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683 Phil. 399

SECOND DIVISION

[ G. R. No. 197788, February 29, 2012 ]

RODEL LUZ Y ONG, PETITIONER, VS. PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES,[1] RESPONDENT.

D E C I S I O N

SERENO, J.:

This is a Petition for Review on Certiorari under Rule 45 seeking to set aside the Court of Appeals (CA) Decision in CA-G.R. CR No. 32516 dated 18 February 2011[2] and Resolution dated 8 July 2011.

Statement of the Facts and of the Case

The facts, as found by the Regional Trial Court (RTC), which sustained the version of the prosecution, are as follows:

PO2 Emmanuel L. Alteza, who was then assigned at the Sub-Station 1 of the Naga City Police Station as a traffic enforcer, substantially testified that on March 10, 2003 at around 3:00 o’clock in the morning, he saw the accused, who was coming from the direction of Panganiban Drive and going to Diversion Road, Naga City, driving a motorcycle without a helmet; that this prompted him to flag down the accused for violating a municipal ordinance which requires all motorcycle drivers to wear helmet (sic) while driving said motor vehicle; that he invited the accused to come inside their sub-station since the place where he flagged down the accused is almost in front of the said sub-station; that while he and SPO1 Rayford Brillante were issuing a citation ticket for violation of municipal ordinance, he noticed that the accused was uneasy and kept on getting something from his jacket; that he was alerted and so, he told the accused to take out the contents of the pocket of his jacket as the latter may have a weapon inside it; that the accused obliged and slowly put out the contents of the pocket of his jacket which was a nickel-like tin or metal container about two (2) to three (3) inches in size, including two (2) cellphones, one (1) pair of scissors and one (1) Swiss knife; that upon seeing the said container, he asked the accused to open it; that after the accused opened the container, he noticed a cartoon cover and something beneath it; and that upon his instruction, the accused spilled out the contents of the container on the table which turned out to be four (4) plastic sachets, the two (2) of which were empty while the other two (2) contained suspected shabu.[3]

Arraigned on 2 July 2003, petitioner, assisted by counsel, entered a plea of “Not guilty” to the charge of illegal possession of dangerous drugs. Pretrial was terminated on 24 September 2003, after which, trial ensued.

During trial, Police Officer 3 (PO3) Emmanuel Alteza and a forensic chemist testified for the prosecution. On the other hand, petitioner testified for himself and raised the defense of planting of evidence and extortion.

In its 19 February 2009 Decision,[4] the RTC convicted petitioner of illegal possession of dangerous drugs[5] committed on 10 March 2003. It found the prosecution evidence sufficient to show that he had been lawfully arrested for a traffic violation and then subjected to a valid search, which led to the discovery on his person of two plastic sachets later found to contain shabu. The RTC also found his defense of frame-up and extortion to be weak, self-serving and unsubstantiated. The dispositive portion of its Decision held:

WHEREFORE, judgment is hereby rendered, finding accused RODEL LUZ y ONG GUILTY beyond reasonable doubt for the crime of violation of Section 11, Article II of Republic Act No. 9165 and sentencing him to suffer the indeterminate penalty of imprisonment ranging from twelve (12) years and (1) day, as minimum, to thirteen (13) years, as maximum, and to pay a fine of Three Hundred Thousand Pesos (?300,000.00).

The subject shabu is hereby confiscated for turn over to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency for its proper disposition and destruction in accordance with law.

SO ORDERED.[6]

Upon review, the CA affirmed the RTC’s Decision.

On 12 September 2011, petitioner filed under Rule 45 the instant Petition for Review on Certiorari dated 1 September 2011. In a Resolution dated 12 October 2011, this Court required respondent to file a comment on the Petition. On 4 January 2012, the latter filed its Comment dated 3 January 2012.

Petitioner raised the following grounds in support of his Petition:

(i) THE SEARCH AND SEIZURE OF THE ALLEGED SUBJECT SHABU IS INVALID.

(ii) THE PRESUMPTION OF REGULARITY IN THE PERFORMANCE OF DUTY OF THE POLICE OFFICER CANNOT BE RELIED UPON IN THIS CASE.

(iii) THE INTEGRITY AND EVIDENTIARY VALUE OF THE ALLEGED SUBJECT SPECIMEN HAS BEEN COMPROMISED.

(iv) THE GUILT OF THE ACCUSED-PETITIONER WAS NOT PROVEN BEYOND THE REASONABLE DOUBT (sic).[7]

Petitioner claims that there was no lawful search and seizure, because there was no lawful arrest. He claims that the finding that there was a lawful arrest was erroneous, since he was not even issued a citation ticket or charged with violation of the city ordinance. Even assuming there was a valid arrest, he claims that he had never consented to the search conducted upon him.

On the other hand, finding that petitioner had been lawfully arrested, the RTC held thus:

It is beyond dispute that the accused was flagged down and apprehended in this case by Police Officers Alteza and Brillante for violation of City Ordinance No. 98-012, an ordinance requiring the use of crash helmet by motorcycle drivers and riders thereon in the City of Naga and prescribing penalties for violation thereof. The accused himself admitted that he was not wearing a helmet at the time when he was flagged down by the said police officers, albeit he had a helmet in his possession. Obviously, there is legal basis on the part of the apprehending officers to flag down and arrest the accused because the latter was actually committing a crime in their presence, that is, a violation of City Ordinance No. 98-012. In other words, the accused, being caught in flagrante delicto violating the said Ordinance, he could therefore be lawfully stopped or arrested by the apprehending officers. x x x.[8]

We find the Petition to be impressed with merit, but not for the particular reasons alleged. In criminal cases, an appeal throws the entire case wide open for review and the reviewing tribunal can correct errors, though unassigned in the appealed judgment, or even reverse the trial court’s decision based on grounds other than those that the parties raised as errors.[9]

First, there was no valid arrest of petitioner. When he was flagged down for committing a traffic violation, he was not, ipso facto and solely for this reason, arrested.

Arrest is the taking of a person into custody in order that he or she may be bound to answer for the commission of an offense.[10] It is effected by an actual restraint of the person to be arrested or by that person’s voluntary submission to the custody of the one making the arrest. Neither the application of actual force, manual touching of the body, or physical restraint, nor a formal declaration of arrest, is required. It is enough that there be an intention on the part of one of the parties to arrest the other, and that there be an intent on the part of the other to submit, under the belief and impression that submission is necessary.[11]

Under R.A. 4136, or the Land Transportation and Traffic Code, the general procedure for dealing with a traffic violation is not the arrest of the offender, but the confiscation of the driver’s license of the latter:

SECTION 29. Confiscation of Driver's License. — Law enforcement and peace officers of other agencies duly deputized by the Director shall, in apprehending a driver for any violation of this Act or any regulations issued pursuant thereto, or of local traffic rules and regulations not contrary to any provisions of this Act, confiscate the license of the driver concerned and issue a receipt prescribed and issued by the Bureau therefor which shall authorize the driver to operate a motor vehicle for a period not exceeding seventy-two hours from the time and date of issue of said receipt. The period so fixed in the receipt shall not be extended, and shall become invalid thereafter. Failure of the driver to settle his case within fifteen days from the date of apprehension will be a ground for the suspension and/or revocation of his license.

Similarly, the Philippine National Police (PNP) Operations Manual[12] provides the following procedure for flagging down vehicles during the conduct of checkpoints:

SECTION 7. Procedure in Flagging Down or Accosting Vehicles While in Mobile Car. This rule is a general concept and will not apply in hot pursuit operations. The mobile car crew shall undertake the following, when applicable: x x x

m. If it concerns traffic violations, immediately issue a Traffic Citation Ticket (TCT) or Traffic Violation Report (TVR). Never indulge in prolonged, unnecessary conversation or argument with the driver or any of the vehicle’s occupants;

At the time that he was waiting for PO3 Alteza to write his citation ticket, petitioner could not be said to have been “under arrest.” There was no intention on the part of PO3 Alteza to arrest him, deprive him of his liberty, or take him into custody. Prior to the issuance of the ticket, the period during which petitioner was at the police station may be characterized merely as waiting time. In fact, as found by the trial court, PO3 Alteza himself testified that the only reason they went to the police sub-station was that petitioner had been flagged down “almost in front” of that place. Hence, it was only for the sake of convenience that they were waiting there. There was no intention to take petitioner into custody.

In Berkemer v. McCarty,[13] the United States (U.S.) Supreme Court discussed at length whether the roadside questioning of a motorist detained pursuant to a routine traffic stop should be considered custodial interrogation. The Court held that, such questioning does not fall under custodial interrogation, nor can it be considered a formal arrest, by virtue of the nature of the questioning, the expectations of the motorist and the officer, and the length of time the procedure is conducted. It ruled as follows:

It must be acknowledged at the outset that a traffic stop significantly curtails the “freedom of action” of the driver and the passengers, if any, of the detained vehicle. Under the law of most States, it is a crime either to ignore a policeman’s signal to stop one’s car or, once having stopped, to drive away without permission. x x x

However, we decline to accord talismanic power to the phrase in the Miranda opinion emphasized by respondent. Fidelity to the doctrine announced in Miranda requires that it be enforced strictly, but only in those types of situations in which the concerns that powered the decision are implicated. Thus, we must decide whether a traffic stop exerts upon a detained person pressures that sufficiently impair his free exercise of his privilege against self-incrimination to require that he be warned of his constitutional rights.

Two features of an ordinary traffic stop mitigate the danger that a person questioned will be induced “to speak where he would not otherwise do so freely,” Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U. S., at 467. First, detention of a motorist pursuant to a traffic stop is presumptively temporary and brief. The vast majority of roadside detentions last only a few minutes. A motorist’s expectations, when he sees a policeman’s light flashing behind him, are that he will be obliged to spend a short period of time answering questions and waiting while the officer checks his license and registration, that he may then be given a citation, but that in the end he most likely will be allowed to continue on his way. In this respect, questioning incident to an ordinary traffic stop is quite different from stationhouse interrogation, which frequently is prolonged, and in which the detainee often is aware that questioning will continue until he provides his interrogators the answers they seek. See id., at 451.

Second, circumstances associated with the typical traffic stop are not such that the motorist feels completely at the mercy of the police. To be sure, the aura of authority surrounding an armed, uniformed officer and the knowledge that the officer has some discretion in deciding whether to issue a citation, in combination, exert some pressure on the detainee to respond to questions. But other aspects of the situation substantially offset these forces. Perhaps most importantly, the typical traffic stop is public, at least to some degree. x x x

In both of these respects, the usual traffic stop is more analogous to a so-called “Terry stop,” see Terry v. Ohio, 392 U. S. 1 (1968), than to a formal arrest. x x x The comparatively nonthreatening character of detentions of this sort explains the absence of any suggestion in our opinions that Terry stops are subject to the dictates of Miranda. The similarly noncoercive aspect of ordinary traffic stops prompts us to hold that persons temporarily detained pursuant to such stops are not “in custody” for the purposes of Miranda.

x x x            x x x             x x x

We are confident that the state of affairs projected by respondent will not come to pass. It is settled that the safeguards prescribed by Miranda become applicable as soon as a suspect’s freedom of action is curtailed to a “degree associated with formal arrest.” California v. Beheler, 463 U. S. 1121, 1125 (1983) (per curiam). If a motorist who has been detained pursuant to a traffic stop thereafter is subjected to treatment that renders him “in custody” for practical purposes, he will be entitled to the full panoply of protections prescribed by Miranda. See Oregon v. Mathiason, 429 U. S. 492, 495 (1977) (per curiam). (Emphasis supplied.)

The U.S. Court in Berkemer thus ruled that, since the motorist therein was only subjected to modest questions while still at the scene of the traffic stop, he was not at that moment placed under custody (such that he should have been apprised of his Miranda rights), and neither can treatment of this sort be fairly characterized as the functional equivalent of a formal arrest. Similarly, neither can petitioner here be considered “under arrest” at the time that his traffic citation was being made.

It also appears that, according to City Ordinance No. 98-012, which was violated by petitioner, the failure to wear a crash helmet while riding a motorcycle is penalized by a fine only. Under the Rules of Court, a warrant of arrest need not be issued if the information or charge was filed for an offense penalized by a fine only. It may be stated as a corollary that neither can a warrantless arrest be made for such an offense.

This ruling does not imply that there can be no arrest for a traffic violation. Certainly, when there is an intent on the part of the police officer to deprive the motorist of liberty, or to take the latter into custody, the former may be deemed to have arrested the motorist. In this case, however, the officer’s issuance (or intent to issue) a traffic citation ticket negates the possibility of an arrest for the same violation.

Even if one were to work under the assumption that petitioner was deemed “arrested” upon being flagged down for a traffic violation and while awaiting the issuance of his ticket, then the requirements for a valid arrest were not complied with.

This Court has held that at the time a person is arrested, it shall be the duty of the arresting officer to inform the latter of the reason for the arrest and must show that person the warrant of arrest, if any. Persons shall be informed of their constitutional rights to remain silent and to counsel, and that any statement they might make could be used against them.[14] It may also be noted that in this case, these constitutional requirements were complied with by the police officers only after petitioner had been arrested for illegal possession of dangerous drugs.

In Berkemer, the U.S. Court also noted that the Miranda warnings must also be given to a person apprehended due to a traffic violation:

The purposes of the safeguards prescribed by Miranda are to ensure that the police do not coerce or trick captive suspects into confessing, to relieve the “inherently compelling pressures” “generated by the custodial setting itself,” “which work to undermine the individual’s will to resist,” and as much as possible to free courts from the task of scrutinizing individual cases to try to determine, after the fact, whether particular confessions were voluntary. Those purposes are implicated as much by in-custody questioning of persons suspected of misdemeanors as they are by questioning of persons suspected of felonies.

If it were true that petitioner was already deemed “arrested” when he was flagged down for a traffic violation and while he waiting for his ticket, then there would have been no need for him to be arrested for a second time—after the police officers allegedly discovered the drugs—as he was already in their custody.

Second, there being no valid arrest, the warrantless search that resulted from it was likewise illegal.

The following are the instances when a warrantless search is allowed: (i) a warrantless search incidental to a lawful arrest; (ii) search of evidence in “plain view;” (iii) search of a moving vehicle; (iv) consented warrantless search; (v) customs search; (vi) a “stop and frisk” search; and (vii) exigent and emergency circumstances.[15] None of the above-mentioned instances, especially a search incident to a lawful arrest, are applicable to this case.

It must be noted that the evidence seized, although alleged to be inadvertently discovered, was not in “plain view.” It was actually concealed inside a metal container inside petitioner’s pocket. Clearly, the evidence was not immediately apparent.[16]

Neither was there a consented warrantless search. Consent to a search is not to be lightly inferred, but shown by clear and convincing evidence.[17] It must be voluntary in order to validate an otherwise illegal search; that is, the consent must be unequivocal, specific, intelligently given and uncontaminated by any duress or coercion. While the prosecution claims that petitioner acceded to the instruction of PO3 Alteza, this alleged accession does not suffice to prove valid and intelligent consent. In fact, the RTC found that petitioner was merely “told” to take out the contents of his pocket.[18]

Whether consent to the search was in fact voluntary is a question of fact to be determined from the totality of all the circumstances. Relevant to this determination are the following characteristics of the person giving consent and the environment in which consent is given: (1) the age of the defendant; (2) whether the defendant was in a public or a secluded location; (3) whether the defendant objected to the search or passively looked on; (4) the education and intelligence of the defendant; (5) the presence of coercive police procedures; (6) the defendant’s belief that no incriminating evidence would be found; (7) the nature of the police questioning; (8) the environment in which the questioning took place; and (9) the possibly vulnerable subjective state of the person consenting. It is the State that has the burden of proving, by clear and positive testimony, that the necessary consent was obtained, and was freely and voluntarily given.[19] In this case, all that was alleged was that petitioner was alone at the police station at three in the morning, accompanied by several police officers. These circumstances weigh heavily against a finding of valid consent to a warrantless search.

Neither does the search qualify under the “stop and frisk” rule. While the rule normally applies when a police officer observes suspicious or unusual conduct, which may lead him to believe that a criminal act may be afoot, the stop and frisk is merely a limited protective search of outer clothing for weapons.[20]

In Knowles v. Iowa,[21] the U.S. Supreme Court held that when a police officer stops a person for speeding and correspondingly issues a citation instead of arresting the latter, this procedure does not authorize the officer to conduct a full search of the car. The Court therein held that there was no justification for a full-blown search when the officer does not arrest the motorist. Instead, police officers may only conduct minimal intrusions, such as ordering the motorist to alight from the car or doing a patdown:

In Robinson, supra, we noted the two historical rationales for the “search incident to arrest” exception: (1) the need to disarm the suspect in order to take him into custody, and (2) the need to preserve evidence for later use at trial. x x x But neither of these underlying rationales for the search incident to arrest exception is sufficient to justify the search in the present case.

We have recognized that the first rationale—officer safety—is “‘both legitimate and weighty,’” x x x The threat to officer safety from issuing a traffic citation, however, is a good deal less than in the case of a custodial arrest. In Robinson, we stated that a custodial arrest involves “danger to an officer” because of “the extended exposure which follows the taking of a suspect into custody and transporting him to the police station.” 414 U. S., at 234-235. We recognized that “[t]he danger to the police officer flows from the fact of the arrest, and its attendant proximity, stress, and uncertainty, and not from the grounds for arrest.” Id., at 234, n. 5. A routine traffic stop, on the other hand, is a relatively brief encounter and “is more analogous to a so-called ‘Terry stop’ . . . than to a formal arrest.” Berkemer v. McCarty, 468 U. S. 420, 439 (1984). See also Cupp v. Murphy, 412 U. S. 291, 296 (1973) (“Where there is no formal arrest . . . a person might well be less hostile to the police and less likely to take conspicuous, immediate steps to destroy incriminating evidence”).
This is not to say that the concern for officer safety is absent in the case of a routine traffic stop. It plainly is not. See Mimms, supra, at 110; Wilson, supra, at 413-414. But while the concern for officer safety in this context may justify the “minimal” additional intrusion of ordering a driver and passengers out of the car, it does not by itself justify the often considerably greater intrusion attending a full fieldtype search. Even without the search authority Iowa urges, officers have other, independent bases to search for weapons and protect themselves from danger. For example, they may order out of a vehicle both the driver, Mimms, supra, at 111, and any passengers, Wilson, supra, at 414; perform a “patdown” of a driver and any passengers upon reasonable suspicion that they may be armed and dangerous, Terry v. Ohio, 392 U. S. 1 (1968); conduct a “Terry patdown” of the passenger compartment of a vehicle upon reasonable suspicion that an occupant is dangerous and may gain immediate control of a weapon, Michigan v. Long, 463 U. S. 1032, 1049 (1983); and even conduct a full search of the passenger compartment, including any containers therein, pursuant to a custodial arrest, New York v. Belton, 453 U. S. 454, 460 (1981).

Nor has Iowa shown the second justification for the authority to search incident to arrest—the need to discover and preserve evidence. Once Knowles was stopped for speeding and issued a citation, all the evidence necessary to prosecute that offense had been obtained. No further evidence of excessive speed was going to be found either on the person of the offender or in the passenger compartment of the car. (Emphasis supplied.)

The foregoing considered, petitioner must be acquitted. While he may have failed to object to the illegality of his arrest at the earliest opportunity, a waiver of an illegal warrantless arrest does not, however, mean a waiver of the inadmissibility of evidence seized during the illegal warrantless arrest.[22]

The Constitution guarantees the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures.[23] Any evidence obtained in violation of said right shall be inadmissible for any purpose in any proceeding. While the power to search and seize may at times be necessary to the public welfare, still it must be exercised and the law implemented without contravening the constitutional rights of citizens, for the enforcement of no statute is of sufficient importance to justify indifference to the basic principles of government.[24]

The subject items seized during the illegal arrest are inadmissible.[25] The drugs are the very corpus delicti of the crime of illegal possession of dangerous drugs. Thus, their inadmissibility precludes conviction and calls for the acquittal of the accused.[26]

WHEREFORE, the Petition is GRANTED. The 18 February 2011 Decision of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CR No. 32516 affirming the judgment of conviction dated 19 February 2009 of the Regional Trial Court, 5th Judicial Region, Naga City, Branch 21, in Criminal Case No. RTC 2003-0087, is hereby REVERSED and SET ASIDE. Petitioner Rodel Luz y Ong is hereby ACQUITTED and ordered immediately released from detention, unless his continued confinement is warranted by some other cause or ground.

SO ORDERED.

Carpio, (Chairperson), Brion, Perez, and Reyes, JJ., concur.



[1] The Petition was originally captioned as “Rodel Luz y Ong v. Hon. Court of Appeals, Hon. Presiding Judge, Regional Trial Court, Branch 21, Naga City.” However, under Section 4, Rule 45 of the Rules of Court, the petition must state the full name of the appealing party as the petitioner and the adverse party as respondent, without impleading the lower courts or judges thereof either as petitioners or respondents.

[2] Penned by Associate Justice Ricardo R. Rosario and concurred in by Associate Justices Hakim S. Abdulwahid and Samuel H. Gaerlan.

[3] Rollo, p. 91.

[4] Docketed as Criminal Case No. RTC 2003-0087; rollo, pp. 90-102.

[5] See Section 11, Republic Act No. (R.A.) 9165, or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.

[6] Rollo, p. 101.

[7] Rollo, p. 23.

[8] Id. at 96.

[9] People v. Saludes, 452 Phil. 719, 728 (2003).

[10] Rules of Court, Rule 113, Sec. 1.

[11] People v. Milado, 462 Phil. 411 (2003).

[12] PNPM-DO-DS-3-1 dated March 2010.

[13] 468 U.S. 420 (1984).

[14] Morales v. Enrile, 206 Phil. 466 (1983).

[15] People v. Bolasa, 378 Phil. 1073, 1078-1079 (1999).

[16] See People v. Macalaba, 443 Phil. 565 (2003).

[17] Caballes v. Court of Appeals, 424 Phil. 263 (2002).

[18] RTC Decision, rollo, p. 91.

[19] Caballes v. Court of Appeals, 424 Phil. 263 (2002).

[20] People v. Sy Chua, 444 Phil. 757 (2003).

[21] 525 U.S. 113 (1998).

[22] People v. Lapitaje, 445 Phil. 729 (2003).

[23] 1987 CONST., Art. III, Sec. 2.

[24] Valdez v. People, G.R. No. 170180, 23 November 2007, 538 SCRA 611.

[25] People v. Martinez, G.R. No. 191366, 13 December 2010.

[26] Id.

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