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Opinion

Arrested based on a tip

A LAW EACH DAY (KEEPS TROUBLE AWAY) - Jose C. Sison -
Ordinarily, arrest can be effected only by virtue of a warrant issued by a judge who determines the existence of probable cause that a crime has been committed. But sometimes, the police themselves may determine the existence of probable cause based on an informer’s tip that a person is then and there committing a crime so as to carry out a legal arrest even without a warrant. In this exceptional case, the arrest of a person seems to be made upon order or "tip" of the informer only. Like what happened in this case of Laura.

One evening the police in a town in the Visayas received information that a woman with long hair, wearing maong pants and jacket, and Ray Ban sunglasses would be transporting marijuana along the national highway. According to the informer, the woman would bring a black traveling bag and would ride a "trisikad". Based on this tip, the Chief of Police instructed his men composed of three teams led by SPO1 Roger to conduct mobile patrols at 5:00am the next day in the poblacion along the national highway.

At 6:45 am, while Roger and his team were patrolling in their car, they saw a woman about one meter away who fitted the informer’s description. She was standing along the national highway holding the handle of a black traveling bag which was inside a trisikad. The law enforcers approached the woman and inquired who owns the traveling bag. The woman denied ownership, so Roger asked the trisikad driver who in turn pointed to the woman as the owner of the bag. The policemen then requested the woman to open the bag but she refused. The trisikad driver also denied knowledge of the bag’s contents. But believing that the bag contained marijuana per the tip of the informer, the policemen brought the woman, the trisikad driver and the bag to the station. There, the Chief of Police forcibly opened the locked bag as the woman alleged that the key was with her three companions in the public market. Inside the bag the police found wrapped in a newspaper 10 bricks of dried marijuana leaves. Later on the woman was identified as Laura and detained.

After confirming that the bricks were marijuana dried leaves weighing 9.560 kilograms, Laura was charged in the RTC with illegally transporting, delivering and distributing prohibited drugs in violation of section 4, RA 6425 as amended.

The RTC relied more on the credibility of the testimonies of the police led by Roger than on Laura’s denial of being found holding the said bag when spotted because, according to her, she was then standing along the national highway while the bag was in the trisikad. The RTC also did not believe the testimony of the trisikad driver that the bag was left in his trisikad by a male passenger. So Laura was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment.

On appeal, Laura questioned among others the admission of the marijuana as evidence contending that her arrest was illegal, so the seizure of the marijuana following an illegal arrest was also illegal.

Was Laura correct?

No.

While it is true that the apprehending officers were not armed with a search warrant when the search was conducted over the personal effects of Laura, nevertheless under the circumstances of the case, there was sufficient probable cause for the said police officers to believe that Laura was then and there committing a crime.

Probable cause signifies the existence of such facts and circumstances which could lead a reasonably discreet and prudent man to believe that an offense has been committed or is being committed and that the items, articles or objects sought in connection with said offense or subject to seizure and destruction by law is in the place to be searched.

In this case the police were tipped off only on the previous evening. The contraband was to be transported early the following morning. They have no more time to secure the needed warrants. The only recourse left to the police was to arrest the courier in flagrante. The police had a definite target for their arrest. There was a description about the identity of the person engaged in transporting the prohibited drugs at a particular time and place. The police already had an inkling of the personal circumstances of the person they were looking for. Accordingly, when they saw the woman who fitted the description earlier tipped by the informant and who was later identified as Laura, standing near a trisikad along the national highway holding the handle of a black traveling bag inside the trisikad, they had probable cause to apprehend Laura. Laura’s arrest was legal and the search conducted by the police was likewise legal being an incident to a lawful arrest. So the marijuana seized can be used as evidence against her

But Laura’s sentence should not be life imprisonment. It should be only reclusion perpetua. These are two distinct penalties. Reclusion perpetua entails imprisonment of at least 30 years after which the convict becomes eligible for pardon. It has accessory penalties. Life imprisonment does not have a fixed duration and does not carry with it accessory penalties (Pp.vs.Gonzales, G.R. 121877 September 12, 2001).

ARREST

BAG

BUT LAURA

CHIEF OF POLICE

LAURA

MARIJUANA

POLICE

RAY BAN

SO LAURA

TRISIKAD

WOMAN

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