OPINION: Warrantless searches and seizures

Tin Bartolome

Posted at Sep 03 2016 03:43 AM

Our Constitution protects us against warrantless arrests, searches and seizures. “Warrantless” here of course, means that not only is it unjustified, there is literally no piece of paper—the Arrest or Search and Seizure Warrant. 

Because this is so important in a democracy, this right is protected and should this be violated, the fruits of the search and seizure are inadmissible as evidence. Searches and seizures are allowed, but subject to stringent requirements. However, these days, it’s no longer clear which ones are unreasonable.

Moving vehicles may not be searched nor evidence seized from them if the check is more than the usual cursory inspection—meaning just a look-see. But if these officers happen to see something “illegal” lying around—on your dashboard, back seat or any other area in plain view, a warrant is no longer needed. 

Note however, that even if it seems normal and allowed, police officers cannot compel you to open the trunk of your car, not even those compartments under the dashboard without such a warrant—unless you give your consent or allow them to.

The law allows warrantless searches and seizures in certain situations—like when an arrest is legal or lawful, for as long as the search and seizure are done while the arrest is being made and if the evidence or weapon can be disposed of or used by the person being arrested.

It gets trickier, you see, because another exception to this right against warrantless searches and seizures is when you give your consent—especially if you know you have the right to refuse to be searched! 

There are other places or situations when searches and seizures can be done without warrants: at Customs areas, in emergency situations, at checkpoints, during military operations and other similar circumstances.

I am no lawyer and this list is by no means complete. But I hope that somehow, this drives home the point that ours is an accusatorial system of criminal prosecution—meaning one is accused in public, the judge is not the prosecutor whereas, under the inquisitorial system, proceedings are conducted in secret and the prosecutor is also judge. 

If I remember correctly, my professor in Criminal Procedure way back in the mid-1980s once said that under the accusatorial system, torture is not allowed and that ours is a mixed system because though our prosecutors are not the judges, the summary executions and tortures are an open secret.

Somehow, goings-on bring all these back and send shivers up my spine whenever I read the papers or surf the internet. I have raised my children to be decent, law-abiding citizens but I feel protective of them once more as if they were toddlers because these days, innocent people have been known to become collateral damage when they happen to be at the wrong place at the right time—or the right place at the wrong time. 

The only way I—and many parents like me can afford to relax is when the rule of law is allowed to prevail.

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.