People vs. Vinecario, GR 141137, 20 January 2004
On the night of April 10, 1995, at around 10:45 p.m as police officers were manning a checkpoint at Ulas, Davao City pursuant to COMELEC Resolution No. 2735, otherwise known as the COMELEC gun ban, a Honda TMX motorcycle with three men namely Victor Vinecario, Arnold Roble and Gerlyn Wates on board sped past them. One of the police officers blew his whistle and ordered them to return to the checkpoint. When the three men were asked by the police officer why they sped away to which appellant Victor retorted that he is a member of the army but when he was asked by the law enforcers to produce an identification card, he could not, however, offer any. The police officers then noticed that a big military backpack was slung over the right shoulder of Vinecario who was observed, as were his co-appellants, to be afraid and acting suspiciously. Suspecting that the backpack contained a bomb, SPO1 Goc-ong instructed his men to disperse, following which he ordered Vinecario to open the bag. SPO1 Goc-ong then touched the stuff wrapped in paper upon which Vinecario grabbed it, resulting to the tearing-off of the paper wrapper. Soon the smell of marijuana wafted in the air.
Vinecario, Roble and Wates were found guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the offense of RA 6425 as amended by Rep. Act 7659, Sec. 20, par. 5 thereof, are jointly sentenced (sic) to suffer the supreme penalty of death by lethal injection by the RTC of Davao. But in a resolution, Vinecario argues that the prosecution failed to show that the search conducted by the police officers was incident to a lawful arrest; that he could not have been deemed to have consented to the search as any such consent was given under intimidating or coercive circumstances; and that there existed no probable cause to justify the search and seizure of the backpack, hence, the marijuana is inadmissible in evidence, it being a product of illegal search.
Whether or not the search conducted in checkpoints upon the person of accused-appellant and the seizure of the alleged of marijuana is valid.
Yes, search conducted in checkpoints upon the person of accused-appellant and the seizure of the alleged of marijuana is valid. Searches conducted in checkpoints are valid for as long as they are warranted by the exigencies of public order and are conducted in a way least intrusive to motorists. For as long as the vehicle is neither searched nor its occupants subjected to a body search, and the inspection of the vehicle is limited to a visual search, said routine checks cannot be regarded as violative of an individual’s right against unreasonable search.
Although the general rule is that motorists and their vehicles as well as pedestrians passing through checkpoints may only be subjected to a routine inspection, vehicles may be stopped and extensively searched when there is probable cause which justifies a reasonable belief of the men at the checkpoints that either the motorist is a law offender or the contents of the vehicle are or have been instruments of some offense. Warrantless search of the personal effects of an accused has been declared by this Court as valid, because of the existence of probable cause, where the smell of marijuana emanated from a plastic bag owned by the accused, or where the accused was acting suspiciously, and attempted to flee.