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United Laboratories, Inc. v. Isip
461 SCRA 574
Searches and Seizures
Prohibited Article in Plain View
Rolando H. Besarra, Special Investigator III of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), filed an application, in the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Manila, for the issuance of a search warrant concerning the first and second floors of the Shalimar Building, located at No. 1571, Aragon Street (formerly No. 1524, Lacson Avenue, Sta. Cruz, Manila) occupied and/or used by Shalimar Philippines, owned/operated by Ernesto Isip.
The seizure of the finished and unfinished products of UNILAB, particularly REVICON multivitamins; Sundry items such as tags, labels, boxes, packages, wrappers, receptacles, advertisements and other paraphernalia used in the offering for sale, sale and/or distribution of counterfeit REVICON multivitamins; and Sales invoices, delivery receipts, official receipts, ledgers, journals, purchase orders and all other books of accounts and documents used in recording the manufacture and/or importation, distribution and/or sales of counterfeit REVICON multivitamins – in violation of Section 4(a), in relation to Section 8, of Republic Act (R.A.) No. 8203.
A representative from UNILAB, Michael Tome, testified during the hearing on the application for the search warrant. Thus, the court granted the application and issued Search Warrant on January 27, 2004, directing any police officer of the law to conduct a search of the first and second floors of the Shalimar Building located at No. 1571, Aragon Street, Sta. Cruz, Manila.
Later, the respondents filed an “Urgent Motion to Quash the Search Warrant or to Suppress Evidence.” They contended that the implementing officers of the NBI conducted their search at the first, second, third and fourth floors of the building, where items in “open display” were allegedly found. They pointed out, however, that such premises was different from the address described in the search warrant, the first and second floors of the Shalimar Building located at No. 1571, Aragon Street, Sta. Cruz, Manila. The respondents, likewise, asserted that the NBI officers seized Disudrin and Inoflox products which were not included in the list of properties to be seized in the search warrant.
The trial court issued an Order granting the motion of the respondents, on the ground that the things seized, namely, Disudrin and Inoflox, were not those described in the search warrant and issued an advisory that the seized articles could no longer be admitted in evidence against the respondents in any proceedings, as the search warrant had already been quashed.
UNILAB, through the Ureta Law Office, filed a motion, in collaboration with the NBI agents, for the reconsideration of the order, contending that the ground used by the court in quashing the warrant was not that invoked by the respondents, and that the seizure of the items was justified by the plain view doctrine.
The respondents objected to the appearance of the counsel of UNILAB, contending that the latter could not appear for the People of the Philippines. The respondents moved that the motion for reconsideration of UNILAB be stricken off the record. Disputing the claims of UNILAB, they insisted that the items seized were contained in boxes at the time of the seizure at No. 1524-A, Lacson Avenue corner Aragon Street, Sta. Cruz, Manila, and were not apparently incriminating on plain view. Moreover, the seized items were not those described and itemized in the search warrant application, as well as the warrant issued by the court itself.
(1) Whether the petitioner is the proper party to file the petition at bench;
(2) Whether it was proper for the petitioner to file the present petition in this Court under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court; and
(3) Whether the search conducted by the NBI officers of the first and second floors of the Shalimar building and the seizure of the sealed boxes which, when opened, contained Disudrin syrup and Inoflox, were valid.
A search warrant, to be valid, must particularly describe the place to be searched and the things to be seized. The officers of the law are to seize only those things particularly described in the search warrant. A search warrant is not a sweeping authority empowering a raiding party to undertake a fishing expedition to seize and confiscate any and all kinds of evidence or articles relating to a crime. The search is limited in scope so as not to be general or explanatory. Nothing is left to the discretion of the officer executing the warrant.
Objects, articles or papers not described in the warrant but on plain view of the executing officer may be seized by him. However, the seizure by the officer of objects/articles/papers not described in the warrant cannot be presumed as plain view. The State must adduce evidence, testimonial or documentary, to prove the confluence of the essential requirements for the doctrine to apply, namely: (a) the executing law enforcement officer has a prior justification for an initial intrusion or otherwise properly in a position from which he can view a particular order; (b) the officer must discover incriminating evidence inadvertently; and (c) it must be immediately apparent to the police that the items they observe may be evidence of a crime, contraband, or otherwise subject to seizure.
Plain View Doctrine
The doctrine is not an exception to the warrant. It merely serves to supplement the prior justification – whether it be a warrant for another object, hot pursuit, search as an incident to a lawful arrest or some other legitimate reason for being present, unconnected with a search directed against the accused. The doctrine may not be used to extend a general exploratory search from one object to another until something incriminating at last emerges. It is a recognition of the fact that when executing police officers comes across immediately incriminating evidence not covered by the warrant, they should not be required to close their eyes to it, regardless of whether it is evidence of the crime they are investigating or evidence of some other crime. It would be needless to require the police to obtain another warrant. Under the doctrine, there is no invasion of a legitimate expectation of privacy and there is no search within the meaning of the Constitution.
In this case, Disudrin and/or Inoflox were not listed in the search warrant issued by the court a quo as among the properties to be seized by the NBI agents. The warrant specifically authorized the officers only to seize “counterfeit Revicon multivitamins, finished or unfinished, and the documents used in recording, manufacture and/or importation, distribution and/or sale, or the offering for sale, sale and/or distribution of the said vitamins.” The implementing officers failed to find any counterfeit Revicon multivitamins, and instead seized sealed boxes which, when opened at the place where they were found, turned out to contain Inoflox and Disudrin.
It was thus incumbent on the NBI agents and the petitioner to prove their claim that the items were seized based on the plain view doctrine. It is not enough to prove that the sealed boxes were in the plain view of the NBI agents; evidence should have been adduced to prove the existence of all the essential requirements for the application of the doctrine during the hearing of the respondents’ motion to quash, or at the very least, during the hearing of the NBI and the petitioner’s motion for reconsideration.
In fact, the petitioner and the NBI failed to present any of the NBI agents who executed the warrant, or any of the petitioner’s representative who was present at the time of the enforcement of the warrant to prove that the enforcing officers discovered the sealed boxes inadvertently, and that such boxes and their contents were incriminating and immediately apparent. It must be stressed that only the NBI agent/agents who enforced the warrant had personal knowledge whether the sealed boxes and their contents thereof were incriminating and that they were immediately apparent. There is even no showing that the NBI agents knew the contents of the sealed boxes before they were opened.
In sum then, the Court finds and so hold that the petitioner and the NBI failed to prove the essential requirements for the application of the plain view doctrine.