Plain view doctrine in warrantless searches and seizures


One late afternoon in a small barangay of Mendez, Cavite, five police officers were on routine patrol duty when they heard the sound of successive gunshots in the vicinity and found a man firing a gun into the air. The man saw the patrol and immediately ran away to a nearby house where the police officers pursued him. They found two (2) slightly inebriated individuals drinking on the porch of the house. The inebriated individuals informed the police men that the man they were chasing had already escaped through the window of the house.

One of the police men, however, observed a noticeable bulge around the waist of one of the men who later on admitted he was carrying a .38 caliber revolver. Moreover, he did not have a valid license to carry the firearm, which led to the confiscation of his revolver. The policeman asked the owner of the house if he could search the house for the man firing the gun, and the owner consented. In the sala, they found more firearms as well as other paraphernalia used in the repair and manufacture of firearms. Both the owner of the house and the individual carrying the firearm were indicted for illegal possession of firearms under Sec. 1, Presidential Decree No. 1866.

The two accused denied owning or possessing any of the confiscated firearms. They further alleged that the firearms and gun paraphernalia were illegally seized in violation of their constitutional rights. The trial court found both men guilty.

Wherefore, for having possessed firearms in violation of P.D. No. 1866, accused Santiago Evaristo and Noli Carillo are hereby sentenced to serve the penalty provided for under Sec. 1 thereof. The full period of their preventive imprisonment shall be deducted from the aforementioned penalty.

On appeal, the Supreme Court sustained the trial court’s decision ruling that the search that led to the seizure of the firearm and gunfire paraphernalia was a reasonable search based on the plain view doctrine. Citing Harris v. U.S. and Coolidge v. New Hampshire, the plain view doctrine provides that “objects inadvertently falling in the plain view of an officer who has the right to be in the position to have that view, are subject to seizure and may be introduced in evidence” –

The records in this case show that Sgt. Romerosa was granted permission by the appellant Evaristo to enter his house. The officer’s purpose was to apprehend Rosillo whom he saw had sought refuge therein. Therefore, it is clear that the search for firearms was not Romerosa’s purpose in entering the house, thereby rendering his discovery of the subject firearms as inadvertent and even accidental.

The Court reminded that Sec. 2, Art. 3, 1987 Constitution, only prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures and this rule is subject to several exceptions.

For a search to be reasonable under the law, there must, as a rule, be a search warrant validly issued by an appropriate judicial officer. Yet, the rule that searches and seizures must be supported by a valid search warrant is not an absolute and inflexible rule, for jurisprudence has recognized several exceptions to the search warrant requirement. Among these exceptions is the seizure of evidence in plain view (People v. Evaristo, G.R. No. 93828, 11 December 1992, J. Padilla).


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