Criminal Law, Remedial Law

PEOPLE vs. DORIA G.R. No. 125299. January 22, 1999 Illegal Sale of Dangerous Drugs, Warrantless Arrests, Search and Seizure, Plain View Doctrine

FACTS:

Accused-appellants Florencio Doria and Violeta Gaddao were charged with violation of Section 4, in relation to Section 21 of the Dangerous Drugs Act of 1972.

Members of PNP Narcotics Command (Narcom), received information from two civilian informants (CI) that one “Jun” who was later identified to be Florencio Doria was engaged in illegal drug activities and decided to entrap and arrest “Jun” in a buy-bust operation.
During the buy-bust operation”Jun” took out from his bag an object wrapped in plastic and gave it to PO3 Manlangit. PO3 Manlangit forthwith arrested “Jun” as SPO1 Badua rushed to help in the arrest. They frisked “Jun” but did not find the marked bills on him. Upon inquiry, “Jun” revealed that he left the money at the house of his associate named “Neneth” (Violeta Gaddao) “Jun” led the police team to “Neneth’s” house.

The team found the door of “Neneth’s” house open and a woman inside. “Jun” identified the woman as his associate. SPO1 Badua asked “Neneth” about the P1,600.00 as PO3 Manlangit looked over “Neneth’s” house. Standing by the door, PO3 Manlangit noticed a carton box under the dining table. He saw that one of the box’s flaps was open and inside the box was something wrapped in plastic. The plastic wrapper and its contents appeared similar to the marijuana earlier “sold” to him by “Jun.” His suspicion aroused, PO3 Manlangit entered “Neneth’s” house and took hold of the box. He peeked inside the box and found that it contained 10 bricks of what appeared to be dried marijuana leaves.

The prosecution story was denied by accused-appellants.

Gaddao testified that inside her house were her co-accused Doria and three (3) other persons. They asked her about a box on top of the table. This was the first time she saw the box. The box was closed and tied with a piece of green straw. The men opened the box and showed her its contents. She said she did not know anything about the box and its contents.

She denied the charge against her and Doria and the allegation that marked bills were found in her person.
The RTC convicted the accused-appellants.

 

ISSUES:

(1) the validity of the buy-bust operation in the apprehension of accused-appellant Doria;
(2) the validity of the warrantless arrest of accused-appellant Gaddao, the search of her person and house, and the admissibility of the pieces of evidence obtained therefrom.

 

RULING:

The warrantless arrest of accused-appellant Doria is not unlawful. Warrantless arrests are allowed in three instances as provided by Section 5 of Rule 113 of the 1985 Rules on Criminal Procedure, to wit:

“Sec. 5. Arrest without warrant; when lawful. — A peace officer or a private person may, without a warrant, arrest a person:

(a) When, in his presence, the person to be arrested has committed, is actually committing, or is attempting to commit an offense;

(b) When an offense has in fact just been committed, and he has personal knowledge of facts indicating that the person to be arrested has committed it; and

(c) When the person to be arrested is a prisoner who escaped from a penal establishment or place where he is serving final judgment or temporarily confined while his case is pending, or has escaped while being transferred from one confinement to another.

x x x.”

Under Section 5 (a), as above-quoted, a person may be arrested without a warrant if he “has committed, is actually committing, or is attempting to commit an offense.” Appellant Doria was caught in the act of committing an offense. When an accused is apprehended in flagrante delicto as a result of a buy-bust operation, the police are not only authorized but duty-bound to arrest him even without a warrant.

The warrantless arrest of appellant Gaddao, the search of her person and residence, and the seizure of the box of marijuana and marked bills are different matters.

Our Constitution proscribes search and seizure without a judicial warrant and any evidence obtained without such warrant is inadmissible for any purpose in any proceeding. The rule is, however, not absolute. Search and seizure may be made without a warrant and the evidence obtained therefrom may be admissible in the following instances:(1) search incident to a lawful arrest; (2) search of a moving motor vehicle; (3) search in violation of customs laws; (4) seizure of evidence in plain view; (5) when the accused himself waives his right against unreasonable searches and seizures.

The prosecution admits that appellant Gaddao was arrested without a warrant of arrest and the search and seizure of the box of marijuana and the marked bills were likewise made without a search warrant. It is claimed, however, that the warrants were not necessary because the arrest was made in “hot pursuit” and the search was an incident to her lawful arrest.

To be lawful, the warrantless arrest of appellant Gaddao must fall under any of the three (3) instances enumerated in Section 5 of Rule 113 of the 1985 Rules on Criminal Procedure as aforequoted.

Accused-appellant Gaddao was not caught red-handed during the buy-bust operation to give ground for her arrest under Section 5 (a) of Rule 113. She was not committing any crime. Contrary to the finding of the trial court, there was no occasion at all for appellant Gaddao to flee from the policemen to justify her arrest in “hot pursuit.” In fact, she was going about her daily chores when the policemen pounced on her.

Neither could the arrest of appellant Gaddao be justified under the second instance of Rule 113. “Personal knowledge” of facts in arrests without warrant under Section 5 (b) of Rule 113 must be based upon “probable cause” which means an “actual belief or reasonable grounds of suspicion.” The grounds of suspicion are reasonable when, in the absence of actual belief of the arresting officers, the suspicion that the person to be arrested is probably guilty of committing the offense, is based on actual facts, i.e., supported by circumstances sufficiently strong in themselves to create the probable cause of guilt of the person to be arrested. A reasonable suspicion therefore must be founded on probable cause, coupled with good faith on the part of the peace officers making the arrest.

 

Accused-appellant Gaddao was arrested solely on the basis of the alleged identification made by her co-accused. PO3 Manlangit, however, declared in his direct examination that appellant Doria named his co-accused in response to his (PO3 Manlangit’s) query as to where the marked money was. Appellant Doria did not point to appellant Gaddao as his associate in the drug business, but as the person with whom he left the marked bills. This identification does not necessarily lead to the conclusion that appellant Gaddao conspired with her co-accused in pushing drugs. Appellant Doria may have left the money in her house,
with or without her knowledge, with or without any conspiracy. Save for accused-appellant Doria’s word, the Narcom agents had no reasonable grounds to believe that she was engaged in drug pushing. If there is no showing that the person who effected the warrantless arrest had, in his own right, knowledge of facts implicating the person arrested to the perpetration of a criminal offense, the arrest is legally objectionable.

2.

Since the warrantless arrest of accused-appellant Gaddao was illegal, it follows that the search of her person and home and the subsequent seizure of the marked bills and marijuana cannot be deemed legal as an incident to her arrest. This brings us to the question of whether the trial court correctly found that the box of marijuana was in plain view, making its warrantless seizure valid.

Objects falling in plain view of an officer who has a right to be in the position to have that view are subject to seizure even without a search warrant and may be introduced in evidence.

The “plain view” doctrine applies when the following requisites concur: (a) the law enforcement officer in search of the evidence has a prior justification for an intrusion or is in a position from which he can view a particular area; (b) the discovery of the evidence in plain view is inadvertent; (c) it is immediately apparent to the officer that the item he observes may be evidence of a crime, contraband or otherwise subject to seizure. The law enforcement officer must lawfully make an initial intrusion or properly be in a position from which he can particularly view the area. In the course of such lawful intrusion, he came inadvertently across a piece of evidence incriminating the accused. The object must be open to eye and hand and its discovery inadvertent.

It is clear that an object is in plain view if the object itself is plainly exposed to sight. The difficulty arises when the object is inside a closed container. Where the object seized was inside a closed package, the object itself is not in plain view and therefore cannot be seized without a warrant. However, if the package proclaims its contents, whether by its distinctive configuration, its transparency, or if its contents are obvious to an observer, then the contents are in plain view and may be seized. In other words, if the package is such that an experienced observer could infer from its appearance that it contains the prohibited article, then the article is deemed in plain view. It must be immediately apparent to the police that the items that they observe may be evidence of a crime, contraband or otherwise subject to seizure.

 

PO3 Manlangit and the police team were at appellant Gaddao’s house because they were led there by appellant Doria. The Narcom agents testified that they had no information on appellant Gaddao until appellant Doria named her and led them to her. Standing by the door of appellant Gaddao’s house, PO3 Manlangit had a view of the interior of said house. Two and a half meters away was the dining table and underneath it was a carton box. The box was partially open and revealed something wrapped in plastic.

He did not know exactly what the box contained that he had to ask appellant Gaddao about its contents. It was not immediately apparent to PO3 Manlangit that the content of the box was marijuana. The marijuana was not in plain view and its seizure without the requisite search warrant was in violation of the law and the Constitution. It was fruit of the poisonous tree and should have been excluded and never considered by the trial court.

The fact that the box containing about six (6) kilos of marijuana was found in the house of accused-appellant Gaddao does not justify a finding that she herself is guilty of the crime charged.

In every prosecution for illegal sale of dangerous drugs, what is material is the submission of proof that the sale took place between the poseur-buyer and the seller thereof and the presentation of the drug, i.e., the corpus delicti, as evidence in court.The prosecution has clearly established the fact that in consideration of P1,600.00 which he received, accused-appellant Doria sold and delivered nine hundred seventy (970) grams of marijuana to PO3 Manlangit, the poseur-buyer. The prosecution, however, has failed to prove that accused-appellant Gaddao conspired with accused-appellant Doria in the sale of said drug.

 

1. Accused-appellant Florencio Doria is sentenced to suffer the penalty of reclusion perpetua

2. Accused-appellant Violeta Gaddao is acquitted.

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