Different place
A LAW EACH DAY (KEEPS TROUBLE AWAY) - Jose C. Sison () - August 21, 2008 - 12:00am

Airtight cases are sometimes lost because the evidence has been unlawfully obtained. This usually happens when the law enforcement agency which is considered one of the pillars of the criminal justice system, disregards or overlooks in their eagerness the basic rules of gathering such evidence like obtaining search warrants. This is what happened in this case of a PNP Senior Inspector whom we shall call S/Insp. Villareal.

S/Insp. Villareal and his team had been surreptitiously casing a certain place in Bulacan which they suspected to be a cache of explosives and other ammunitions being maintained by four foreigners. The place was located in a structure which had five distinct premises consisting of a variety store in front known as “Elsa’s Sari-Sari Store” and four separate and independent residential apartment units. Each of the five contiguous spaces is independent of the others and may be entered only through its individual front door.

After casing the joint and ascertaining that firearms and explosives were indeed stored in the place, S/Insp. Villareal applied for a search warrant before the Regional Trial Court of Quezon City against the four foreigners.  In the application and in their affidavit appended thereto, they wrote down a description of the place to be searched as: “Premises located at Elsa’s Sari-Sari Store, Apt. 1207”.  Hence on the basis of the application, the Regional Trial Court of Quezon City issued the search warrant describing the place to be searched as Elsa’s Sari-Sari Store, Apt. 1207 and directing that the search “be limited only to the premises herein described”.

Armed with this search warrant, the police team raided the place and served the warrant against the four foreigners. They served the warrant not at Elsa’s Sari-Sari Store but at Apartment No. 1 which was immediately adjacent to Elsa’s Sari-Sari Store where the foreigners actually resided.  As a result, the four were arrested and their personal belongings, papers and effects, including cash, aside from some explosives mentioned in the warrant, were confiscated.

When charged, the four foreigners filed an “Extremely Urgent Motion to Quash Search Warrant and To Declare Evidence Obtained Inadmissible”. In resolving this motion, the Regional Trial Court conducted an ocular inspection of the premises and found that the residence of all the accused is Apt. No. 1 which is adjacent but separate from Elsa’s Sari-Sari Store and that there are no connecting doors that can pass from Elsa’s Sari-Sari Store to Apt. No. 1. They have their own respective doors for ingress and egress. So the Regional Trial Court quashed the search warrant and declared inadmissible for any purpose, the items seized under said warrant.  Was the Regional Trial Court correct?

Yes. The place actually searched was different and distinct from the place described in the search warrant. It is a place other than and separate from and in no way connected with, although adjacent to the place stated in the warrant. Even if the police officers had personal knowledge of the place to be searched and knew exactly what object should be taken therefrom to establish probable cause, the place they had in mind, the first of four separate apartment units (No. 1) behind Elsa’s Sari-Sari Store, was not what the Regional Trial Court Judge, who issued the warrant himself, had in mind, and was not what was ultimately described in the search warrant. The discrepancy appears to have resulted from the officers’ own faulty description of the place to be searched.

In this case, there is no ambiguity at all in the warrant. The ambiguity lies outside the instrument, arising from the absence of a meeting of minds as to the place to be searched between the applicants for the warrant and the judge issuing the same; and what was done was to substitute for the place that the judge had written down in the warrant, the premises that the executing officers had in their mind. This should not have been done.  It is neither fair nor licit to allow police officers to search a place different from that stated in the warrant and claim that the place actually searched — although not specified in the warrant is exactly what they had in mind when they applied for the warrant. What is material in determining the validity of the search is the place stated in the warrant itself not what the applicants had in their thoughts or had represented in the proofs they submitted to the Court issuing the warrant. 

There is, therefore, an infringement of the constitutional requirement that a search warrant particularly describe the place to be searched; and that infringement necessarily brought into operation the concomitant provision that any evidence obtained in violation thereof shall be inadmissible for any purpose in any proceeding (Pp. v. Court of Appeals, et. al., G.R. 126379, June 26, 1998).

Note: Books containing compilation of my articles on Labor Law and Criminal Law (Vols. I and II) are now available. Call Tel. 7249445.

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E-mail at: jcson@pldtdsl.net

ELSA PLACE SARI SARI-SARI STORE SEARCH WARRANT
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