SC: Police CANNOT search you only because of suspicion

In Marvin Porteria v. People (G.R. No. 233777, March 20, 2019), the Supreme Court declared the search of Marvin's body and belongings INVALID as a stop-and-frisk search.

In Marvin's case, one of the arresting officers, SPO4 Pequiras, further muddled his testimony when he stated that the search on Marvin and his bag was due to the "information [they received] that a certain person was seen with a suspicious thing tucked [in] his waist."

According to the High Court, the factual circumstances were ambiguous as to whether the arrest preceded the search, or if Marvin was stopped and frisked pursuant to the anonymous report the police received regarding a suspicious person. Regardless, the warrantless search is still unjustifiable as a stop-and-frisk search.

A stop-and-frisk search is defined as "the act of a police officer to stop a citizen on the street, interrogate him, and pat him for weapon(s) or contraband."[2] Searches under stop-and-frisk are limited to the protective search of outer clothing for weapons.[3] For purposes of searching a person's clothing for concealed weapons, the police officer is required to introduce himself properly, make initial inquiries, approach and then restrain the person manifesting unusual and suspicious conduct.[4]

In order to be considered valid, a stop and frisk search must be premised on the manifest overt acts of an accused, which give law enforcers a "genuine reason" to conduct the search. Jurisprudence has refined the standard to less than probable cause, but more than mere suspicion. The search cannot be based on a suspicion or a hunch.[5] Their suspicion is formed on the basis of the law enforcers' prior experience with criminals and their behavior, as well as the surrounding circumstances of the case.[6]

In some cases, the Court also required the presence of more than one activity which, when taken together, gives a reasonable inference of criminal activity.[7] This is determined on a case-to-case basis, as when a man with reddish eyes, walking in a swaying manner, avoided the police officers approaching him,[8] or when a person was seen placing a heat-sealed plastic sachet containing a white substance inside a cigarette case.[9]In the particular case of Marvin Porteria v. People, however, the Court could not discern any circumstance that would give SPO4 Pequiras a genuine reason to stop-and-frisk Marvin.

Based on the records, Marvin was arrested and searched because the police received a report regarding a suspicious person with something tucked in his waist. But in his testimony, SPO4 Pequiras did not specify the actions or behavior of Marvin, or the factual circumstances occurring prior to his arrest and search. He simply stated that Marvin was arrested due to the anonymous tip. SPO4 Pequiras did not even state how they were able to identify Marvin as the suspicious person referred to in the concerned citizen's report. Evidently, these are not enough to create a reasonable inference of criminal activity.

In conclusion, the Court found that Marvin was illegally searched. Following the exclusionary principle, the items seized as a result of this unlawful search are inadmissible as evidence. The official receipt and the certificate of registration of the subject motorcycle, allegedly discovered as a result of the invalid search of Marvin, cannot be used as evidence against him.[10]

[1] TSN, July 24, 2012, p. 7.

[2] People v. Chua, 444 Phil. 757, 773-774 (2003).

[3] Malacat v. CA, supra note 50.

[4] People v. Chua, supra.

[5] Veridiano v. People, supra note 56.

[6] Comerciante v. People, supra note 51, at 640.

[7] Sanchez v. People, supra note 50, at 573, citing Manalili v. CA, 345 Phil. 632, 643-644 (1997).

[8] Manalili v. CA, id.

[9] Esquillo v. People, 643 Phil. 577 (2010).