Saturday, November 7, 2009

Warrantless arrest under Philippine law

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Warrantless Arrests
TO BE OR NOT TO BE...
To be or not to be arrested, that is the question.
By Beverly Caboteja

It is but usual that you see in movies peace officers capturing criminals without any warrant of arrest. Others might also have heard of the Miranda rights which arresting officers usually recite every time a person is seized.

It has been known that, at all stages of the criminal process, including arrest, police officers must protect citizens' constitutional rights, such as the right to remain silent and the right to be free from unreasonable searches. If these rights are violated, a court may deem the arrest unlawful and order the case against the arrestee dismissed, or certain evidence may be thrown out of the case and declare it inadmissible.

A criminal suspect may even question the lawfulness of an arrest when it is happening, including basis for the arrest and the actions of the police officers. Thus, as a general rule, an arrest is deemed illegal without the issuance of a warrant of arrest. However, as we note, there is always an exception to the general rule.

The most important section in Rule 113 of the Revised Criminal Procedures is Sec. 5.-Warrantless arrest. It is noted that the criminal justice process typically begins when a police officer places a person under arrest. Normally, an arrest happens after preliminary investigation-the case is filed in court, then there would be issuance of a warrant of arrest. The issuance of warrant of arrest renders an arrest valid and legal.

When does arrest occur? An "arrest" occurs when a person has been taken into police custody and is no longer free to leave or move about. Upon seizure of the person, the use of physical restraint or handcuffs is not necessary. The key here is the exercise of police authority over a person, and that person’s voluntary or involuntary submission.

Generally, for an arrest to be legal or lawful, such should be done by virtue of a warrant of arrest, issued by the competent court and established from a well grounded belief that such offense has been committed. As an exception, the law allows warrantless arrest provided that certain conditions prescribed by law concur. A person authorized to make a warrantless arrest is only a peace officer but it could also be a private person which is more closely known as citizen’s arrest.

There are three instances mentioned in Section 5 for a valid warrantless arrest: the in flagrante delicto arrest, hot pursuit arrest, and in the case of an escapee from prison. The most famous are the first two enumerated. The third one is really not complicated. When a prisoner escapes from prison, a warrant of arrest is no longer necessary.

The second question here is, why does the law authorize an arrest without warrant? As explained in the case of Umil vs. Ramos 187 SCRA 311, “To hold that no criminal can, in any case be arrested and searched for the evidence and tokens of his crime without a warrant, would be to leave society, to a large extent, at the mercy of the shrewdest, the most expert and the most depraved of criminals, facilitating their escape in many instances.”

Let me discuss further the three instances where a warrantless arrest is deemed valid. Sec 5 (a) states that “when in his presence the person to be arrested has committed, is actually committing or is attempting to commit an offense,” then any person may arrest the accused without any warrant of arrest. For instance, while on street patrol, a police officer sees a man snatching a purse. The officer can apprehend and arrest the purse-snatcher, based on the officer's personal observation of the said offense. On the event the peace officer sees the commission of the offense he may immediately arrest the erring man.

Another question posed here is when you say “in his presence” does it literally mean the commission of the offense must be right in front of the peace officer? The answer is in negative. What the law contemplates is not limited in this characterization. Even if the said officer does not see it but hears the disturbance, this is still covered under this provision.

Further, the second type of arrest is the most controversial. Under section 5 paragraph (b), it is also known as the hot pursuit arrest. It says here that a warrantless arrest is considered valid when an offense has just been committed and the arresting officer has probable cause to believe based on personal knowledge of facts or circumstances that the person to be arrested has committed it. Others might see these two paragraphs similar. The slight distinction, however, may be seen. What makes this paragraph different from that of the prior paragraph is that in paragraph (a) the crime is committed in the presence of the arresting officer and the person to be arrested has committed, or is actually committing an offense. Meaning, it is based on the personal knowledge of the arresting officer. Whereas in paragraph (b), it is personal knowledge not on what crime was committed, but of facts indicating that the person to be arrested has committed it. Again, it has been held in the case of Umil vs. Ramos that “personal knowledge of facts in arrests without warrant must be based upon probable cause which means an actual belief or reasonable grounds of suspicion. A reasonable suspicion must be founded upon probable cause coupled with good faith on the part of the peace officers making the arrest.”

Simply, when a police officer has a reasonable belief, based on facts and circumstances, that a person has committed or is about to commit a crime, the officer may arrest that person. For instance, a police officer receives a report of an armed robbery that has just occurred at a liquor store, then sees a man who matches the suspect's exact description running down the street near the store. The officer detains and searches the man, finding a gun and a large amount of cash in his pockets. The officer can arrest the man, based on a probable cause belief that he committed robbery.

There are still other instances where a warrantless arrest is considered legal in addition to Section 5 of Rule 113. These include: first, if the accused is put on bail and the bondsman wants to give up the responsibility of watching over the former. The latter can arrest without a warrant and surrender the accused to the court. In this instance, the bondsman is discharged from responsibility.

Lastly, if an accused released on bail attempts to leave the country without the permission of the court where the case is pending, he may be arrested without the necessity of a warrant. Hence, no accused can freely leave the country, even on bail, unless the requisite of the court is satisfied.

With all these enumerations provided by law, we can say that the issuance of warrant of arrest is not always practicable especially if the situation does not necessarily call for it. On a personal note, the law simply safeguards the interest of the public and protects the same from the probable menace brought about by erring individuals.

Nonetheless, it is but right and proper to determine first, based on the facts stipulated by the law, whether a person is to be or not to be arrested. With such act, justice and equity shall prevail.
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