People vs. Lara (G.R. No. 199877)

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The right to be assisted by counsel attaches only during custodial investigation and cannot be claimed by the accused during identification in a police line-up because it is not part of the custodial investigation process. This is because during a police line-up, the process has not yet shifted from investigatory to accusatory and it is usually the witness or the complainant who is interrogated and who gives a statement in the course of the line-up.

FACTS:

Arturo Lara was arrested and, later, charged with Robbery with Homicide for stealing San Sebastian Inc.’s money, in the amount more or less Php 230,000.00, and for the death of one Joselito Bautista in the occasion thereof. When police operatives seized Lara, the latter was placed in a police line-up whereby Enrique Sumulong, Jeff Atie, and Virgilio Manacob identified him as the perpetrator of the crime.

Consequently, the Pasig RTC convicted Lara of the crime charged. Upon appeal, the Court of Appeals affirmed this decision.

Lara’s case reached the Supreme Court via an automatic appeal from the Court of Appeals. At this juncture, he argues, among others, that he was not assisted by counsel when the police placed him in a line-up to be identified by the witnesses for the prosecution in violation of Section 12, Article III of the Constitution. He maintains that the police line-up is part of custodial investigation and his right to counsel had already attached.

ISSUE:

Was the absence of counsel during the police line up violated his right to counsel?

RULING:

NO. This is because a police-line up is not part of custodial investigation.

Contrary to Lara’s claim, that he was not provided with counsel when he was placed in a police line-up did not invalidate the proceedings leading to his conviction. That he stood at the police line-up without the assistance of counsel did not render Sumulong’s identification of Lara inadmissible. The right to counsel is deemed to have arisen at the precise moment custodial investigation begins and being made to stand in a police line-up is not the starting point or a part of custodial investigation. As this Court previously ruled in People v. Amestuzo:

The contention is not meritorious. The guarantees of Sec. 12 (1), Art. III of the 1987 Constitution, or the so-called Miranda rights, may be invoked only by a person while he is under custodial investigation. Custodial investigation starts when the police investigation is no longer a general inquiry into an unsolved crime but has begun to focus on a particular suspect taken into custody by the police who starts the interrogation and propounds questions to the person to elicit incriminating statements. Police line-up is not part of the custodial investigation; hence, the right to counsel guaranteed by the Constitution cannot yet be invoked at this stage. This was settled in the case of People vs. Lamsing and in the more recent case of People vs. Salvatierra. The right to be assisted by counsel attaches only during custodial investigation and cannot be claimed by the accused during identification in a police line-up because it is not part of the custodial investigation process. This is because during a police line-up, the process has not yet shifted from the investigatory to the accusatory and it is usually the witness or the complainant who is interrogated and who gives a statement in the course of the line-up.

WHEREFORE, premises considered, the Decision dated July 28, 2011 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CR HC No. 03685 is hereby AFFIRMED.

SO ORDERED.

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