Caballes vs. Court of Appeals, GR 136292, 5 January 2002
About 9:15 p.m. of 28 June 1989, Sgt. Victorino Noceja and Pat. Alex de Castro, while on a routine patrol in Barangay Sampalucan, Pagsanjan, Laguna, spotted a passenger jeep unusually covered with "kakawati" leaves. Suspecting that the jeep was loaded with smuggled goods, the two police officers flagged down the vehicle. The jeep was driven by Rudy Caballes y Taiño. When asked what was loaded on the jeep, he did not answer, but he appeared pale and nervous. With Caballes' consent, the police officers checked the cargo and they discovered bundles of 3.08 mm aluminum/galvanized conductor wires exclusively owned by National Power Corporation (NAOCOR). The conductor wires weighed 700 kilos and valued at P55,244.45. Noceja asked Caballes where the wires came from and Caballes answered that they came from Cavinti, a town approximately 8 kilometers away from Sampalucan. Thereafter, Caballes and the vehicle with the highvoltage wires were brought to the Pagsanjan Police Station. Danilo Cabale took pictures of Caballes and the jeep loaded with the wires which were turned over to the Police Station Commander of Pagsanjan, Laguna. Caballes was incarcerated for 7 days in the Municipal jail. Caballes was charged with the crime of theft in an information dated 16 October 1989. During the arraignment, Caballes pleaded not guilty and hence, trial on the merits ensued. On 27 April 1993, Regional Trial Court of Santa Cruz, Laguna rendered judgment, finding Caballes, guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of theft. In a resolution dated 9 November 1998, the trial court denied Caballes' motion for reconsideration. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court decision on 15 September 1998. Caballes appealed the decision by certiorari.
Whether or not warrantless search without consent is valid.
The constitutional proscription against warrantless searches and seizures is not absolute but admits of certain exceptions, namely: (1) warrantless search incidental to a lawful arrest recognized under Section 12, Rule 126 of the Rules of Court and by prevailing jurisprudence; (2) seizure of evidence in plain view; (3) search of moving vehicles; (4) consented warrantless search; (5) customs search; (6) stop and frisk situations (Terry search); and (7) exigent and emergency circumstances.
In cases where warrant is necessary, the steps prescribed by the Constitution and reiterated in the Rules of Court must be complied with. In the exceptional events where warrant is not necessary to effect a valid search or seizure, or when the latter cannot be performed except without a warrant, what constitutes a reasonable or unreasonable search or seizure is purely a judicial question, determinable from the uniqueness of the circumstances involved, including the purpose of the search or seizure, the presence or absence of probable cause, the manner in which the search and seizure was made, the place or thing searched and the character of the articles procured.
It is not controverted that the search and seizure conducted by the police officers in the case at bar was not authorized by a search warrant. The main issue is whether the evidence taken from the warrantless search is admissible against the appellant. Without said evidence, the prosecution cannot prove the guilt of the appellant beyond reasonable doubt.
The mere mobility of these vehicles, however, does not give the police officers unlimited discretion to conduct indiscriminate searches without warrants if made within the interior of the territory and in the absence of probable cause.
Herein, the police officers did not merely conduct a visual search or visual inspection of Caballes' vehicle. They had to reach inside the vehicle, lift the kakawati leaves and look inside the sacks before they were able to see the cable wires. It thus cannot be considered a simple routine check.
And Caballes' vehicle was flagged down because the police officers who were on routine patrol became suspicious when they saw that the back of the vehicle was covered with kakawati leaves which, according to them, was unusual and uncommon.
The fact that the vehicle looked suspicious simply because it is not common for such to be covered with kakawati leaves does not constitute "probable cause" as would justify the conduct of a search without a warrant.
In addition, the police authorities do not claim to have received any confidential report or tipped information that the petitioner was carrying stolen cable wires in his vehicle which could otherwise have sustained their suspicion. Philippine jurisprudence is replete with cases where tipped information has become a sufficient probable cause to effect a warrantless search and seizure.
Unfortunately, none exists in the present case. Further, the evidence is lacking that Caballes intentionally surrendered his right against unreasonable searches. The manner by which the two police officers allegedly obtained the consent of Caballes for them to conduct the search leaves much to be desired. When Caballes' vehicle was flagged down, Sgt. Noceja approached Caballes and "told him I will look at the contents of his vehicle and he answered in the positive." By uttering those words, it cannot be said the police officers were asking or requesting for permission that they be allowed to search the vehicle of Caballes. For all intents and purposes, they were informing, nay, imposing upon Caballes that they will search his vehicle. The "consent" given under intimidating or coercive circumstances is no consent within the purview of the constitutional guaranty. In addition, in cases where the Court upheld the validity of consented search, it will be noted that the police authorities expressly asked, in no uncertain terms, for the consent of the accused to be searched. And the consent of the accused was established by clear and positive proof. Neither can Caballes' passive submission be construed as an implied acquiescence to the warrantless search.
Casting aside the cable wires as evidence, the remaining evidence on record are insufficient to sustain Caballes' conviction. His guilt can only be established without violating the constitutional right of the accused against unreasonable search and seizure.