SC: No liability if police arrest but mistaken identity

In the case of US. v. Marshall,[1] the police had an arrest warrant for a person named Beasley and, based on information from an informant, mistakenly arrested a person named Marshall thinking he was Beasley. A subsequent search of Marshall's person revealed that he was carrying a loaded gun. After the denial of his motion to suppress the evidence on the ground that the search was illegal, Marshall pleaded guilty to a federal gun charge. Marshall later appealed and raised a single issue, whether the gun seized incident to his arrest should have been suppressed. In its ruling against Marshall, the United States Court of Appeals, 7th Circuit had occasion to discuss that in a circumstance where the police mistake a person for someone else they seek to validly arrest, the arrest is constitutional if the arresting officers (1) have probable cause to arrest the person sought, and (2) reasonably believe that the person arrested is the person sought.

In affirming the conviction of Marshall, the court also held that the arrest warrant gave the police a sufficient basis to arrest Beasley and, taking into consideration the totality of the circumstances, the court found that the actions of the police in thinking that Marshall was Beasley were reasonable.In Hill v. California,[2] decided by the United States Supreme Court, and which was cited in the Marshall case, it was held that when the police have probable cause to arrest one party, and the arresting officers had a reasonable, good-faith belief that the person arrested was in fact the one being sought for a crime, then the arrest of the second party is a valid arrest.

The Philippine Supreme Court, speaking through Justice Malcolm, in the case of U.S. v. Santos (36 Phil. 853, 855. 1917), ruled that:
One should, however, not expect too much of an ordinary policeman. He is not presumed to exercise the subtle reasoning of a judicial officer. Often he has no opportunity to make proper investigation but must act in haste on his own belief to prevent the escape of the criminal. To err is human. Even the most conscientious officer must at times be misled. If, therefore, under trying circumstances and in a zealous effort to obey the orders of his superior officer and to enforce the law, a peace officer makes a mere mistake in good faith, he should be exculpated. Otherwise, the courts will put a premium on crime and will terrorize peace officers through a fear of themselves violating the law.
[1] 79 F.3d 68 (7th Cir. 1996), as cited in the case of People v. Gordon decided by the Appellate Court of Illinois, Second District No. 2-98-0093, January 28, 2000.
[2] 401 U.S. 797 (1971).

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