On John Doe warrants

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A search warrant was obtained for a building owned by a congressman. The police received reliable information that this building was being used for illegal gambling operations under the guise of an organization known as the Parliamentary Club. The congressman was also the manager of the club.

On the day of the raid, the congressman was apprehended for resistance to agents of the authority. The police also found gambling paraphernalia on his person. In court, he was found guilty of maintaining a gambling house. He argued that the search warrant was invalid since it was a John Doe warrant where his name did not appear in the search warrant as the person to be seized.

The Court found the search warrant to be sufficient in form. First, it clarified the rule on John Doe warrants –

[a]warrant for the apprehension of a person whose true name is unknown, by the name of “John Doe” or “Richard Roe,” “whose other or true name in unknown,” is void, without other and further descriptions of the person to be apprehended, and such warrant will not justify the officer in acting under it. [To become valid,] such a warrant must, in addition, contain the best descriptio personae possible to be obtained of the person or persons to be apprehended, and this description must be sufficient to indicate clearly the proper person or persons upon whom the warrant is to be served; and should state his personal appearance and peculiarities, give his occupation and place of residence, and any other circumstances by means of which he can be identified… [t]he search warrant itself described the building to be searched as “the building No. 124 Calle Arzobispo, City of Manila, Philippine Islands.” This, without doubt, was a sufficient designation of the premises to be searched. It is the prevailing rule that a description of a place to be searched is sufficient if the officer with the warrant can, with reasonable effort, ascertain and identify the place intended… When inside, they then had the right to arrest the persons presumably engaged in a prohibited game, and to confiscate the evidence of the commission of the crime.

[furthermore, although] the search warrant failed to name Jose Ma. Veloso as the person to be seized. The search warrant did state that “John Doe has illegally in his possession in the building occupied by him, and which is under his control, namely in the building numbered 124 Calle Arzobispo, City of Manila, Philippines Islands, certain devices and effects used in violation of the Gambling Law.”… The description must be sufficient to indicate clearly the proper person upon whom the warrant is to be served. As the search warrant stated that John Doe had gambling apparatus in his possession in the building occupied by him at No. 124 Calle Arzobispo, City of Manila, and as this John Doe was Jose Ma. Veloso, the manager of the club, the police could identify John Doe as Jose Ma. Veloso without difficulty.


Lastly, it reminded that John Doe search warrants should be the exception and not the rule. It is important that the police “particularly describe the place to be searched and the person or things to be seized, wherever and whenever it is feasible. The police should not be hindered in the performance of their duties, which are difficult enough of performance under the best of conditions, by superficial adherence to technicality or far fetched judicial interference” (People v. Veloso, G.R. No. L-23051, 20 October 1925, J. Malcolm).

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