration, people tend to take matters into their own hands and turn to extralegal and extrajudicial shortcuts.

To solve this revulsion to “overdue process,” the police, the prosecutors, the lawyers and the judges will have to cooperate, think outside the box, moderate the pendulum swing and craft innovative ways to provide quality and speedy justice for all. There must be a way to safeguard our precious constitutional rights without the “over” in due process.

Comments to