Illegal items seized on void warrants cannot be used as evidence in courts, says the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court has admonished law enforcement authorities and the trial courts against unlawful application and issuance of search warrants that violate the rights of a person over his property, his documents, and the sanctity of his home.
In a decision authored by Associate Justice Diosdado M. Peralta, the SC nullified the search warrants issued by the Calapan City Regional Trial Court against Stanley R. Maderazo who was charged with illegal possession of prohibited drugs, unlicensed firearm and ammunition.
The high court ruled that illegal items, like prohibited drugs and firearms, seized on the strength of void search warrants, cannot be used as evidence in criminal cases before the courts, citing constitutional provisions.
Thus, the SC affirmed the decision of the Court of Appeals in favor of Maderazo who assailed the trial court’s issuance of search warrants that led to the seizure of illegal drugs, a firearm and ammunition from his residence in Barangay Lazareto in Calapan City.
“Considering that the search and seizure warrant in this case was procured in violation of the Constitution and the Rules of Court, all the items seized in Maderazo’ s house, being fruits of the poisonous tree, are inadmissible for any purpose in any proceeding,” the SC ruled.
In dismissing the petition of the Office of the Solicitor General, the SC said: “Settled is the rule that where entry into the premises to be searched was gained by virtue of a void search warrant, prohibited articles seized in the course of the search are inadmissible against the accused.”
The high court emphasized that prohibited articles may be seized only as long as the search warrant is valid.
In the case of Maderazo, the SC noted that the trial court failed to conduct the probing and exhaustive inquiry before the issuance of search warrants as mandated by the Constitution.
The tribunal sided with the Court of Appeals, which found that the preliminary examination taken by the trial court on all the witnesses on March 31, 2015 “appeared to be coached in identical form of questions and answers.”
The SC pointed out that a search warrant may be issued only if there is probable cause in connection with a specific offense alleged in an application based on the personal knowledge of the applicant and his witnesses as this is the substantive requirement for the issuance of a search warrant.
“Procedurally, the determination of probable cause is a personal task of the judge before whom the application for search warrant is filed, as he has to examine the applicant and his or her witnesses in the form of ‘searching questions and answers’ in writing and under oath,” the SC held.
Court records showed that on March 31, 2015 police Supt. Jaycees de Sagun Tolentino filed two separate applications for search warrants against Maderazo, Nestor Alea, Daren Mabansag and Lovely Joy Alcantara.
Tolentino claimed that he has been informed by barangay officials Loida Tapere Roco and Rexcel Lozano Rivera that Maderazo and his group were keeping an undetermined quantity of dangerous drugs, drugs paraphernalia, and firearms in Maderazo’s residence.
Roco and Rivera alleged that at 6 a.m. on March 31, 2015 they learned that the Calapan City police would be serving a warrant of arrest against Maderazo for attempted murder. They said that when they reached Maderazo’s house, they proceeded to arrest the ‘suspect.’
As barangay officials, they claimed that they even talked to Maderazo who told them he has in his residence about 40 grams of illegal drugs, a firearm, and drug paraphernalia.
After the RTC Judge Tomas C. Leynes’ examination of Roco and Rivera, the judge issued a search warrant that led to the seizure of illegal drugs, drug paraphernalia, a .38 caliber revolver and live ammunition, mobile phones, computer laptop, and cash.
Maderazo, Alea and Mabansag were charged with illegal possession of prohibited drugs and drug paraphernalia, and firearm.
Maderazo challenged before the trial court the issuance of the search warrants as he pointed out that they were issued without probable cause and, thus, the items seized were inadmissible in evidence.
He also said the police officer who applied for the search warrants did not have personal knowledge of his supposed possession of the prohibited articles, and that there was no surveillance conducted by the police.
The trial court denied his motion to nullify the search warrants. He filed a petition with the CA which ruled in his favor. The CA, in its April 26, 2017 decision, said that the items seized from Maderazo’s house by virtue of the search warrants “are inadmissible in evidence against him since the access therein by the police officers used void search warrants.”
The OSG, representing the People of the Philippines, elevated the issue before the SC. However, the high court dismissed it and instead affirmed the appellate court ruling.
“The trial judge failed to propound questions as to how the applicants came to know of the existence of the items, where they found it, or what they have seen and observed inside the premises. There was no probing, exhaustive, and extensive questions,” the SC ruled.
“The judge even failed to inquire as to how Roco and Lozano were able to elicit said admission from Maderazo. Suffice it to say that the questions propounded on the witnesses were not searching and probing. The trial judge failed to make an independent assessment of the evidence adduced and the testimonies of the witnesses in order to support a finding of probable cause,” it said “Finally, it must be stressed anew that no presumption of regularity may be invoked in aid of the process when the officer undertakes to justify an encroachment of rights secured by the Constitution.”
Associate Justices Marvic M.V.F. Leonen, Alexander G. Gesmundo, Jose C. Reyes Jr., and Ramon Paul L. Hernando concurred with the decision.