Monday, April 17, 2017

scatter-shot warrant

As correctly pointed out by the petitioner and the OSG, the terms expressly used in the warrant were too all-embracing, with the obvious intent of subjecting all the records pertaining to all the transactions of the petitioner's office at the Register of Deeds to search and seizure. Such tenor of a seizure warrant contravenes the explicit command of the Constitution that there be a particular description of the things to be seized.24 The executing officer's sole function is to apply the description to its subject matter, which function may frequently involve the exercise of limited discretion in identifying the property described. A description of such generality, however, as to lodge in the executing officer virtually unlimited discretion as to what property shall be seized, is repugnant to the Constitution.25 As we held in the early case of People v. Veloso:26
A search warrant must conform strictly to the requirements of the constitutional and statutory provisions under which it was issued. Otherwise, it is void. The proceedings upon search warrants, it has rightly been held, must be absolutely legal, for there is not a description of process known to law, the execution of which is more distressing to the citizen. Perhaps there is none which excites such intense feeling in consequence of its humiliating and degrading effect. The warrant will always be construed strictly without, however, going into the full length of requiring technical accuracy. No presumptions of regularity are to be invoked in aid of the process when an officer undertakes to justify under it.27


The questioned warrant in this case is a scatter-shot warrant28 for having been issued for more than one offense - Falsification of Land Titles under Article 171 and Article 213 of the Revised Penal Code, and violation of Rep. Act No. 3019, otherwise known as the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act. A warrant must be issued upon probable cause in connection with one specific offense.29 In fact, a careful perusal of the application for the warrant shows that the applicant did not allege any specific act performed by the petitioner constituting a violation of any of the aforementioned offenses..
Thus, the questioned warrant must be struck down for having been issued in contravention of the 1987 Constitution, the Rules of Criminal Procedure, and existing jurisprudence. As the Court, through Justice Concepcion held in the landmark case of Stonehill v. Diokno:30
To uphold the validity of the warrant in question would be to wipe out completely one of the most fundamental rights guaranteed in our Constitution, for it would place the sanctity of the domicile and the privacy of communication and correspondence at the mercy of the whims, caprice, or passion of peace officers. This is precisely the evil sought to be remedied by the constitutional provision above-quoted – to outlaw the so-called general warrants. It is not difficult to imagine what would happen, in times of keen political strife, when the party in power feels that the minority is likely to wrest it, even though by legal means. 31

ARIEL C. VALLEJO, petitioner,
HONORABLE COURT OF APPEALS, Former SPECIAL FIFTEENTH DIVISION, JUDGE ISAAC R. DE ALBAN, Regional trial Court, Ilagan, Isabela, Branch 16, and FRANKLIN M. JAVIER, NBI Head Agent, Cagayan Valley Regional Office II, Ilagan, Isabela, respondents.
ARIEL C. VALLEJO, petitioner,

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