SC: Arrest of suspicious person NOT valid

In the case of Marvin Porteria v. People (G.R. No. 233777, March 20, 2019), the Supreme Court ruled that the search of Marvin's body and belongings, as an incident to his warrantless arrest, was not valid.

Our constitution guarantees the inviolable right of every person to be secure in his or her persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures for whatever nature and for any purpose.[1] Thus, there should be a warrant duly issued on the basis of probable cause, in order to consider these searches and seizures as valid. This notwithstanding, there are several circumstances which the Court recognizes as exceptions to the requirement of a warrant: (a) a warrantless search incidental to a lawful arrest; (b) seizure of evidence in plain view; (c) search of a moving vehicle; (d) consented warrantless search; (e) customs search; (f) stop-and-frisk; and (g) the existence of exigent and emergency circumstances.[2]

In Marvin Porteria v. People, the Court of Appeals (CA) found that the discovery of the stolen motorcycle's official receipt (OR) and certificate of registration (CR) in the possession of Marvin was the product of a valid search incidental to a lawful arrest.

For the search to become valid under this exception, the inquiry of the Court should focus on the legality of the arrest. The arrest must not be used as a mere pretext for conducting the search, and the arrest, to be lawful, must precede the search. Assuming that there was a valid arrest, the arresting officer may only search the arrestee and the area within which he or she may reach for a weapon, or for evidence to destroy. The arresting officer may also seize any money or property used in the commission of the crime, or the fruit of the crime, or that which may be used as evidence, or which might furnish the arrestee the means of escaping or committing violence.[3]

Since Marvin was arrested without a warrant, his apprehension may only be considered valid under the three (3) instances provided in Section 5, Rule 113 of the Rules of Court, to wit: (a) the arrest of a suspect in flagrante delicto; (b) the arrest of a suspect where, based on the personal knowledge of the arresting officer, there is probable cause that the suspect was the perpetrator of a crime that had just been committed, or a "hot pursuit" arrest; and (c) the arrest of a prisoner, who has escaped from custody, or has escaped while being transferred from one confinement to another.[4] For the case at bar, the last circumstance for a valid warrantless arrest obviously cannot apply.In an in flagrante arrest requires the concurrence of two (2) elements: (a) the person arrested must execute an overt act indicating that he or she has just committed, is actually committing, or is attempting to commit a crime; and (b) the overt act was done in the presence or within the view of the arresting officer.[5] Meanwhile, for a hot pursuit arrest, there must be an offense that was just committed, and the arresting officer had personal knowledge of facts indicating that the accused committed it.[6]

After a careful review of the records of Marvin's case, the Supreme Court held that he was not validly arrested without a warrant. The prosecution failed to establish any overt act which could lead to Marvin's in flagrante delicto arrest. There was also no evidence that the arresting officers, or SPO4 Pequiras in particular, knew of an offense that was just committed and that Marvin was the perpetrator of the offense.

According to P/Insp. Villamer, the radio operator at the Ocanipo Police Station received a telephone call from a concerned citizen regarding a suspicious person with something bulging in his body. This report constrained P/Insp. Villamer to send a team to verify the report. One of the police officers, SPO4 Pequiras, verified the report, which resulted in the arrest of Marvin. However, he did not specify the reason why Marvin was arrested, other than the fact that there was a report of a suspicious person, thus:

[Direct examination of SPO4 Pequiras by Prosecutor Alan Fernando]
Q:
Could you tell us now Mr. Witness why did you search the bag of this accused and found out inside his bag these 2 documents?
A:
Because on February 1, 2011 when we apprehended the accused for illegal possession of firearm[,] we also searched his bag to secure the firearm inside his bag.
Q:
And you said you have apprehended the accused for illegal possession of firearm and incident thereto you made a search on the bag whether there is a concealed firearm or explosive, is that what you mean to say?
A:
Yes, sir.
x x x x
[Cross-examination of SPO4 Pequiras by Atty. Ernesto Mendiola]
Q:
Were you the one or you were present when this accused was apprehended for illegal possession of firearm?
A:
I was present.
x x x x
Q:
Because you arrested the accused while he was in possession of that firearm you likewise bodily searched him. [C]orrect?
A:
After we saw the firearm.
Q:
You mean to say your search is valid?
A:
Yes, sir.
Q:
What is your purpose in conducting the search on his body and his bag that he was carrying?
A:
On February 1, 2011[,] we received information that a certain person was seen with a suspicious thing tucked on his waist.

Nothing from the above testimony shows Marvin's overt actions which led SPO4 Pequiras to believe that the former was illegally in possession of firearms. There is a dearth of evidence describing how Marvin committed a crime, was committing, or was about to commit a crime in the presence of the arresting officers. SPO4 Pequiras merely testified that after receiving the information regarding the presence of a suspicious person, they verified the report, and this eventually resulted in the arrest of Marvin. It was not established that Marvin had a firearm visibly tucked in his waist, or that he behaved in a manner which would elicit a reasonable suspicion that he committed an offense. The prosecution established only a suspicion that a crime was committed—nothing more—prior to the arrest of Marvin.

In the same manner, there was no proof of compliance with the requirements for a hot pursuit arrest. The prosecution did not allege and prove that SPO4 Pequiras and the arresting officers have personal knowledge of facts that Marvin had just committed an offense. Neither does the anonymous report of a suspicious person operate to vest personal knowledge on the police officers about the commission of an offense. In Veridiano v. People,[7] the Court ruled on the validity of the warrantless arrest made pursuant to a report of illicit or suspicious activity:
Failure to comply with the overt act test renders an in flagrante delicto arrest constitutionally infirm. In Cogaed, the warrantless arrest was invalidated as an in flagrante delicto arrest because the accused did not exhibit an overt act within the view of the police officers suggesting that he was in possession of illegal drugs at the time he was apprehended.

x x x x

In this case, petitioner's arrest could not be justified as an in flagrante delicto arrest under Rule 113, Section 5 (a) of the Rules of Court. He was not committing a crime at the checkpoint. Petitioner was merely a passenger who did not exhibit any unusual conduct in the presence of the law enforcers that would incite suspicion. In effecting the warrantless arrest, the police officers relied solely on the tip they received. Reliable information alone is insufficient to support a warrantless arrest absent any overt act from the person to be arrested indicating that a crime has just been committed, was being committed, or is about to be committed.

The warrantless arrest cannot likewise be justified under Rule 113, Section 5(b) of the Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure. The law enforcers had no personal knowledge of any fact or circumstance indicating that petitioner had just committed an offense.

A hearsay tip by itself does not justify a warrantless arrest. Law enforcers must have personal knowledge of facts, based on their observation, that the person sought to be arrested has just committed a crime. This is what gives rise to probable cause that would justify a warrantless search under Rule 113, Section 5(b) of the Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure.[8]
There being no valid warrantless arrest, the search conducted on Marvin's body and belongings was likewise found to be unjustified. The law requires that there should be a lawful arrest prior to the search. The process cannot be reversed.[9] Where a person is searched without a warrant, and under circumstances other than those justifying a warrantless arrest, upon a mere suspicion that he has embarked on some criminal activity, and/or for the purpose of discovering if indeed a crime [was] committed by him, then the search of such person as well as his arrest are deemed illegal.[10]

[1] 1987 CONSTITUTION, Article III, Section 2.

[2] People v. Aruta, 351 Phil. 868, 879 (1998).

[3] Sanchez v. People, 747 Phil. 552, 567 (2014), citing Malacat v. CA, 341 Phil. 462, 480 (1997).

[4] Comerciante v. People, 764 Phil. 627, 634-635 (2015).

[5] Id., citing People v. Villareal, 706 Phil. 511, 517-518 (2013), further citing Valdez v. People, 563 Phil. 934, 947 (2007).

[6] Id., citing People v. Villareal, id. at 517, further citing People v. Cuizon, 326 Phil. 345, 360 (1996).

[7] G.R. No. 200370, June 7, 2017, 826 SCRA 382.

[8] Id. at 400-405.

[9] Sanchez v. People, 747 Phil. 552, 567 (2014).

[10] People v. Cuizon, 326 Phil. 345, 360 (1996).

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