People vs. Nuevas, G.R. No. 170233, February 22, 2007

Facts:
PO3 Teofilo B. Fami (Fami) testified that in the morning of 27 September 1997, he and SPO3 Cesar B. Cabling (Cabling) conducted a stationary surveillance and monitoring of illegal drug trafficking along Perimeter Street, Barangay Pag-asa, Olongapo City. They had received information that a certain male person, more or less 5’4″ in height, 25 to 30 years old, with a tattoo mark on the upper right hand, and usually wearing a sando and maong pants, would make a delivery of marijuana dried leaves. While stationed thereat, they saw a male person who fit the description, carrying a plastic bag, later identified as Jesus Nuevas (Nuevas), alight from a motor vehicle. They accosted Nuevas and informed him that they are police officers. Fami asked Nuevas where he was going. Nuevas answered arrogantly but afterwards, calmed down. Nuevas and Fami conversed in the Waray dialect. Nuevas informed him that there were other stuff in the possession of a certain Vangie, an associate, and two other male persons. Later on, Nuevas voluntarily pointed to the police officers a plastic bag which, when opened, contained marijuana dried leaves and bricks wrapped in a blue cloth. Shortly, in his bid to escape charges, Nuevas disclosed where the two (2) other male persons would make the delivery of marijuana weighing more or less five (5) kilos.

Fami and Cabling, together with Nuevas, then proceeded to Purok 12, Old Cabalan, Olongapo City, which according to Nuevas was where his two (2) companions, Din and Inocencio, could be located. From there, they saw and approached two (2) persons along the National Highway, introducing themselves as police officers. Din was carrying a light blue plastic bag. When asked, Din disclosed that the bag belonged to Nuevas. Fami then took the bag and upon inspection found inside it “marijuana packed in newspaper and wrapped therein.” After confiscating the items, Fami and Cabling brought Nuevas, Din and Inocencio to the police office at Purok III for proper documentation. Fami further testified that a receipt for the property seized was issued by Cabling and that a field test was duly conducted on the confiscated items. All three accused were likewise physically examined on the basis of which corresponding medical certificates were issued. The corresponding booking sheets and arrest report were also accomplished. Fami stated that he and Cabling executed a joint affidavit in connection with the arrest of all the accused and the confiscation of the items.

All three were found guilty as charged and the judgment of conviction was elevated to the Court for automatic review. However, on 14 July 2003, Nuevas filed a manifestation and motion to withdraw appeal. The Court granted Nuevas’s withdrawal of appeal and considered the case closed and terminated as to him.

pursuant to the Court’s ruling in People v. Efren Mateo the cases were transferred to the Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals affirmed the decision of the RTC. Hence this instant case:

Issue:
Whether there was a valid warrantless search against the petitioner.

Held:
No, a valid warrantless search is as follows:
1. Warrantless search incidental to a lawful arrest. (Sec. 12, Rule 126 of the Rules of Court and prevailing jurisprudence);
2. Search of evidence in “plain view.” The elements are: (a) a prior valid intrusion based on the valid warrantless arrest in which the police are legally present in the pursuit of their official duties; (b) the evidence was inadvertently discovered by the police who have the right to be where they are; (c) the evidence must be immediately apparent; (d) “plain view” justified mere seizure of evidence without further search;
3. Search of a moving vehicle. Highly regulated by the government, the vehicle’s inherent mobility reduces expectation of privacy especially when its transit in public thoroughfares furnishes a highly reasonable suspicion amounting to probable cause that the occupant committed a criminal activity;
4. Consented warrantless search;
5. Customs search;
6. Stop and Frisk; and
7. Exigent and emergency circumstances.

The Court holds that the searches and seizures conducted do not fall under the first exception, warrantless searches incidental to lawful arrests.

A search incidental to a lawful arrest is sanctioned by the Rules of Court. Recent jurisprudence holds that the arrest must precede the search; the process cannot be reversed as in this case where the search preceded the arrest. Nevertheless, a search substantially contemporaneous with an arrest can precede the arrest if the police have probable cause to make the arrest at the outset of the search.

Secondly, neither could the searches be justified under the plain view doctrine.

An object is in plain view if it is plainly exposed to sight. Where the object seized was inside a closed package, the object itself is not in plain view and therefore cannot be seized without a warrant. However, if the package proclaims its contents, whether by its distinctive configuration, its transparency, or if its contents are obvious to an observer, then the contents are in plain view and may be seized. In other words, if the package is such that an experienced observer could infer from its appearance that it contains the prohibited article, then the article is deemed in plain view. It must be immediately apparent to the police that the items that they observe may be evidence of a crime, contraband or otherwise subject to seizure.

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