The Right against Unreasonable Searches and Seizures
- Discuss the constitutional requirement that a judge, in issuing a warrant of arrest, must determine probable cause “personally.” Distinguish determination of probable cause by the prosecutor and determination of probable cause by the judge.
Held: It must be stressed that the 1987 Constitution requires the judge to determine probable cause “personally,” a requirement which does not appear in the corresponding provisions of our previous constitutions. This emphasis evinces the intent of the framers to place a greater degree of responsibility upon trial judges than that imposed under previous Constitutions.
In Soliven v. Makasiar, this Court pronounced:
“What the Constitution underscores is the exclusive and personal responsibility of the issuing judge to satisfy himself of the existence of probable cause. In satisfying himself of the existence of probable cause for the issuance of a warrant of arrest, the judge is not required to personally examine the complainant and his witnesses. Following established doctrine and procedure, he shall: (1) personally evaluate the report and the supporting documents submitted by the fiscal regarding the existence of probable cause and, on the basis thereof, issue a warrant of arrest; or (2) if in the basis thereof he finds no probable cause, he may disregard the fiscal’s report and require the submission of supporting affidavits of witnesses to aid him in arriving at a conclusion as to the existence of probable cause.”
Ho v. People (Ibid.) summarizes existing jurisprudence on the matter as follows:
“Lest we be too repetitive, we only wish to emphasize three vital matters once more: First, as held in Inting, the determination of probable cause by the prosecutor is for a purpose different from that which is to be made by the judge. Whether there is reasonable ground to believe that the accused is guilty of the offense charged and should be held for trial is what the prosecutor passes upon. The judge, on the other hand, determines whether a warrant of arrest should be issued against the accused, i.e., whether there is a necessity for placing him under immediate custody in order not to frustrate the ends of justice. Thus, even if both should base their findings on one and the same proceeding or evidence, there should be no confusion as to their distinct objectives.
Second, since their objectives are different, the judge cannot rely solely on the report of the prosecutor in finding probable cause to justify the issuance of a warrant of arrest. Obviously and understandably, the contents of the prosecutor’s report will support his own conclusion that there is reason to charge the accused for an offense and hold him for trial. However, the judge must decide independently. Hence, he must have supporting evidence, other than the prosecutor’s bare report, upon which to legally sustain his own findings on the existence (or nonexistence) of probable cause to issue an arrest order. This responsibility of determining personally and independently the existence or nonexistence of probable cause is lodged in him by no less than the most basic law of the land. Parenthetically, the prosecutor could ease the burden of the judge and speed up the litigation process by forwarding to the latter not only the information and his bare resolution finding probable cause, but also so much of the records and the evidence on hand as to enable the His Honor to make his personal and separate judicial finding on whether to issue a warrant of arrest.
Lastly, it is not required that the complete or entire records of the case during the preliminary investigation be submitted to and examined by the judge. We do not intend to unduly burden trial courts by obliging them to examine the complete records of every case all the time simply for the purpose of ordering the arrest of an accused. What is required, rather, is that the judge must have sufficient supporting documents (such as the complaint, affidavits, counter-affidavits, sworn statements of witnesses or transcript of stenographic notes, if any) upon which to make his independent judgment or, at the very least, upon which to verify the findings of the prosecutor as to the existence of probable cause. The point is: he cannot rely solely and entirely on the prosecutor’s recommendation, as Respondent Court did in this case. Although the prosecutor enjoys the legal presumption of regularity in the performance of his official duties and functions, which in turn gives his report the presumption of accuracy, the Constitution, we repeat, commands the judge to personally determine probable cause in the issuance of warrants of arrest. This Court has consistently held that a judge fails in his bounden duty if he relies merely on the certification or the report of the investigating officer.” (Citations omitted)
In the case at bench, respondent admits that he issued the questioned warrant as there was “no reason for (him) to doubt the validity of the certification made by the Assistant Prosecutor that a preliminary investigation was conducted and that probable cause was found to exist as against those charged in the information filed.” The statement is an admission that respondent relied solely and completely on the certification made by the fiscal that probable cause exists as against those charged in the information and issued the challenged warrant of arrest on the sole basis of the prosecutor’s findings and recommendations. He adopted the judgment of the prosecutor regarding the existence of probable cause as his own. (Abdula v. Guiani, 326 SCRA 1, Feb. 18, 2000, 3rd Div. [Gonzaga-Reyes])
- Accused-appellant assails the validity of his arrest and his subsequent convictions for the two crimes. Both the trial court and the Court of Appeals found that the arrest and subsequent seizure were legal.
Held: A review of the records at bar shows no reason to depart therefrom.
The constitutional proscription, that no person shall be arrested without any warrant of arrest having been issued prior thereto, is not a hard-and-fast rule. X x x (Citations omitted)
In the cases at bar, the police saw the gun tucked in appellant’s waist when he stood up. The gun was plainly visible. No search was conducted as none was necessary. Accused-appellant could not show any license for the firearm, whether at the time of his arrest or thereafter. Thus, he was in effect committing a crime in the presence of the police officers. No warrant of arrest was necessary in such a situation, it being one of the recognized exceptions under the Rules.
As a consequence of appellant’s valid warrantless arrest, he may be lawfully searched for dangerous weapons or anything which may be used as proof of the commission of an offense, without a search warrant, as provided in Rule 126, Section 12. This is a valid search incidental to a lawful arrest. The subsequent discovery in his car of drug paraphernalia and the crystalline substance, which, was later identified as shabu, though in a distant place from where the illegal possession of firearm was committed, cannot be said to have been made during an illegal search. As such, the seized items do not fall within the exclusionary clause x x x. Hence, not being fruits of the poisonous tree x x x the objects found at the scene of the crime, such as the firearm, the shabu and the drug paraphernalia, can be used as evidence against appellant. Besides, it has been held that drugs discovered as a result of a consented search is admissible in evidence. (Citations omitted.) (People v. Go, 354 SCRA 338, Mar. 14, 2001, 1st Div. [Ynares-Santiago])
- In an application for search warrant, the application was accompanied by a sketch of the compound at 516 San Jose de la Montana St., Mabolo, Cebu City, indicating the 2-storey residential house of private respondent with a large “X” enclosed in a square. Within the same compound are residences of other people, workshops, offices, factories and warehouse. The search warrant issued, however, merely indicated the address of the compound which is 516 San Jose de la Montana St., Mabolo, Cebu City. Did this satisfy the constitutional requirement under Section 2, Article III that the place to be searched must be particularly described?
Held: This Court has held that the applicant should particularly describe the place to be searched and the person or things to be seized, wherever and whenever it is feasible. In the present case, it must be noted that the application for a search warrant was accompanied by a sketch of the compound at 516 San Jose de la Montana St., Mabolo, Cebu City. The sketch indicated the 2-storey residential house of private respondent with a large “X” enclosed in a square. Within the same compound are residences of other people, workshops, offices, factories and warehouse. With this sketch as the guide, it could have been very easy to describe the residential house of private respondent with sufficient particularity so as to segregate it from the other buildings or structures inside the same compound. But the search warrant merely indicated the address of the compound which is 516 San Jose de la Montana St., Mabolo, Cebu City. This description of the place to be searched is too general and does not pinpoint the specific house of private respondent. Thus, the inadequacy of the description of the residence of private respondent sought to be searched has characterized the questioned search warrant as a general warrant, which is violative of the constitutional requirement. (People v. Estrada, 296 SCRA 383, 400, [Martinez])
- Can the place to be searched, as set out in the warrant, be amplified or modified by the officers’ own personal knowledge of the premises, or the evidence they adduce in support of their application for the warrant?
Held: Such a change is proscribed by the Constitution which requires inter alia the search warrant to particularly describe the place to be searched as well as the persons or things to be seized. It would concede to police officers the power of choosing the place to be searched, even if it not be that delineated in the warrant. It would open wide the door to abuse of the search process, and grant to officers executing a search warrant that discretion which the Constitution has precisely removed from them. The particularization of the description of the place to be searched may properly be done only by the Judge, and only in the warrant itself; it cannot be left to the discretion of the police officers conducting the search.
It is neither fair nor licit to allow police officers to search a place different from that stated in the warrant on the claim that the place actually searched – although not that specified in the warrant – is exactly what they had in view when they applied for the warrant and had demarcated in their supporting evidence. What is material in determining the validity of a search is the place stated in the warrant itself, not what applicants had in their thoughts, or had represented in the proofs they submitted to the court issuing the warrant. (People v. Court of Appeals, 291 SCRA 400, June 26, 1998 [Narvasa])
- What is “search incidental to a lawful arrest”? Discuss.
Held: While a contemporaneous search of a person arrested may be effected to discover dangerous weapons or proofs or implements used in the commission of the crime and which search may extend to the area within his immediate control where he might gain possession of a weapon or evidence he can destroy, a valid arrest must precede the search. The process cannot be reversed.
In a search incidental to a lawful arrest, as the precedent arrest determines the validity of the incidental search, the legality of the arrest is questioned in a large majority of these cases, e.g., whether an arrest was merely used as a pretext for conducting a search. In this instance, the law requires that there be first a lawful arrest before a search can be made – the process cannot be reversed. (Malacat v. Court of Appeals, 283 SCRA 159, 175 )
(People v. Chua Ho San, 308 SCRA 432, June 17, 1999, En Banc [Davide, Jr., C.J.])
- What is the “plain view” doctrine? What are its requisites? Discuss.
Held: 1. 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. (People v. Doria, 301 SCRA 668, Jan. 22, 1999, En Banc [Puno, J.])
- For the doctrine to apply, the following elements must be present:
- a prior valid intrusion based on the valid warrantless arrest in which the police are legally present in the pursuit of their official duties;
- the evidence was inadvertently discovered by the police who have the right to be where they are; and
- the evidence must be immediately apparent; and
- plain view justified mere seizure of evidence without further search.
In the instant case, recall that PO2 Balut testified that they first located the marijuana plants before appellant was arrested without a warrant. Hence, there was no valid warrantless arrest which preceded the search of appellant’s premises. Note further that the police team was dispatched to appellant’s kaingin precisely to search for and uproot the prohibited flora. The seizure of evidence in “plain view” applies only where the police officer is not searching for evidence against the accused, but inadvertently comes across an incriminating object. Clearly, their discovery of the cannabis plants was not inadvertent. We also note the testimony of SPO2 Tipay that upon arriving at the area, they first had to “look around the area” before they could spot the illegal plants. Patently, the seized marijuana plants were not “immediately apparent” and “further search” was needed. In sum, the marijuana plants in question were not in “plain view” or “open to eye and hand.” The “plain view” doctrine, thus, cannot be made to apply.
Nor can we sustain the trial court’s conclusion that just because the marijuana plants were found in an unfenced lot, appellant could not invoke the protection afforded by the Charter against unreasonable searches by agents of the State. The right against unreasonable searches and seizures is the immunity of one’s person, which includes his residence, his papers, and other possessions. The guarantee refers to “the right of personal security” of the individual. X x x, what is sought to be protected against the State’s unlawful intrusion are persons, not places. To conclude otherwise would not only mean swimming against the stream, it would also lead to the absurd logic that for a person to be immune against unreasonable searches and seizures, he must be in his home or office, within a fenced yard or a private place. The Bill of Rights belongs as much to the person in the street as to the individual in the sanctuary of his bedroom. (People v. Abe Valdez, G.R. No. 129296, Sept. 25, 2000, En Banc [Quisumbing])
- Considering its factual milieu, this case falls squarely under the plain view doctrine. X x x.
When Spencer wrenched himself free from the grasp of PO2 Gaviola, he instinctively ran towards the house of appellant. The members of the buy-bust team were justified in running after him and entering the house without a search warrant for they were hot in the heels of a fleeing criminal. Once inside the house, the police officers cornered Spencer and recovered the buy-bust money from him. They also caught appellant in flagrante delicto repacking the marijuana bricks which were in full view on top of a table. X x x.
Hence, appellant’s subsequent arrest was likewise lawful, coming as it is within the purview of Section 5(a) of Rule 113 of the 1985 Rules on Criminal Procedure x x x.
Section 5(a) is commonly referred to as the rule on in flagrante delicto arrests. Here two elements must concur: (1) the person to be arrested must execute an overt act indicating that he has just committed, is actually committing, or is attempting to commit a crime; and (2) such overt act is done in the presence or within the view of the arresting officer. Thus, when appellant was seen repacking the marijuana, the police officers were not only authorized but also duty-bound to arrest him even without a warrant. (People v. Elamparo, 329 SCRA 404, 414-415, March 31, 2000, 2nd Div. [Quisumbing])
- What is a “stop-and-frisk” search?
Held: 1. In the landmark case of Terry v. Ohio (20 L Ed 2d 889; 88 S Ct 1868, 392 US 1, 900, June 10, 1968), a stop-and-frisk was defined as the vernacular designation of the right of a police officer to stop a citizen on the street, interrogate him, and pat him for weapon(s):
“x x x (W)here a police officer observes an unusual conduct which leads him reasonably to conclude in light of his experience that criminal activity may be afoot and that the persons with whom he is dealing may be armed and presently dangerous, where in the course of investigating this behavior he identified himself as a policeman and make reasonable inquiries, and where nothing in the initial stages of the encounter serves to dispel his reasonable fear for his own or others’ safety, he is entitled for the protection of himself or others in the area to conduct a carefully limited search of the outer clothing of such persons in an attempt to discover weapons which might be used to assault him. Such a search is a reasonable search under the Fourth Amendment, and any weapon seized may properly be introduced in evidence against the person from whom they were taken.” (Herrera, A Handbook on Arrest, Search and Seizure and Custodial Investigation, 1995 ed., p. 185; and Terry v. Ohio, supra, p. 911)
In allowing such a search, the United States Supreme Court held that the interest of effective crime prevention and detection allows a police officer to approach a person, in appropriate circumstances and manner, for purposes of investigating possible criminal behavior even though there is insufficient probable cause to make an actual arrest.
In admitting in evidence two guns seized during the stop-and-frisk, the US Supreme Court held that what justified the limited search was the more immediate interest of the police officer in taking steps to assure himself that the person with whom he was dealing was not armed with a weapon that could unexpectedly and fatally be used against him.
It did not, however, abandon the rule that the police must, whenever practicable, obtain advance judicial approval of searches and seizures through the warrant procedure, excused only by exigent circumstances. (Manalili v. CA, 280 SCRA 400, Oct. 9, 1997 [Panganiban])
- We now proceed to the justification for and allowable scope of a “stop-and-frisk” as a “limited protective search of outer clothing for weapons,” as laid down in Terry, thus:
We merely hold today that where a police officer observes unusual conduct which leads him reasonably to conclude in light of his experience that criminal activity may be afoot and that the persons with whom he is dealing may be armed and presently dangerous, where in the course of investigating this behavior he identifies himself as a policeman and makes reasonable inquiries, and where nothing in the initial stages of the encounter serves to dispel his reasonable fear for his own or others’ safety, he is entitled for the protection of himself and others in the area to conduct a carefully limited search of the outer clothing of such persons in an attempt to discover weapons which might be used to assault him. Such a search is a reasonable search under the Fourth Amendment (Terry, at 911. In fact, the Court noted that the ‘sole justification’ for a stop-and-frisk was the ‘protection of the police officer and others nearby’; while the scope of the search conducted in the case was limited to patting down the outer clothing of petitioner and his companions, the police officer did not place his hands in their pockets nor under the outer surface of their garments until he had felt weapons, and then he merely reached for and removed the guns. This did not constitute a general exploratory search, Id.)
Other notable points of Terry are that while probable cause is not required to conduct a “stop-and-frisk,” it nevertheless holds that mere suspicion or a hunch will not validate a “stop-and-frisk.” A genuine reason must exist, in light of the police officer’s experience and surrounding conditions, to warrant the belief that the person detained has weapons concealed about him. Finally, a “stop-and-frisk” serves a two-fold interest: (1) the general interest of effective crime prevention and detection, which underlies the recognition that a police officer may, under appropriate circumstances and in an appropriate manner, approach a person for purposes of investigating possible criminal behavior even without probable cause; and (2) the more pressing interest of safety and self-preservation which permit the police officer to take steps to assure himself that the person with whom he deals is not armed with a deadly weapon that could unexpectedly and fatally be used against the police officer. (Malacat v. Court of Appeals, 283 SCRA 159, Dec. 12, 1997 [Davide])
- Are searches at checkpoints valid? Discuss.
Held: Accused-appellants assail the manner by which the checkpoint in question was conducted. They contend that the checkpoint manned by elements of the Makati Police should have been announced. They also complain of its having been conducted in an arbitrary and discriminatory manner.
We take judicial notice of the existence of the COMELEC resolution imposing a gun ban during the election period issued pursuant to Section 52(c) in relation to Section 26(q) of the Omnibus Election Code (Batas Pambansa Blg. 881). The national and local elections in 1995 were held on 8 May, the second Monday of the month. The incident, which happened on 5 April 1995, was well within the election period.
This Court has ruled that not all checkpoints are illegal. Those which are warranted by the exigencies of public order and are conducted in a way least intrusive to motorists are allowed. For, admittedly, routine checkpoints do intrude, to a certain extent, on motorists’ right to “free passage without interruption,” but it cannot be denied that, as a rule, it involves only a brief detention of travelers during which the vehicle’s occupants are required to answer a brief question or two. For as long as the vehicle is neither searched nor its occupants subjected to a body search, and the inspection of the vehicle is limited to a visual search, said routine checks cannot be regarded as violative of an individual’s right against unreasonable search. In fact, these routine checks, when conducted in a fixed area, are even less intrusive.
The checkpoint herein conducted was in pursuance of the gun ban enforced by the COMELEC. The COMELEC would be hard put to implement the ban if its deputized agents were limited to a visual search of pedestrians. It would also defeat the purpose for which such ban was instituted. Those who intend to bring a gun during said period would know that they only need a car to be able to easily perpetrate their malicious designs.
The facts adduced do not constitute a ground for a violation of the constitutional rights of the accused against illegal search and seizure. PO3 Suba admitted that they were merely stopping cars they deemed suspicious, such as those whose windows are heavily tinted just to see if the passengers thereof were carrying guns. At best they would merely direct their flashlights inside the cars they would stop, without opening the car’s doors or subjecting its passengers to a body search. There is nothing discriminatory in this as this is what the situation demands.
We see no need for checkpoints to be announced x x x. Not only would it be impractical, it would also forewarn those who intend to violate the ban. Even so, badges of legitimacy of checkpoints may still be inferred from their fixed location and the regularized manner in which they are operated. (People v. Usana, 323 SCRA 754, Jan. 28, 2000, 1st Div. [Davide, CJ])
- Do the ordinary rights against unreasonable searches and seizures apply to searches conducted at the airport pursuant to routine airport security procedures?
Held: Persons may lose the protection of the search and seizure clause by exposure of their persons or property to the public in a manner reflecting a lack of subjective expectation of privacy, which expectation society is prepared to recognize as reasonable. Such recognition is implicit in airport security procedures. With increased concern over airplane hijacking and terrorism has come increased security at the nation’s airports. Passengers attempting to board an aircraft routinely pass through metal detectors; their carry-on baggage as well as checked luggage are routinely subjected to x-ray scans. Should these procedures suggest the presence of suspicious objects, physical searches are conducted to determine what the objects are. There is little question that such searches are reasonable, given their minimal intrusiveness, the gravity of the safety interests involved, and the reduced privacy expectations associated with airline travel. Indeed, travelers are often notified through airport public address systems, signs, and notices in their airline tickets that they are subject to search and, if any prohibited materials or substances are found, such would be subject to seizure. These announcements place passengers on notice that ordinary constitutional protections against warrantless searches and seizures do not apply to routine airport procedures.
The packs of methamphetamine hydrochloride having thus been obtained through a valid warrantless search, they are admissible in evidence against the accused-appellant herein. Corollarily, her subsequent arrest, although likewise without warrant, was justified since it was effected upon the discovery and recovery of “shabu” in her person in flagrante delicto. (People v. Leila Johnson, G.R. No. 138881, Dec. 18, 2000, 2nd Div. [Mendoza])
- May the constitutional protection against unreasonable searches and seizures be extended to acts committed by private individuals?
Held: As held in People v. Marti (193 SCRA 57 ), the constitutional protection against unreasonable searches and seizures refers to the immunity of one’s person from interference by government and it cannot be extended to acts committed by private individuals so as to bring it within the ambit of alleged unlawful intrusion. (People v. Mendoza, 301 SCRA 66, Jan. 18, 1999, 1st Div. [Melo])
- Should the seized drugs which are pharmaceutically correct but not properly documented subject of an illegal search because the applicant “failed to allege in the application for search warrant that the subject drugs for which she was applying for search warrant were either fake, misbranded, adulterated, or unregistered,” be returned to the owner?
Held: With the State’s obligation to protect and promote the right to health of the people and instill health consciousness among them (Article II, Section 15, 1987 Constitution), in order to develop a healthy and alert citizenry (Article XIV, Section 19), it became mandatory for the government to supervise and control the proliferation of drugs in the market. The constitutional mandate that “the State shall adopt an integrated and comprehensive approach to health development which shall endeavor to make essential goods, health and other social services available to all people at affordable cost” (Article XIII, Section 11) cannot be neglected. This is why “the State shall establish and maintain an effective food and drug regulatory system.” (Article XIII, Section 12) The BFAD is the government agency vested by law to make a mandatory and authoritative determination of the true therapeutic effect of drugs because it involves technical skill which is within its special competence. The health of the citizenry should never be compromised. To the layman, medicine is a cure that may lead to better health.
If the seized 52 boxes of drugs are pharmaceutically correct but not properly documented, they should be promptly disposed of in the manner provided by law in order to ensure that the same do not fall into the wrong hands who might use the drugs underground. Private respondent cannot rely on the statement of the trial court that the applicant “failed to allege in the application for search warrant that the subject drugs for which she was applying for search warrant were either fake, misbranded, adulterated, or unregistered” in order to obtain the return of the drugs. The policy of the law enunciated in R.A. No. 8203 is to protect the consumers as well as the licensed businessmen. Foremost among these consumers is the government itself which procures medicines and distributes them to the local communities through direct assistance to the local health centers or through outreach and charity programs. Only with the proper government sanctions can medicines and drugs circulate the market. We cannot afford to take any risk, for the life and health of the citizenry are as precious as the existence of the State. (People v. Judge Estrella T. Estrada, G.R No. 124461, June 26, 2000, Spcl. 2nd Div. [Ynares-Santiago])
- Do Regional Trial Courts have competence to pass upon the validity or regularity of seizure and forfeiture proceedings conducted by the Bureau of Customs and to enjoin or otherwise interfere with these proceedings?
Held: In Jao v. Court of Appeals (249 SCRA 35, 42-43 ), this Court, reiterating its rulings x x x said:
There is no question that Regional Trial Courts are devoid of any competence to pass upon the validity or regularity of seizure and forfeiture proceedings conducted by the Bureau of Customs and to enjoin or otherwise interfere with these proceedings. The Collector of Customs sitting in seizure and forfeiture proceedings has exclusive jurisdiction to hear and determine all questions touching on the seizure and forfeiture of dutiable goods. The Regional Trial Courts are precluded from assuming cognizance over such matters even through petitions of certiorari, prohibition or mandamus.
It is likewise well-settled that the provisions of the Tariff and Customs Code and that of Republic Act No. 1125, as amended, otherwise known as “An Act Creating the Court of Tax Appeals,” specify the proper fora and procedure for the ventilation of any legal objections or issues raised concerning these proceedings. Thus, actions of the Collector of Customs are appealable to the Commissioner of Customs, whose decision, in turn, is subject to the exclusive appellate jurisdiction of the Court of Tax Appeals and from there to the Court of Appeals.
The rule that Regional Trial Courts have no review powers over such proceedings is anchored upon the policy of placing no unnecessary hindrance on the government’s drive, not only to prevent smuggling and other frauds upon Customs, but more importantly, to render effective and efficient the collection of import and export duties due the State, which enables the government to carry out the functions it has been instituted to perform.
Even if the seizure by the Collector of Customs were illegal, x x x we have said that such act does not deprive the Bureau of Customs of jurisdiction thereon.
Respondents cite the statement of the Court of Appeals that regular courts still retain jurisdiction “where, as in this case, for lack of probable cause, there is serious doubt as to the propriety of placing the articles under Customs jurisdiction through seizure/forfeiture proceedings.” They overlook the fact, however, that under the law, the question of whether probable cause exists for the seizure of the subject sacks of rice is not for the Regional Trial Court to determine. The customs authorities do not have to prove to the satisfaction of the court that the articles on board a vessel were imported from abroad or are intended to be shipped abroad before they may exercise the power to effect customs’ searches, seizures, or arrests provided by law and continue with the administrative hearings. As the Court held in Ponce Enrile v. Vinuya (37 SCRA 381, 388-389 , reiterated in Jao v. Court of Appeals, supra and Mison v. Natividad, 213 SCRA 734 ):
The governmental agency concerned, the Bureau of Customs, is vested with exclusive authority. Even if it be assumed that in the exercise of such exclusive competence a taint of illegality may be correctly imputed, the most that can be said is that under certain circumstances the grave abuse of discretion conferred may oust it of such jurisdiction. It does not mean however that correspondingly a court of first instance is vested with competence when clearly in the light of the above decisions the law has not seen fit to do so. The proceeding before the Collector of Customs is not final. An appeal lies to the Commissioner of Customs and thereafter to the Court of Tax Appeals. It may even reach this Court through the appropriate petition for review. The proper ventilation of the legal issues raised is thus indicated. Certainly a court of first instance is not therein included. It is devoid of jurisdiction.
(Bureau of Customs v. Ogario, 329 SCRA 289, 296-298, March 30, 2000, 2nd Div. [Mendoza])
- Discuss the nature of an in flagrante delicto warrantless arrest. Illustrative case.
Held: In the case at bar, the court a quo anchored its judgment of conviction on a finding that the warrantless arrest of accused-appellants, and the subsequent search conducted by the peace officers, are valid because accused-appellants were caught in flagrante delicto in possession of prohibited drugs. This brings us to the issue of whether or not the warrantless arrest, search and seizure in the present case fall within the recognized exceptions to the warrant requirement.
In People v. Chua Ho San, the Court held that in cases of in flagrante delicto arrests, a peace officer or a private person may, without a warrant, arrest a person when, in his presence, the person to be arrested has committed, is actually committing, or is attempting to commit an offense. The arresting office, therefore, must have personal knowledge of such fact or, as a recent case law adverts to, personal knowledge of facts or circumstances convincingly indicative or constitutive of probable cause. As discussed in People v. Doria, probable cause 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.
As applied to in flagrante delicto arrests, it is settled that “reliable information” alone, absent any overt act indicative of a felonious enterprise in the presence and within the view of the arresting officers, are not sufficient to constitute probable cause that would justify an in flagrante delicto arrest. Thus, in People v. Aminnudin (163 SCRA 402, 409-410 ), it was held that “the accused-appellant was not, at the moment of his arrest, committing a crime nor was it shown that he was about to do so or that he had just done so. What he was doing was descending the gangplank of the M/V Wilcon 9 and there was no outward indication that called for his arrest. To all appearances, he was like any of the other passengers innocently disembarking from the vessel. It was only when the informer pointed to him as the carrier of the marijuana that he suddenly became suspect and so subject to apprehension.”
Likewise, in People v. Mengote (210 SCRA 174, 179-180 ), the Court did not consider “eyes . . . darting from side to side . . . [while] holding . . . [one’s] abdomen,” in a crowded street at 11:30 in the morning, as overt acts and circumstances sufficient to arouse suspicion and indicative of probable cause. According to the Court, “[b]y no stretch of the imagination could it have been inferred from these acts that an offense had just been committed, or was actually being committed, or was at least being attempted in [the arresting officers’] presence.” So also, in People v. Encinada (280 SCRA 72, 86-87 ), the Court ruled that no probable cause is gleanable from the act of riding a motorela while holding two plastic baby chairs.
Then, too, in Malacat v. Court of Appeals (283 SCRA 159 ), the trial court concluded that petitioner was attempting to commit a crime as he was “’standing at the corner of Plaza Miranda and Quezon Boulevard’ with his eyes ‘moving very fast’ and ‘looking at every person that come (sic) nearer (sic) to them.’” In declaring the warrantless arrest therein illegal, the Court said:
Here, there could have been no valid in flagrante delicto … arrest preceding the search in light of the lack of personal knowledge on the part of Yu, the arresting officer, or an overt physical act, on the part of petitioner, indicating that a crime had just been committed, was being committed or was going to be committed. (Id., at 175)
It went on to state that –
Second, there was nothing in petitioner’s behavior or conduct which could have reasonably elicited even mere suspicion other than that his eyes were “moving very fast” – an observation which leaves us incredulous since Yu and his teammates were nowhere near petitioner and it was already 6:60 p.m., thus presumably dusk. Petitioner and his companions were merely standing at the corner and were not creating any commotion or trouble . . .
Third, there was at all no ground, probable or otherwise, to believe that petitioner was armed with a deadly weapon. None was visible to Yu, for as he admitted, the alleged grenade was “discovered” “inside the front waistline” of petitioner, and from all indications as to the distance between Yu and petitioner, any telltale bulge, assuming that petitioner was indeed hiding a grenade, could not have been visible to Yu. (Id., at 178).
Clearly, to constitute a valid in flagrante delicto arrest, two requisites must concur: (1) the person to be arrested must execute an overt act indicating that he has just committed, is actually committing, or is attempting to commit a crime; and (2) such overt act is done in the presence or within the view of the arresting officer (Concurring Opinion of Justice Artemio V. Panganiban in People v. Doria, 301 SCRA 668, 720 ).
In the case at bar, accused-appellants manifested no outward indication that would justify their arrest. In holding a bag on board a trisikad, accused-appellants could not be said to be committing, attempting to commit or have committed a crime. It matters not that accused-appellant Molina responded “Boss, if possible we will settle this” to the request of SPO1 Pamplona to open the bag. Such response which allegedly reinforced the “suspicion” of the arresting officers that accused-appellants were committing a crime, is an equivocal statement which standing alone will not constitute probable cause to effect an in flagrante delicto arrest. Note that were it not for SPO1 Marino Paguidopon (who did not participate in the arrest but merely pointed accused-appellants to the arresting officers), accused-appellants could not be subject of any suspicion, reasonable or otherwise.
While SPO1 Paguidopon claimed that he and his informer conducted a surveillance of accused-appellant Mula, SPO1 Paguidopon, however, admitted that he only learned Mula’s name and address after the arrest. What is more, it is doubtful if SPO1 Paguidopon indeed recognized accused-appellant Mula. It is worthy to note that, before the arrest, he was able to see Mula in person only once, pinpointed to him by his informer while they were on the side of the road. These circumstances could not have afforded SPO1 Paguidopon a closer look at accused-appellant Mula, considering that the latter was then driving a motorcycle when SPO1 Paguidopon caught a glimpse of him. With respect to accused-appellant Molina, SPO1 Paguidopon admitted that he had never seen him before the arrest.
This belies the claim of SPO1 Pamplona that he knew the name of accused-appellants even before the arrest x x x.
The aforesaid testimony of SPO1 Pamplona, therefore, is entirely baseless. SPO1 Pamplona could not have learned the name of accused-appellants from SPO1 Paguidopon because Paguidopon himself, who allegedly conducted the surveillance, was not even aware of accused-appellants’ name and address prior to the arrest.
Evidently, SPO1 Paguidopon, who acted as informer of the arresting officers, more so the arresting officers themselves, could not have been certain of accused-appellants’ identity, and were, from all indications, merely fishing for evidence at the time of the arrest.
Compared to People v. Encinada, the arresting officer in the said case knew appellant Encinada even before the arrest because of the latter’s illegal gambling activities, thus, lending at least a semblance of validity on the arrest effected by the peace officers. Nevertheless, the Court declared in said case that the warrantless arrest and the consequent search were illegal, holding that “[t]he prosecution’s evidence did not show any suspicious behavior when the appellant disembarked from the ship or while he rode the motorela. No act or fact demonstrating a felonious enterprise could be ascribed to appellant under such bare circumstances.” (People v. Encinada, supra.)
Moreover, it could not be said that accused-appellants waived their right against unreasonable searches and seizure. Implied acquiescence to the search, if there was any, could not have been more than mere passive conformity given under intimidating or coercive circumstances and is thus considered no consent at all within the purview of the constitutional guarantee (Id., at 91; citing Aniag v. Commission on Elections, 237 SCRA 424, 436-437 ).
Withal, the Court holds that the arrest of accused-appellants does not fall under the exceptions allowed by the rules. Hence, the search conducted on their person was likewise illegal. Consequently, the marijuana seized by the peace officers could not be admitted as evidence against accused-appellants, and the Court is thus, left with no choice but to find in favor of accused-appellants. (People v. Molina, 352 SCRA 174, Feb. 19, 2001, En Banc [Ynares-Santiago])