The right against self-incrimination includes the right to refuse to take the witness stand and the right to refuse to answer an incriminatory question. This article talks about the constitutional right against self-incrimination, who can use it and when it can be invoked.
The Constitutional Right Against Self-Incrimination
To answer or not to answer. That is the question. Oftentimes in courtroom dramas, we would hear a witness utter “I invoke the right to remain silent!” or “I invoke the right against self-incrimination!”. So, what is this so-called right?
The right against self-incrimination is found in Art. III, Sec. 17 of the 1987 Philippine Constitution which states that “No person shall be compelled to be a witness against himself”. This is based on the grounds of public policy and humanity — of policy, because if the party were required to testify, it would place the witness under the strongest temptation to commit the crime of perjury, and of humanity, because it would prevent the extorting of confessions by duress [U.S. vs. Navarro, G.R. No. 1272, 11 January 1904].
This right is available not only in criminal prosecutions but also civil and administrative actions, as well as legislative investigations. The right against self-incrimination is bestowed to every person who gives evidence, whether voluntary or under compulsion of subpoena, in any civil, criminal or administrative proceeding.
Two (2) Aspects of the Right Against Self-Incrimination
The right against self-incrimination has 2 aspects namely: the right to refuse to take the witness stand and the right to refuse to answer an incriminatory question.
The first right, namely the right to refuse to take the witness stand, is available only to an accused in a criminal case. Thus, an accused, cannot be compelled, even through a subpoena or court order, to testify and be a witness. Kindly note that in certain administrative investigations which are similar to adversary proceedings or partake of a nature of a criminal proceeding, the Supreme Court has allowed the party to invoke the right akin to that of an accused. In Cabal vs. Kapunan [G.R. No. L-19052, 29 December 1962], the right was made available to a person charged administratively for graft because of the nature of the penalty that may be imposed by the administrative body, the hearing partakes of the nature of a criminal proceedings. The same right was accorded to a person charged before a Board of Medical Examiners for alleged immorality in the case of Pascual vs. Board of Medical Examiners [G.R. No. L-25018, 26 May 1969] because the person’s license is at stake.
The second right, namely, the right to refuse to answer an incriminatory question is available to both the accused and any witness. In Rosete vs. Lim [G.R. No. 136051, 08 June 2006], the Supreme Court ruled that this right “secures to a witness, whether he be a party or not, the right to refuse to answer any particular incriminatory question, i.e., one the answer to which has a tendency to incriminate him for some crime. However, the right can be claimed only when the specific question, incriminatory in character, is actually put to the witness. It cannot be claimed at any other time. It does not give a witness the right to disregard a subpoena, decline to appear before the court at the time appointed, or to refuse to testify altogether. The witness receiving a subpoena must obey it, appear as required, take the stand, be sworn and answer questions”. This right may be waived. If not claimed by or in behalf of the witness, the protection does not come into play [People vs. Ayson, G.R. No. 85215, 07 July 1989].
The right against self-incrimination applies only to testimonial compulsion.
The right against self-incrimination only applies to testimonial compulsion. In the American case of Holt vs. U.S. [218 U.S., 245], Justice Holmes elucidated that “the prohibition of compelling a man in a criminal court to be a witness against himself, is a prohibition of the use of physical or moral compulsion, to extort communications from him, not an exclusion of his body as evidence, when it may be material”. It does not apply to a case where the evidence sought to be excluded is not an incriminating statement but an object evidence [People vs. Malimit, G.R. No. 109775, 14 November 1996]. Thus, in United States vs. Tan Teng [G.R. No. 7081, 7 September 1912], the accused was allowed to be examined for gonorrhea in a rape case.
So, now you know. Invoke your constitutional right against self-incrimination properly.
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