PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES V. JERRY SAPLA
G. R. NO. 244045
JUNE 16, 2020
On 10 January 2014, an officer on duty at the RPSB(Regional Public Safety Battalion) office received a phone call from a concerned citizen, who informed the said office that a certain male individual [would] be transpiring marijuana from Kalinga and into the Province of Isabela. The concerned citizen disclosed the description of such a person and his whereabouts. In response to the tip given by the concerned citizen, the RPSB coordinated with the PDEA to conduct a joint operation to apprehend the accused. As such a checkpoint was organized and the accused was subsequently apprehended by the officers.
The accused was then charged with violation of Section 5, Article II of R.A. No. 9165. On January 9, 2017, the RTC rendered its Decision convicting accused-appellant Sapla for violating Section 5 of R.A. 9165. The RTC found that the prosecution was able to sufficiently establish the corpus delicti of the crime. He was to suffer the penalty of reclusion perpetua and pay the fine of Five Million (P5,000,000.00) Pesos.
Accused then appealed to the Court of Appeals however said court merely increased his penalty to life imprisonment while lowering the fine to be paid to P1,000,000
whether there was a valid search and seizure conducted by the police officers
No. The Constitution is against unreasonable searches and seizure.
The right of the people against unreasonable searches and seizures is found in Article III, Section 2 of the 1987 Constitution, which reads:
Section 2. The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures of whatever nature and for any purpose shall be inviolable, and no search warrant or warrant of arrest shall issue except upon probable cause to be determined personally by the judge after examination under oath or affirmation of the complainant and the witnesses he may produce, and particularly describing the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized.
Hence, as a rule, a search and seizure operation conducted by the authorities is reasonable only when a court issues a search warrant after it has determined the existence of probable cause through the personal examination under oath or affirmation of the complainant and the witnesses presented before the court, with the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized particularly described.
Valid Warrantless Searches and Seizures
There are, however, instances wherein searches are reasonable even in the absence of a search warrant, taking into account the “uniqueness of circumstances involved including the purpose of the search or seizure, the presence or absence of probable cause, the manner in which the search and seizure was made, the place or thing searched, and the character of the articles procured.”
The known jurisprudential instances of reasonable warrantless searches and seizures are:
(1) warrantless search incidental to a lawful arrest;
(2) seizure of evidence in plain view;
(3) search of a moving vehicle;
(4) consented warrantless search;
(5) customs search;
(6) stop and frisk; and
(7) exigent and emergency circumstances.
Search of a Moving Vehicle and its Non-Applicability in the Instant Case
In upholding the warrantless search and seizure conducted by the authorities, the RTC and CA considered the police operation as a valid warrantless search of a moving vehicle.
According to jurisprudence, “warrantless search and seizure of moving vehicles are allowed in recognition of the impracticability of securing a warrant under said circumstances as the vehicle can be quickly moved out of the locality or jurisdiction in which the warrant may be sought. Peace officers in such cases, however, are limited to routine checks where the examination of the vehicle is limited to visual inspection.”
On the other hand, an extensive search of a vehicle is permissible, but only when “the officers made it upon probable cause, i.e., upon a belief, reasonably arising out of circumstances known to the seizing officer, that an automobile or other vehicle contains [an] item, article or object which by law is subject to seizure and destruction.”
The Court finds error in the CA’s holding that the search conducted in the instant case is a search of a moving vehicle. The situation presented in the instant case cannot be considered as a search of a moving vehicle.
The search conducted “could not be classified as a search of a moving vehicle. In this particular type of search, the vehicle is the target and not a specific person.” The Court added that “in search of a moving vehicle, the vehicle was intentionally used as a means to transport illegal items. It is worthy to note that the information relayed to the police officers was that a passenger of that particular bus was carrying marijuana such that when the police officers boarded the bus, they searched the bag of the person matching the description given by their informant and not the cargo or contents of the said bus.”
Probable Cause as an Indispensable Requirement for an Extensive and Intrusive Warrantless Search of a Moving Vehicle
In any case, even if the search conducted can be characterized as a search of a moving vehicle, the operation undertaken by the authorities in the instant case cannot be deemed a valid warrantless search of a moving vehicle.
In order for the search of vehicles in a checkpoint to be non-violative of an individual’s right against unreasonable searches, the search must be limited to the following:
(a) where the officer merely draws aside the curtain of a vacant vehicle which is parked on the public fairgrounds;
(b) where the officer simply looks into a vehicle;
(c) where the officer flashes a light therein without opening the car’s doors;
(d) where the occupants are not subjected to a physical or body search;
(e) where the inspection of the vehicles is limited to a visual search or visual inspection; and
(f) where the routine check is conducted in a fixed area.
Simply stated, a more extensive and intrusive search that goes beyond a mere visual search of the vehicle necessitates probable cause on the part of the apprehending officers.
Sheer Unverified Information from an Anonymous Informant does not engender Probable Cause on the part of the Authorities that warrants an Extensive and Intrusive Search of a Moving Vehicle.
As readily admitted by the CA, the singular circumstance that engendered probable cause on the part of the police officers was the information they received through the RPSB Hotline (via text message) from an anonymous person. Because of this information, the CA held that there was probable cause on the part of the police to conduct an intrusive search.
The Court has already held with unequivocal clarity that in situations involving warrantless searches and seizures, “law enforcers cannot act solely on the basis of confidential or tipped information. A tip is still hearsay no matter how reliable it may be. It is not sufficient to constitute probable cause in the absence of any other circumstance that will arouse suspicion.”
In ruling that the sole reliance on tipped information, on its own, furnished by informants cannot produce probable cause, the Court held that “[e]xclusive reliance on information tipped by informants goes against the very nature of probable cause. A single hint hardly amounts to “the existence of such facts and circumstances which would lead a reasonably 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.”
Invalid Consented Warrantless Search
In Tudtud, the Court held that there can only be an effective waiver of rights against unreasonable searches and seizures if the following requisites are present:
1. It must appear that the rights exist;
2. The person involved had knowledge, actual or constructive, of the existence of such right; and
3. Said person had an actual intention to relinquish the right
Considering that a warrantless search is in derogation of a constitutional right, the Court has held that “[t]he fundamental law and jurisprudence require more than the presence of these circumstances to constitute a valid waiver of the constitutional right against unreasonable searches and seizures. Courts indulge every reasonable presumption against waiver of fundamental constitutional rights; acquiescence in the loss of fundamental rights is not to be presumed. The fact that a person failed to object to a search does not amount to permission thereto.”
The Exclusionary Rule or Fruit of the Poisonous Tree Doctrine
The necessary and inescapable consequence of the illegality of the search and seizure conducted by the police in the instant case is the inadmissibility of the drug specimens retrieved.
According to Article III, Section 3(2) of the Constitution, any evidence obtained in violation of the right against unreasonable searches and seizures shall be inadmissible for any purpose in any proceeding.
Known as the exclusionary rule, “evidence obtained and confiscated on the occasion of such unreasonable searches and seizures [is] deemed tainted and should be excluded for being the proverbial fruit of a poisonous tree. In other words, evidence obtained from unreasonable searches and seizures shall be inadmissible in evidence for any purpose in any proceeding.”