Search and Seizure
Description of the place to be search; when sufficient.
Q — The search warrants commanded any peace officer to make an immediate search of MASAGANA compound located at Governor’s Drive, Barangay Lapidario, Trece Martires, Cavite City. It was contended that there was no proper description since there are many structures inside the compound, hence, the warrants are general, thus, void. Is the contention correct? Why?
ANS: No. The longstanding rule is that a description of the place to be searched is sufficient if the officer with the warrant can, with reasonable effort, ascertain and identify the place intended and distinguish if from other places in the community. Any designation or description known to the locality that points out the place to the exclusion of all others, and on inquiry leads the officers unerringly to it, satisfies the constitutional requirement.
Moreover, in the determination of whether a search warrant describes the premises to be searched with sufficient particularity, it has been held that the executing officer’s prior knowledge as to the place intended in the warrant is relevant. This would seem to be especially true where the executing officer is the affiant on whose affidavit the warrant had been issued, and when he knows that the judge who issued the warrant intended the compound described in the affidavit.
Even if there are several structures inside the MASAGANA compound, there was no need to particularize the areas to be searched because these structures constitute the essential and necessary components of the petitioners’ business and cannot be treated separately as they form part of one entire compound. The compound is owned and used solely by MASAGANA. What the case law merely requires is that the place to be searched can be distinguished in relation to the other places in the community. Indubitably, this requisite was complied with in the instant case. (Yao, Sr., et al. v. People, et al., G.R. No. 168306, June 19, 2007).
Q — It was contended that the search warrants did not indicate with particularity the items to be seized since the search warrants merely described the items to be seized as LPG cylinders bearing the trademarks GASUL and SHELLANE without specifying their sizes. Is the contention correct? Why?
ANS: No. A search warrant may be said to have particularly described the things to be seized when the description therein is as specific as the circumstances will ordinarily allow; or when the description expresses a conclusion of fact, not of law, by which the warrant officer may be guided in making the search and seizure; or when the things described are limited to those which bear direct relation to the offense for which the warrant is being issued.
While it is true that the property to be seized under a warrant must be particularly described therein and no other property can be taken thereunder, yet the description is required to be specific only insofar as the circumstances will ordinarily allow. The law does not require that the things to be seized must be described in precise and minute details as to leave no room for doubt on the part of the searching authorities; otherwise it would be virtually impossible for the applicants to obtain a search warrant, as they would not know exactly what kind of things they are looking for. Once described, however, the articles subject of the search and seizure need not be so invariant as to require absolute concordance, in our view, between those seized and those described in the warrant. Substantial similarity of those articles described as a class or species would suffice. (Yao, Sr., et al. v. People, et al., G.R. No. 168306, June 19, 2007).
Q — Is ownership required of the things seized? Explain.
ANS: No. The law does not require that the property to be seized should be owned by the person against whom the search warrant is directed. Ownership, therefore, is of no consequence, and it is sufficient that the person against whom the warrant is directed has control or possession of the property sought to be seized. Hence, even if, as petitioners claim, the properties seized belong to MASAGANA as a separate entity, their seizure pursuant to the search warrant is still valid. (Yao, Sr., et al. v. People, et al., G.R. No. 168306, June 19, 2007).
Return of the things seized after dismissal of criminal case.
Q — There was a criminal action for the prosecution of the crime of trademark infringement. However, the case was dismissed. Should the court having custody of the seized objects order the return of the same? Explain.
ANS: Yes. All things considered, it should be noted that there is no law prohibiting the trial court from returning the articles seized before a case is actually filed in court and even before the final determination by the prosecutor or the DOJ of whether a case should be filed in court. It is true that in most cases, the release of the articles seized would be unjustified. However, in the case at bar, the return of the playing cards and the printing machines would better serve the purposes of justice and expediency. (Summerville Gen. Merchandising Co. v. CA, et al., G.R. No. 158767, June 26, 2007).
There exists a constitutional safeguard against unreasonable searches and seizures, which refers to the immunity of one’s person from interference by the government, included in which is his residence, his papers and other possessions. The Constitution, however, does not provide a blanket prohibition against all searches and seizures; rather, the fundamental protection accorded by the search and seizure clause is that, between persons and the police, there must stand the protective authority of a magistrate clothed with the power to issue or refuse such search warrant. Yet, the responsibilities of the magistrate do not end with the granting of the warrant, but extends to the custody of the articles seized. In exercising custody over these articles, the property rights of the owner should be balanced with the social need to preserve evidence, which will be used in the prosecution of a case.
Where the parties seized have already been found not to be the “subject of the offense” and the purpose of presenting them as evidence is no longer served, there is no justification for severely curtailing the rights of a person to his property.
Examination of complainant/applicant for search warrant.
The searching questions propounded to the applicant and the witnesses depend largely on the discretion of the judge. Although there is no hard-and-fast rule governing how a judge should conduct his investigation, it is axiomatic that the examination must be probing and exhaustive, not merely routinary, general, peripheral, perfunctory or pro forma. The judge must not simply rehash the contents of the affidavit but must make his own inquiry on the intent and justification of the application. (Yao, Sr., et al. v. People, et al., G.R. No. 168306, June 19, 2007).
When can there be search without warrant.
Q — As a rule, search can only be made if there is a search warrant. State some exceptions and the minimum requirement for their validity. Explain.
ANS: As a rule, search and seizure must be carried through with judicial warrant, otherwise, such search and seizure constitutes derogation of a constitutional right.
The above rule, however, is not devoid of exceptions. In People v. Sarap, G.R. No. 132165, March 26, 2003, 399 SCRA 503, the SC listed the exceptions where search and seizure may be conducted without warrant, thus: (1) search incident to a lawful arrest; (2) search of a moving motor vehicle; (3) search in violation of customs laws; (4) seizure of the evidence in plain view; (5) search when the accused himself waives his right against unreasonable searches and seizures; (6) stop and frisk; and (7) exigent and emergency circumstances. The only requirement in these exceptions is the presence of probable cause. Probable cause is the existence of such facts and circumstances which would lead a reasonable, discreet, and prudent man to believe that an offense has been committed and that the objects sought in connection with the offense are in the place to be searched. (Sony Music Ent. (Phils.) Inc. v. Español, G.R. No. 156804, March 14, 2005, 453 SCRA 360). In People v. Aruta, the Court ruled that in warrantless searches, probable cause must only be based on reasonable ground of suspicion or belief that a crime has been committed or is about to be committed. There is no hard and fast rule or fixed formula in determining probable cause for its determination varies according to the facts of each case. (351 Phil. 868 (1998); Espie, Jr., et al. v. Hon. Nelsonida T. Ulat-Marredo, et al., G.R. No. 148117, March 22, 2007).
Q — At around 2:30 p.m. of September 6, 1998, a confidential informer disclosed to SPO2 Ngina that a passenger jeepney with Plate No. AYB 117 loaded with Benguet pine lumber was at Km. 96, Atok, Benguet. The lumber was covered with assorted vegetables. A PNP roadblock was then placed in Acop, Tublay, Benguet to intercept the jeepney. At around 4:00 p.m. of that same day, the police spotted the vehicle. They flagged it down but it did not stop, forcing the police to chase it until it reached Shilan, La Trinidad. A search of the vehicle disclosed several pieces of Benguet pine lumber. Petitioners could not produce the required DENR permit to cut and transport the same. May there be search of the moving vehicle? Explain.
ANS: Yes. In People v. Vinecarao, the Court ruled that where a vehicle sped away after noticing a checkpoint and even after having been flagged down by police officers, in an apparent attempt to dissuade the police from proceeding with their inspection, there exists probable cause to justify a reasonable belief on the part of the law enforcers that the persons on board said vehicle were officers of the law or that the vehicle contained objects which were instruments of some offense. This ruling squarely applies to the present case, hence, the warrantless search is valid and that the lumber seized is admissible in evidence against petitioners. (Espie, Jr., et al. v. The Hon. Nelsonida T. Ulat-Marredo, et al., G.R. No. 148117, March 22, 2007).
Search of a moving vehicle.
Q — A confidential informer tipped the police that a Gemini car was going to deliver shabu at Marville Subdivision. Pursuing said lead, the Antipolo City police sent a team to Marville Subdivision to monitor said vehicle. The information provided by the informer turned out to be correct as, indeed, the Gemini car was spotted in the place where it was to be bringing shabu. When they stopped the car, they saw a gun tucked in appellant’s waist. Appellant did not have any document to support his possession of said firearm which all the more strengthened the police’s suspicion. After he was told to step out of the car, they found on the driver’s seat plastic sachets containing white powdery substance. Was there a valid search of the moving vehicle? Explain.
ANS: Yes, because the circumstances taken together are sufficient to establish probable cause for the warrantless search of the car. When a vehicle is flagged down and subjected to an extensive search, such a warrantless search is valid as long as the officers conducting the search have reasonable or probable cause to believe prior to the search that they would find the evidence pertaining to a crime, in the vehicle to be searched. (People v. Bagista, G.R. No. 86218, September 18, 1992, 214 SCRA 63; People v. Tuazon, G.R. No. 175783, September 3, 2007).
Q — State the rationale for the validity of search of a moving vehicle. Explain.
ANS: The rules governing search and seizure have over the years been steadily liberalized whenever a moving vehicle is the object of the search on the basis of practicality. This is so considering that before a warrant could be obtained, the place, things and persons to be searched must be described to the satisfaction of the issuing judge – a requirement which borders on the impossible in the case of smuggling effected by the use of a moving vehicle that can transport contraband from one place to another with impunity. A warrantless search of a moving vehicle is justified on the ground that “it is not practicable to secure a warrant because the vehicle can be quickly moved out of the locality or jurisdiction in which the warrant must be sought.” (People v. Lo Ho Wing, G.R. No. 88017, January 21, 1991, 193 SCRA 122).
Nevertheless, the exception from securing a search warrant when it comes to a moving vehicle does not give the police authorities unbridled discretion to conduct a warrantless search of an automobile. To do so would render the aforementioned constitutional stipulations inutile and expose the citizenry to indiscriminate police distrust which could amount to outright harassment. Surely, the policy consideration behind the exemption of search of moving vehicles does not encompass such arbitrariness on the part of the police authorities, in recognition that probable cause exist in order to justify the warrantless search of a vehicle. (Caballes v. CA, 424 Phil. 263 (2002); People v. Tuazon, G.R. No. 175783, September 3, 2007).