CASE BRIEF NO. 2019-0064


“ ‘Plain view’ doctrine cannot apply if the officers are actually “searching” for evidence against the accused.”


CASE: People of the Philippines vs. Billy Acosta [G.R. No. 238865, January 28, 2019]

PONENTE: Justice Estela Perlas-Bernabe

SUBJECT:
A.       R.A. NO. 9165 or the COMPREHENSIVE DANGEROUS DRUGS ACT OF 2002:
          i.        Section 16, Article II of RA 9165 – Illegal Planting and Cultivation of Marijuana Plant

B.       CONSTITUTIONAL LAW:
          i.        Plain view doctrine – Elements/requisites
          ii.       Search and Seizure
          iii.      Fruit of the poisonous tree
          iv.      Section 3 (2), Article III of the 1987 Constitution

FACTS:       
An Information was filed before the RTC accusing Acosta of the crime of Illegal Planting and Cultivation of Marijuana Plant, defined and penalized under Section 16, Article II of RA 9165.

The prosecution alleged that Salucana went to the Gingoog City Police Station to report a mauling incident where Acosta purportedly hit him with a piece of wood. He also reported that Acosta was illegally planting marijuana. Salucana’s foregoing reports prompted the police authorities to proceed to Acosta’s home. Thereat, Salucana positively identified Acosta who was then walking on the trail leading towards his house. The police officers then rushed towards Acosta and arrested him. After the arrest, SPO4 Legaspi found thirteen (13) hills of suspected marijuana plants planted beneath the “gabi” plants just outside Acosta’s home, and around a meter away from where he was arrested. Upon seeing the marijuana, SPO4 Legaspi immediately called Barangay Captain Rodulfo Maturan and three others to witness the uprooting of the suspected marijuana plants. Thereafter, they brought Acosta and the uprooted marijuana plants to the police station for the marking and inventory of the seized items.

In defense, Acosta denied the charges against him and maintained that the seized marijuana plants are inadmissible in evidence as the “plain view” doctrine is not applicable since the discovery was not inadvertent.

The Regional Trial Court (RTC) found Acosta guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime charged.

On appeal, the CA affirmed the RTC ruling.It held that the requirements of the “plain view” doctrine were complied with in that the police officers: (a) had prior justification to be in the area in order to apprehend Acosta for the mauling incident; (b) did not purposefully search for the marijuana plants but came across them inadvertently in the course of the arrest as they were in their line of sight; and (c) were able to recognize the marijuana plants owing to their different foliar characteristics from the “gabi” plants.

Hence, Acosta appealed to the Supreme Court (this Court) seeking his conviction be overturned.


ISSUES:
A.       What are the requisites/parameters for a “plain view doctrine” to apply?
B.       Whether or not the discovery of the marijuana plants were “inadvertent”.


RULING:

Preliminaries:
At the outset, it must be stressed that 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. The appeal confers the appellate court full jurisdiction over the case and renders such court competent to examine records, revise the judgment appealed from, increase the penalty, and cite the proper provision of the penal law [Sindac v. People, 794 Phil. 421 (2016)]

Section 2,Article III of the 1987 Constitution mandates that a search and seizure must be carried out through or on the strength of a judicial warrant predicated upon the existence of probable cause, absent which, such search and seizure become "unreasonable" within the meaning of said constitutional provision. To protect the people from unreasonable searches and seizures, Section 3 (2), Article III of the 1987 Constitution provides that evidence obtained from unreasonable searches and seizures shall be inadmissible in evidence for any purpose in any proceeding. In other words, evidence obtained and confiscated on the occasion of such unreasonable searches and seizures are deemed tainted and should be excluded for being the proverbial fruit of a poisonous tree.

A.      
One of the recognized exceptions to the need of a warrant before a search may be effected is when the “plain view” doctrine is applicable. In People v. Lagman (593 Phil. 617), this Court laid down the following parameters for its application”:

The ‘plain view’ doctrine applies when the following requisites concur: (a) the law enforcement officer in search of the evidence has a prior justification for an intrusion or is in a position from which he can view a particular area; (b) the discovery of evidence in plain view is inadvertent; (c) it is immediately apparent to the officer that the item he observes may be evidence of a crime, contraband or otherwise subject to seizure. The law enforcement officer must lawfully make an initial intrusion or properly be in a position from which he can particularly view the area. In the course of such lawful intrusion, he came inadvertently across a piece of evidence incriminating the accused. The object must be open to eye and hand and its discovery inadvertent.


B.
Acosta argues that the second requisite of the plain view doctrine is absent since the discovery of the police officers of the marijuana plants was not inadvertent as it was prompted by Salucana. After a careful review of the records, this Court is inclined to agree.

The testimonies of P/Insp. Gundaya, SPO4 Legaspi, and Salucana collectively show that the police officers proceeded with the arrest of Acosta for the mauling incident armed with prior knowledge that he was also illegally planting marijuana.

It is also clear that Salucana apprised the police officers of the illegal planting and cultivation of the marijuana plants when he reported the mauling incident. Thus, when the police officers proceeded to Acosta’s abode, they were already alerted to the fact that there could possibly be marijuana plants in the area. This belies the argument that the discovery of the plants was inadvertent. In People v. Valdez [395 Phil. 206 (2000)], this Court held that the “plain view” doctrine cannot apply if the officers are actually “searching” for evidence against the accused.

It could not be gainsaid that the discovery was inadvertent when the police officers already knew that there could be marijuana plants in the area. Armed with such knowledge, they would naturally be more circumspect in their observations. In effect, they proceeded to Acosta’s abode, not only to arrest him for the mauling incident, but also to verify Salucana’s report that Acosta was illegally planting marijuana. Thus, the second requisite for the “plain view” doctrine is absent. Considering that the “plain view” doctrine is inapplicable to the present case, the seized marijuana plants are inadmissible in evidence against Acosta for being fruits of the poisonous tree.

All told, since the marijuana plants seized from Acosta constitute inadmissible evidence in violation of Section 3 (2), Article III of the 1987 Constitution, and given that the confiscated plants are the very corpus delicti of the crime charged, the Court finds Acosta’s conviction to be improper and therefore, acquits him.

Related Case Briefs:
a)       Sindac v. People, 794 Phil. 421 (2016)
b)       People v. Valdez, 395 Phil. 206 (2000)
c)       People v. Lagman (593 Phil. 617)
————————————————-

THINGS DECIDED:

A.       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. The appeal confers the appellate court full jurisdiction over the case and renders such court competent to examine records, revise the judgment appealed from, increase the penalty, and cite the proper provision of the penal law [Sindac v. People, 794 Phil. 421 (2016)].

B.       The ‘plain view’ doctrine applies when the following requisites concur: (a) the law enforcement officer in search of the evidence has a prior justification for an intrusion or is in a position from which he can view a particular area; (b) the discovery of evidence in plain view is inadvertent; (c) it is immediately apparent to the officer that the item he observes may be evidence of a crime, contraband or otherwise subject to seizure.

C.       In People v. Valdez [395 Phil. 206 (2000)], this Court held that the “plain view” doctrine cannot apply if the officers are actually “searching” for evidence against the accused.

‘Stand by things decided’ ~ Stare Decisis


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