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Commentary

Criminal proceedings 101: Inquest (Part 1)

In case the inquest proceedings yield no probable cause, the private complainant may likewise pursue the case through the regular course of a preliminary investigation.

Dean Nilo Divina

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We received inquiries seeking to be enlightened on relevant rules on criminal procedure applicable to certain stages of a criminal action, such as inquest proceedings, preliminary investigation, and a criminal case filed in court, specifically on the rights and remedies available to the concerned parties. Indeed, it is important to know the difference between each stage and the applicable rules in order to determine a party’s course of action.

Inquest is defined as an informal and summary investigation conducted by a public prosecutor in criminal cases involving persons arrested and detained without the benefit of a warrant of arrest issued by the court. The inquest serves to determine whether said persons should remain under custody and correspondingly be charged in court. Because it is summary in nature and owing to the attendant risk of running against the periods under which detained persons must be delivered to the proper judicial authorities, an inquest usually ends with either the prompt filing of an information in court or the immediate release of the arrested person (Leviste vs Alameda, G.R. 182677, 3 August 2010).

Preliminary investigation, on the other hand, is an inquiry to determine whether there is sufficient ground to engender a well-founded belief that a crime has been committed and the respondent is probably guilty thereof, and should be held for trial. This is the usual route taken for initiating a criminal case where the respondent or offending party was not arrested without a warrant because none of the circumstances allowing warrantless arrest is present. Warrantless arrest takes place when a person to be arrested is caught committing, about to commit or has just committed a crime.

A criminal case is when a complaint or information has already been filed by the public prosecutor before the court, following an inquest or preliminary investigation as the case may be, where the prosecutor found probable cause that a crime has been committed and the person named in the information is probably guilty thereof. In that scenario, the court will exercise jurisdiction and the accused’s remedies lie with the court, such as bail application.

Going back, the rule on inquest is found in Rule 112, Section 7 of the Revised Rules on Criminal Procedure. When a person is lawfully arrested without warrant involving an offense which requires a preliminary investigation, where the offense is at least four years, two months and one day, the complaint or information may be filed by a prosecutor without need of a preliminary investigation provided an inquest has been conducted in accordance with existing rules. In the absence or unavailability of an inquest prosecutor, the complaint may be filed by the offended party or a peace officer directly with the proper court on the basis of the affidavit of the offended party or arresting officer or person.

Before the complaint or information is filed by the prosecutor, the person arrested may ask for a preliminary investigation but he or she must sign a waiver of the provision of Article 125 of the Revised Penal Code, as amended, in the presence of his counsel. Article 125 provides penalties against the public officer or employee who shall delay in the delivery of detained persons to the proper judicial authorities within the period of: 12 hours, 18 hours, or 36 hours, depending on the gravity of the offense. Notwithstanding the waiver, the person arrested may apply for bail and the investigation must be terminated within 15 days from its inception.

In the case of Leviste vs Alameda (supra), the Supreme Court clarified the remedies available before and after the filing of an information in cases subject of inquest. In said case, before the filing of a complaint or information in court, the private complainant may proceed in coordinating with the arresting officer and the inquest officer during the latter’s conduct of inquest. The arrested person has the option to avail of a 15-day preliminary investigation, provided he duly signs a waiver of any objection against delay in his delivery to the proper judicial authorities under Article 125 of the Revised Penal Code.

In case the inquest proceedings yield no probable cause, the private complainant may likewise pursue the case through the regular course of a preliminary investigation. Once a complaint or information is filed in court, the accused is provided with another opportunity to ask for a preliminary investigation within five days from the time she or he learns of its filing.

Our next articles on this series will talk about warrantless arrests, preliminary investigation, reinvestigation, and related remedies.

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