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Search warrant must particularly describe the things to be seized


Section 4. Requisites for issuing search warrant. — A search warrant shall not issue except upon probable cause in connection with one specific offense to be determined personally by the judge after examination under oath or affirmation of the complainant and the witnesses he may produce, and particularly describing the place to be searched and the things to be seized which may be anywhere in the Philippines.. (Rule 126, Rules of Court)


Warrant issued must particularly describe the things to be seized.


When may a search warrant be said to particulary describe the things to be seized?

A search warrant may be said to particularly describe the things to be seized when the description therein is as specific as the circumstances will ordinarily allow; or when the description expresses a conclusion of fact — not of law — by which the warrant officer may be guided in making the search and seizure; or when the things described are limited to those which bear direct relation to the offense for which the warrant is being issued. If the articles desired to be seized have any direct relation to an offense committed, the applicant must necessarily have some evidence, other than those articles, to prove the said offense; and the articles subject of search and seizure should come in handy merely to strengthen such evidence. (Bache & Co. (Phils.) vs Ruiz, G.R. No. L-32409., February 27, 1971)


What is the purpose of such requirement?

■ The constitutional requirement of reasonable particularity of description of the things to be seized is primarily meant to enable the law enforcers serving the warrant to:

(1) readily identify the properties to be seized and thus prevent them from seizing the wrong items; and

(2) leave said peace officers with no discretion regarding the articles to be seized and thus prevent unreasonable searches and seizures. (People v. Tee, G.R. Nos. 140546-47, January 20, 2003)


■ A search warrant should particularly describe the place to be searched and the things to be seized. "The evident purpose and intent of this requirement is to limit the things to be seized to those, and only those, particularly described in the search warrant - to leave the officers of the law with no discretion regarding what articles they should seize, to the end that unreasonable searches and seizures may not be committed, — that abuses may not be committed. (Corro vs Lising, G.R. No. L-69899, July 15, 1985)


■ The purpose of the law is to prevent violations of private security in person and property, and unlawful invasions of the sanctity of the home and to give remedy against such usurpations when attempted (People vs Damaso, G.R. No. 93516, August 12, 1992).


Cases:

■ Appellant avers that the phrase an undetermined amount of marijuana as used in the search warrant fails to satisfy the requirement of Article III, Section 2 of the Constitution that the things to be seized must be particularly described. Appellants contention, in our view, has no leg to stand on. What the Constitution seeks to avoid are search warrants of broad or general characterization or sweeping descriptions, which will authorize police officers to undertake a fishing expedition to seize and confiscate any and all kinds of evidence or articles relating to an offense. However, it is not required that technical precision of description be required, particularly, where by the nature of the goods to be seized, their description must be rather general, since the requirement of a technical description would mean that no warrant could issue.

Thus, it has been held that term narcotics paraphernalia is not so wanting in particularity as to create a general warrant. Nor is the description any and all narcotics and all implements, paraphernalia, articles, papers and records pertaining to the use, possession, or sale of narcotics or dangerous drugs so broad as to be unconstitutional. A search warrant commanding peace officers to seize a quantity of loose heroin has been held sufficiently particular.

Tested against the foregoing precedents, the description an undetermined amount of marijuana must be held to satisfy the requirement for particularity in a search warrant. Noteworthy, what is to be seized in the instant case is property of a specified character, i.e., marijuana, an illicit drug. By reason of its character and the circumstances under which it would be found, said article is illegal. A further description would be unnecessary and ordinarily impossible, except as to such character, the place, and the circumstances. Thus, this Court has held that the description illegally in possession of undetermined quantity/amount of dried marijuana leaves and Methamphetamine Hydrochloride (Shabu) and sets of paraphernalia particularizes the things to be seized. (People v. Tee, G.R. Nos. 140546-47, January 20, 2003)


■ Petitioners claim that subject search warrants are general warrants proscribed by the Constitution. According to them, the things to be seized were not described and detailed out, i.e. the firearms listed were not classified as to size or make, etc.

Records on hand indicate that the search warrants under scrutiny specifically describe the items to be seized thus:

Search Warrant No. 90-11

Unlicensed radio communications equipments such as transmitters, transceivers, handsets, scanners, monitoring device and the like.

Search Warrant No. 90-13

Unlicensed radio communications equipments such as transmitters, transceivers, handsets, radio communications equipments, scanners, monitoring devices and others.

The use of the phrase and the like is of no moment. The same did not make the search warrants in question general warrants. In Oca v. Maiquez (14 SCRA 735), the Court upheld the warrant although it described the things to be seized as books of accounts and allied papers.

Subject Search Warrant Nos. 90-12 and 90-15 refer to:

Unlicensed firearms of various calibers and ammunitions for the said firearms.

Search Warrant No. 90-14 states:

Chop-chop vehicles and other spare parts.

The Court believes, and so holds, that the said warrants comply with Constitutional and statutory requirements. The law does not require that the things to be seized must be described in precise and minute detail as to leave no room for doubt on the part of the searching authorities. Otherwise, it would be virtually impossible for the applicants to obtain a warrant as they would not know exactly what kind of things they are looking for. Since the element of time is very crucial in criminal cases, the effort and time spent in researching on the details to be embodied in the warrant would render the purpose of the search nugatory.

In the case under consideration, the NBI agents could not have been in a position to know before hand the exact caliber or make of the firearms to be seized. Although the surveillance they conducted did disclose the presence of unlicensed firearms within the premises to be searched, they could not have known the particular type of weapons involved before seeing such weapons at close range, which was of course impossible at the time of the filing of the applications for subject search warrants.

Verily, the failure to specify detailed descriptions in the warrants did not render the same general. Retired Justice Ricardo Franciscos book on Criminal Procedure has this useful insight:

A description of the property to be seized need not be technically accurate nor necessarily precise; and its nature will necessarily vary according to whether the identity of the property, or its character, is the matter of concern. Further, the description is required to be specific only so far as the circumstances will ordinarily allow. x x x

In People v. Rubio (57 Phil 384), the Court held that, ... But where, by the nature of the goods to be seized, their description must be rather general, it is not required that a technical description be given, for this would mean that no warrant could issue.

It is indeed understandable that the agents of respondent Bureau have no way of knowing whether the guns they intend to seize are a Smith and Wesson or a Beretta. The surveillance conducted could not give the NBI agents a close view of the weapons being transported or brought to the premises to be searched. Thus, they could not be expected to know the detailed particulars of the objects to be seized. Consequently, the list submitted in the applications for subject search warrants should be adjudged in substantial compliance with the requirements of law. (Kho v. Judge Makalintal, G.R. No. 94902- OS, April 21, 1999)


■ Petitioners asseverate that the search warrants did not indicate with particularity the items to be seized since the search warrants merely described the items to be seized as LPG cylinders bearing the trademarks GASUL and SHELLANE without specifying their sizes.

A search warrant may be said to particularly describe the things to be seized when the description therein is as specific as the circumstances will ordinarily allow; or when the description expresses a conclusion of fact not of law by which the warrant officer may be guided in making the search and seizure; or when the things described are limited to those which bear direct relation to the offense for which the warrant is being issued.

While it is true that the property to be seized under a warrant must be particularly described therein and no other property can be taken thereunder, yet the description is required to be specific only in so far as the circumstances will ordinarily allow. The law does not require that the things to be seized must be described in precise and minute details as to leave no room for doubt on the part of the searching authorities; otherwise it would be virtually impossible for the applicants to obtain a search warrant as they would not know exactly what kind of things they are looking for. Once described, however, the articles subject of the search and seizure need not be so invariant as to require absolute concordance, in our view, between those seized and those described in the warrant. Substantial similarity of those articles described as a class or specie would suffice.

Measured against this standard, we find that the items to be seized under the search warrants in question were sufficiently described with particularity. The articles to be confiscated were restricted to the following: (1) LPG cylinders bearing the trademarks GASUL and SHELLANE; (2) Machines and equipments used or intended to be used in the illegal refilling of GASUL and SHELLANE cylinders. These machines were also specifically enumerated and listed in the search warrants; (3) Documents which pertain only to the production, sale and distribution of the GASUL and SHELLANE LPG cylinders; and (4) Delivery trucks bearing Plate Nos. WTE-527, XAM-970 and WFC-603, hauling trucks, and/or other delivery trucks or vehicles or conveyances being used or intended to be used for the purpose of selling and/or distributing GASUL and SHELLANE LPG cylinders.

Additionally, since the described items are clearly limited only to those which bear direct relation to the offense, i.e., violation of section 155 of Republic Act No. 8293, for which the warrant was issued, the requirement of particularity of description is satisfied.

Given the foregoing, the indication of the accurate sizes of the GASUL and SHELLANE LPG cylinders or tanks would be unnecessary. (Yao vs People, G.R. No. 168306, June 19, 2007)


The search warrant is severable

■ The general description of most of the documents listed in the warrants does not render the entire warrant void. Insofar as the warrants authorize the search and seizure of unregistered delivery receipts and unregistered purchase and sales invoices, the warrants remain valid. The search warrant is severable, and those items not particularly described may be cut off without destroying the whole warrant. (Uy v. Bureau of Internal Revenue, G.R. No. 129651, October 20, 2000)


■ No provision of law exists which requires that a warrant, partially defective in specifying some items sought to be seized yet particular with respect to the other items, should be nullified as a whole. A partially defective warrant remains valid as to the items specifically described in the warrant. A search warrant is severable, the items not sufficiently described may be cut off without destroying the whole warrant. (Microsoft Corporation v. Maxicorp, Inc., G.R. No. 140946, September 13, 2004.)


Samples of general warrants

■ Television sets, video cassette recorders, reminders and tape cleaners are articles which can be found in a video tape store engaged in the legitimate business of lending or renting out betamax tapes. In short, these articles and appliances are generally connected with, or related to a legitimate business not necessarily involving piracy of intellectual property or infringement of copyright laws. Hence, including these articles without specification and/or particularity that they were really instruments in violating an Anti-Piracy law makes The search warrant too general which could result in the confiscation of all items found in any video store. (20th Century Fox Film Corporation vs CA, G.R. Nos. 76649-51 August 19, 1988)


■ The disputed Search Warrant (No. 80-84) describes the personalities to be seized as follows:

Documents, papers and other records of the Communist Party of the Phihppines/New Peoples Army and/or the National Democratic Front, such as Minutes of the Party Meetings, Plans of these groups, Programs, List of possible supporters, subversive books and instructions, manuals not otherwise available to the public, and support money from foreign or local sources.

It is at once evident that the foregoing Search Warrant authorizes the seizure of personal properties vaguely described and not particularized. It is an all- embracing description which includes everything conceivable regarding the Communist Party of the Philippines and the National Democratic Front. It does not specify what the subversive books and instructions are; what the manuals not otherwise available to the public contain to make them subversive or to enable them to be used for the crime of rebellion. There is absent a definite guideline to the searching team as to what items might be lawfully seized thus giving the officers of the law discretion regarding what articles they should seize as, in fact, taken also were a portable typewriter and 2 wooden boxes. It is thus in the nature of a general warrant and infringes on the constitutional mandate requiring particular description of the things to be seized. In the recent rulings of this Court, search warrants of similar description were considered null and void for being too general. (Nolasco vs Paño, G.R. No. L-69803, October 8, 1985)


■ The grave violation of the Constitution made in the application for the contested search warrants was compounded by the description therein made of the effects to be searched for and seized, to wit:

Books of accounts, financial records, vouchers, journals, correspondence, receipts, ledgers, portfolios, credit journals, typewriters, and other documents and/or papers showing all business transactions including disbursement receipts, balance sheets and related profit and loss statements.

Thus, the warrants authorized the search for and seizure of records pertaining to all business transactions of petitioners herein, regardless of whether the transactions were legal or illegal. The warrants sanctioned the seizure of all records of the petitioners and the aforementioned corporations, whatever their nature, thus openly contravening the explicit command of our Bill of Rights — that the things to be seized be particularly described — as well as tending to defeat its major objective: the elimination of general warrants. (Stonehill vs Diokno, G.R. No. L-19550, June 19, 1967)

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