G.R. Nos. 140546-47. January 20, 2003

FACTS

A raid conducted by operatives of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and Philippine National Police Narcotics Command (PNP NARCOM) at premises allegedly leased by Modesto Tee – a Chinese national in his forties, a businessman, and a resident of Baguio City, which yielded huge quantities of marijuana.

The PNP NARCOM had received a tip regarding the presence of a huge amount of drugs in a rented room of Tee. They sought the permission of Nazarea Abreau- the owner, to enter the room rented by appellant. She acceded and allowed them entry. Without wherein the NBI agents possessed a total amount of  336.93 kilograms of marijuana.

Later that evening, the NBI operatives applied for a search warrant from RTC Judge Antonio Reyes to direct a search on appellant’s residence for marijuana. The search was witnessed by Tee, members of his family, barangay officials, and members of the media. Photographs were taken during the actual search. The law enforcers found  a total weight of  591.81 kilograms of marijuana. Tee was arrested.

In defense, Tee moved to quash the search warrant on the ground that the physical evidence of the prosecution was illegally obtained, being the products of an unlawful search, hence inadmissible. He insisted that the search warrant was (1) too general that the phrase “an undetermined amount of marijuana” as used in the search warrant fails to satisfy the requirement of Article III, Section 2 of the Constitution that the things to be seized must be particularly described. (2) that the Judge who issued Search Warrant No. 415 (7-98) failed to exhaustively examine the applicant and his witness and the dispositions of witnesses were not attached

ART III, SEC. 2. The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures of whatever nature and for any purpose shall be inviolable, and no search warrant or warrant of arrest shall issue except upon probable cause to be determined personally by the judge after examination under oath or affirmation of the complainant and the witnesses he may produce, and particularly describing the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized.

The pendency of said motion, however, did not stop the filing of the 2 criminal case against appellant. City Prosecutor of Baguio City charged Tee with illegal possession of marijuana with a grand total weight of 928.74 kilograms, a prohibited drug, without the authority of law to possess in violation of Section 8 of Republic Act No. 6425.

The trial court agreed with appellant that the taking of the 336.93 kilograms of marijuana was the result of an illegal search on the rented premise and hence, inadmissible. However, for the second case the prosecution’s evidence was more than ample to prove appellant’s which duly convicted him of illegal possession of marijuana and sentenced him to death.

ISSUE

(1)  Whether or not there is a valid search conducted at the Tee’s residence.

HELD

No. The constitutional requirement of reasonable particularity of description of the things to be seized is primarily meant to enable the law enforcers serving the warrant to: (1) readily identify the properties to be seized and thus prevent them from seizing the wrong items; and (2) leave said peace officers with no discretion regarding the articles to be seized and thus prevent unreasonable searches and seizures. What the Constitution seeks to avoid are search warrants of broad or general characterization or sweeping descriptions, which will authorize police officers to undertake a fishing expedition to seize and confiscate any and all kinds of evidence or articles relating to an offense. However, it is not required that technical precision of description be required,  particularly, where by the nature of the goods to be seized, their description must be rather general, since the requirement of a technical description would mean that no warrant could issue.

The description “an undetermined amount of marijuana” must be held to satisfy the requirement for particularity in a search warrant. Noteworthy, what is to be seized in the instant case is property of a specified character, i.e., marijuana, an illicit drug. A further description would be unnecessary and ordinarily impossible, except as to such character, the place, and the circumstances.

The search warrant in the present case, given its nearly similar wording, “undetermined amount of marijuana or Indian hemp,” in our view, has satisfied the Constitution’s requirements on particularity of description. The description therein is: (1) as specific as the circumstances will ordinarily allow; (2) expresses a conclusion of fact—not of law—by which the peace officers may be guided in making the search and seizure; and (3) limits the things to be seized to those which bear direct relation to the offense for which the warrant is being issued. Said warrant imposes a meaningful restriction upon the objects to be seized by the officers serving the warrant. Thus, it prevents exploratory searches, which might be violative of the Bill of Rights.

Before a valid search warrant is issued, both the Constitution and the 2000 Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure require that the judge must personally examine the complainant and his witnesses under oath or affirmation. The personal examination must not be merely routinary or pro forma, but must be probing and exhaustive. The purpose of the Rules in requiring depositions to be taken is to satisfy the examining magistrate as to the existence of probable cause. The Bill of Rights does not make it an imperative necessity that depositions be attached to the records of an application for a search warrant. Hence, said omission is not necessarily fatal, for as long as there is evidence on the record showing what testimony was presented. It is presumed that a judicial function has been regularly performed, absent a showing to the contrary. A magistrate’s determination of probable cause for the issuance of a search warrant is paid great deference by a reviewing court, as long as there was substantial basis for that determination.Substantial basis means that the questions of the examining judge brought out such facts and circumstances as would lead a reasonably discreet and prudent man to believe that an offense has

DISPOSITIVE PORTION

WHEREFORE, the decision of the Regional Trial Court of Baguio City, Branch 6, in Criminal Case No. 15800-R, convicting appellant MODESTO TEE alias “ESTOY” TEE of violation of Section 8 of Republic Act No. 6425, as amended, is AFFIRMED with the MODIFICATION that appellant is hereby sentenced to suffer the penalty of reclusion perpetua. The fine of ONE MILLION (P1,000,000.00) PESOS imposed on him is sustained. Appellant is likewise directed to pay the costs of suit.

SO ORDERED.

DOCTRINE

What the Constitution seeks to avoid are search warrants of broad or general characterization or sweeping descriptions, which will authorize police officers to undertake a fishing expedition to seize and confiscate any and all kinds of evidence or articles relating to an offense.

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