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Right to break door or window to effect search


Sec. 7. Right to break door or window to effect search. — The officer, if refused admittance to the place of directed search after giving notice of his purpose and authority, may break open any outer or inner door or window of a house or any part of a house or anything therein to execute the warrant or liberate himself or any person lawfully aiding him when unlawfully detained therein.. (Rule 126, Rules of Court)


Knock and announce principle

Generally, officers implementing a search warrant must:
  1. Announce their presence;
  2. identify themselves to the accused and to the persons who rightfully have possession of the premises to be searched;
  3. show to them the search warrant; and
  4. explain the warrant in a language or dialect known to and understood by them

When unannounced intrusion into the premises is permissible:
  1. Person in the premises refuses to open it upon demand;
  2. Person in the premises already knew of the identity and authority of the officers;
  3. When the officers have an honest belief that there is an imminent danger to life or limb; and
  4. When those in the premises, aware of the presence of someone outside, are then engaged in activity which justifies the officers to believe that an escape or the destruction of evidence is being attempted. 

● The police officers were obliged to give the appellant notice, show to her their authority, and demand that they be allowed entry. They may only break open any outer or inner door or window of a house to execute the search warrant if, after such notice and demand, such officers are refused entry to the place of directed search. This is known as the knock and announce principle which is embodied in Anglo-American Law. The method of entry of an officer into a dwelling and the presence or absence of such notice are as important considerations in assessing whether subsequent entry to search and/or arrest is constitutionally reasonable. In Gouled v. The United States, it was held that a lawful entry is the indispensable predicate of a reasonable search. A search would violate the Constitution if the entry were illegal, whether accomplished by force, by illegal threat or mere show of force.

The principle may be traced to a statute in England way back in 1275 providing that if a person takes the beasts of another and causes them to be driven into a castle or fortress, if the sheriff makes a solemn demand for the deliverance of the beasts, and if the person did not cause the beasts to be delivered incontinent, the king shall cause the said castle or fortress to be beaten down without recovery. Common law courts appended an important qualification:

But before he breaks it, he ought to signify the cause of his coming, and to make request to open doors, for the law without a default in the owner abhors the destruction or breaking of any house (which is for the habitation and safety of man) by which great damage and inconvenience might ensue to the party, when no default is in him; for perhaps he did not know of the process, of which, if he had noticed, it is to be presumed that he would obey it.

Blackstone simply stated the principle that the sheriff may justify breaking open doors if the possession be not quietly delivered. The principle was woven quickly into the fabric of early American law and in the Fourth Amendment in the United States Federal Constitution. It is an element of the reasonableness inquiry under the Fourth Amendment as held in Wilson v. Arkansas.

Generally, officers implementing a search warrant must announce their presence, identify themselves to the accused and to the persons who rightfully have possession of the premises to be searched, and show to them the search warrant to be implemented by them and explain to them said warrant in a language or dialect known to and understood by them. The requirement is not a mere procedural formality but is of the essence of the substantial provision which safeguards individual liberty. No precise form of words is required. It is sufficient that the accused has notice of the officers, their authority and the purpose of the search and the object to be seized. It must be emphasized that the notice requirement is designed not only for the protection of the liberty of the person to be searched or of his property but also the safety and well-being of the officers serving and implementing the search warrant. Unless the person to whom the warrant is addressed and whose property is to be searched is notified of the search warrant and apprised of the authority of the person serving the warrant, he may consider the unannounced intrusion into the premises as an unlawful aggression on his property which he will be justified in resisting, and in the process, may cause injury even to the life of the officer implementing the warrant for which he would not be criminally liable. Also, there is a very real possibility that the police serving and implementing the search warrant may be misinformed as to the name or address of the suspect, or to other material affirmations. Innocent citizens should not suffer the shock, fright, shame or embarrassment attendant upon an unannounced intrusion. Indeed, a lawful entry is the indispensable predicate of a reasonable search. A search would violate the constitutional guarantee against unreasonable search and seizure if the entry were illegal, whether accomplished by force, or by threat or show of force or obtained by stealth, or coercion.

Unannounced intrusion into the premises is permissible when (a) a party whose premises or is entitled to the possession thereof refuses, upon demand, to open it; (b) when such person in the premises already knew of the identity of the officers and of their authority and persons; (c) when the officers are justified in the honest belief that there is an imminent peril to life or limb; and (d) when those in the premises, aware of the presence of someone outside (because, for example, there has been a knock at the door), are then engaged in activity which justifies the officers to believe that an escape or the destruction of evidence is being attempted. Suspects have no constitutional right to destroy evidence or dispose of evidence. However, the exceptions above are not exclusive or conclusive. At times, without the benefit of hindsight and ordinarily on the spur of the moment, the officer must decide whether or not to make an unannounced intrusion into the premises. Although a search and seizure of a dwelling might be constitutionally defective, if the police officers entry was without prior announcement, law enforcement interest may also establish the reasonableness of an unannounced entry. Indeed, there is no formula for the determination of reasonableness. Each case is to be decided on its own facts and circumstances. In determining the lawfulness of an unallowed entry and the existence of probable cause, the courts are concerned only with what the officers had reason to believe and the time of the entry. In Richards v. Wisconsin, it was held that:

In order to justify a no-knock entry, the police must have a reasonable suspicion that knocking and announcing their presence, under the particular circumstances, would be dangerous or futile, or that it would inhibit the effective investigation of the crime by, for example, allowing the destruction of evidence. This standard as opposed to a probable-cause requirement strikes the appropriate balance between the legitimate law enforcement concerns at issue in the execution of search warrants and the individual privacy interest affected by no-knock entries.

As articulated in Benefield v. State of Florida, what constitutes breaking includes the lifting of a latch, turning a door knob, unlocking a chain or hasp, removing a prop to or pushing open a closed door of entrance to the house, even a closed screen door. However, entry obtained through the use of deception, accomplished without force is not a breaking requiring officers to first announce their authority and purpose because the reasons behind the rule are satisfied there was no real likelihood of violence, no unwarranted intrusion or privacy and no damage to the residence of the accused.

As to how long an officer implementing a search warrant must wait before breaking open any door cannot be distilled into a constitutional stopwatch. Each case has to be decided on a case-to-case basis requiring an examination of all the circumstances. The proper trigger point in determining, under the knock and announce rule, whether the police waited long enough before entering the residence to execute a warrant, is when those inside should have been alerted that the police wanted entry to execute a warrant.

In this case, we rule that the policemen complied with Section 7, Rule 126 of the Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure before entering the condominium unit. Appellant Lee admitted, when she testified, that the police officers were accompanied by Chuang, a Cantonese interpreter, who informed her that his companions were police officers and had a search warrant for the premises, and also explained to her that the officers were going to search the condominium unit. The appellant was sufficiently aware of the authority of the policemen, who wore PARAC uniforms, to conduct the search and their purpose. Moreover, Anciro, Jr. told the appellant, in English, to bring some clothes with her as she was to be brought to the police headquarters. Without such request being interpreted to the appellant, the latter did as she was directed and took some clothes from the cabinet atop the headboard. (People vs Huang Zhen Hua and Jogy Lee, G.R. No. 139301. September 29, 2004)

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