search and seizure

Unreasonable Search and Seizure in Drug Cases

A person apprehended due to possession or use of illegal drugs under the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Law can raise the defense that he was subjected to unreasonable search by a law enforcement officer. Persons have an inviolable constitutional right under Section 2 of the Bill of Rights to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures of whatever nature. In short, even if the person is actually in possession of illegal drugs, the said confiscated items can still be held inadmissible in court.

The general rule is that a search warrant is required for a police officer to compel a person to allow entry in his house for the purpose of confirming the existence of illegal drugs and confiscating the same. There are several exceptions to this general rule.

One of these exceptions is warrantless search as an incident to an arrest. A person lawfully arrested may be searched for dangerous weapons or anything which may have been used or constitute proof in the commission of an offense without a search warrant. Other exceptions include (a) search of evidence in “plain view”; (b) search of a moving vehicle; (c) consented warrantless search; (d) customs search; (e) stop and frisk; and (f) exigent and emergency circumstances.

The absence of a search warrant, when the case does not fall in any of these exceptions, is fatal to the case of the prosecution. In People v. Collado (G.R. No. 185719, June 17, 2013), the apprehending officers entered the house of the accused, where they found open plastic sachets (containing shabu residue), pieces of rolled used aluminum foil, and pieces of used aluminum foil.

Despite this very obvious discovery of the commission of a crime (i.e. possession of illegal drugs and paraphernalia), the Supreme Court still acquitted the accused on the ground of lack of a search warrant. “The arresting officers had no personal knowledge that at the time of the arrest, accused had just committed, were committing, or were about to commit a crime, as they had no probable cause to enter the house of accused Rafael Gonzales in order to arrest them.”

A person arrested for possession of illegal drugs has the right to object to the introduction of evidence obtained from a warrantless search. The prosecution then has the burden to prove that the warrantless search falls under an exception to the general rule that a warrant is required for the search.

Respicio & Co. specializes in criminal law and defense of persons accused of drug-related offenses.