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Luz v. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 197788, 29 February 2012.

18 Apr

[SERENO, J.]

FACTS: PO3 Alteza flagged down Rodel Luz for violating a municipal ordinance which requires all motorcycle drivers to wear helmets while driving their motorcyles. PO3 Alteza invited the Luz to come inside their sub-station since the place where he flagged down the Luz is almost in front of the said sub-station. While issuing a citation ticket for violation of municipal ordinance, PO3 Alteza noticed that Luz was uneasy and kept on getting something from his jacket. Alerted and so, he told the Luz to take out the contents of the pocket of his jacket as the latter may have a weapon inside it.  Luzo bliged 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. Upon seeing the said container, he asked Luz to open it. After Luz opened the container, PO3 Alteza noticed a cartoon cover and something beneath it, and that upon his instruction, the former 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. Luz was later charged for illegal possession of dangerous drugs. Luz claims that there was no lawful search and seizure because there was no lawful arrest. The RTC found that Luz was lawfully arrested. Upon review, the CA affirmed the RTCs Decision.

 

ISSUE #1: Can Luz be considered lawfully arrested based on traffic violation under the city ordinance, and such arrest lead to a valid search and seizure?

HELD #1: NO, Luz was not lawfully arrested. 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. It is effected by an actual restraint of the person to be arrested or by that persons 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.

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.

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 officers issuance (or intent to issue) a traffic citation ticket negates the possibility of an arrest for the same violation.

 

ISSUE #2: Assuming that Luz was deemed arrested, was there a valid warrantless search and seizure that can still produce conviction?

HELD#2: NO. Even if one were to work under the assumption that Luz 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. 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.

[T]here being no valid arrest, the warrantless search that resulted from it was likewise illegal. The subject items seized during the illegal arrest are inadmissible. 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.

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