Castillo v. People (G.R. No. 185128; January 30, 2012)

CASE DIGEST: RUBEN DEL CASTILLO @ BOY CASTILLO, Petitioner, v. PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Respondent. (G.R. No. 185128; January 30, 2012).

FACTS: Pursuant to a confidential information that petitioner was engaged in selling shabu, police officers headed by SPO3 Bienvenido Masnayon, after conducting surveillance and test-buy operation at the house of petitioner, secured a search warrant from the RTC and around 3 o'clock in the afternoon of September 13, 1997, the same police operatives went to Gil Tudtud St., Mabolo, Cebu City to serve the search warrant to petitioner.

Upon arrival, somebody shouted "raid," which prompted them to immediately disembark from the jeep they were riding and went directly to petitioner's house and cordoned it. The structure of the petitioner's residence is a two-storey house and the petitioner was staying in the second floor. When they went upstairs, they met petitioner's wife and informed her that they will implement the search warrant. But before they can search the area, SPO3 Masnayon claimed that he saw petitioner run towards a small structure, a nipa hut, in front of his house. Masnayon chased him but to no avail, because he and his men were not familiar with the entrances and exits of the place.

In the presence of the barangay tanod, Nelson Gonzalado, and the elder sister of petitioner named Dolly del Castillo, searched the house of petitioner including the nipa hut where the petitioner allegedly ran for cover. His men who searched the residence of the petitioner found nothing, but one of the barangay tanods was able to confiscate from the nipa hut several articles, including four (4) plastic packs containing white crystalline substance. Consequently, the articles that were confiscated were sent to the PNP Crime Laboratory for examination. The contents of the four (4) heat sealed transparent plastic packs were subjected to laboratory examination, the result of which proved positive for the presence of methamphetamine hydrochloride, or shabu.

After trial, the RTC found petitioner guilty beyond reasonable of the charge against him in the Information. After the motion for reconsideration of petitioner was denied by the CA, petitioner filed with this Court the present petition for certiorari under Rule 45.

Petitioner asserts that the nipa hut located about 20 meters away from his house is no longer within the "permissible area" that may be searched by the police officers.

ISSUE: Did the CA err in affirming the RTC Decision?

HELD: It must be remembered that the warrant issued must particularly describe the place to be searched and persons or things to be seized in order for it to be valid. A designation or description that points out the place to be searched to the exclusion of all others, and on inquiry unerringly leads the peace officers to it, satisfies the constitutional requirement of definiteness.In the present case, Search Warrant No. 570-9-1197-24 specifically designates or describes the residence of the petitioner as the place to be searched. Incidentally, the items were seized by a barangay tanod in a nipa hut, 20 meters away from the residence of the petitioner. The confiscated items, having been found in a place other than the one described in the search warrant, can be considered as fruits of an invalid warrantless search, the presentation of which as an evidence is a violation of petitioner's constitutional guaranty against unreasonable searches and seizure.

The OSG argues that, assuming that the items seized were found in another place not designated in the search warrant, the same items should still be admissible as evidence because the one who discovered them was a barangay tanod who is a private individual, the constitutional guaranty against unreasonable searches and seizure being applicable only against government authorities. The contention is devoid of merit.

It was testified to during trial by the police officers who effected the search warrant that they asked the assistance of the barangay tanods. Having been established that the assistance of the barangay tanods was sought by the police authorities who effected the searched warrant, the same barangay tanods therefore acted as agents of persons in authority. The police officers, as well as the barangay tanods were acting as agents of a person in authority during the conduct of the search. Thus, the search conducted was unreasonable and the confiscated items are inadmissible in evidence.

Assuming ex gratia argumenti that the barangay tanod who found the confiscated items is considered a private individual, thus, making the same items admissible in evidence, petitioner's third argument that the prosecution failed to establish constructive possession of the regulated drugs seized, would still be meritorious. ACCUSED WAS ACQUITTED.