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Caballes vs Court of Appeals

(January 15, 2002)


Ponente: Puno
Nature: Petition for review on certiorari of a decision of the Court of Appeals
Facts:
While on a routine patrol in Brgy Sampalucan, Pagsanjan, Laguna, Sgt. Victorino
Nocejo and Pat. Alex de Castro spotted a passenger jeep unusually covered with kakawati
leaves. Suspecting that the jeep was loaded with smuggled goods, the two officers flagged
down the vehicle. Being the driver of the jeep, Caballes was asked by the officers as to
what was loaded in the jeep, to which he did not respond, appearing pale and nervous. The
officers checked the cargo and discovered bundles of galvanized conductor wires
exclusively owned by National Power Corporation. Caballes and the vehicle with the highvoltage wires were brought to the Pagsanjan Police Station, where he was imprisoned for 7
days.
The trial court found Caballes guilty of the crime of Theft of property. Upon appeal,
the Court fo Aooeaksm affirmed the trial courts judgment of conviction.
Issue: WON the evidence taken from the warrantless search is admissible against Caballes
Held: No; the evidence are not admissible in evidence.
Ratio: The constitutional proscription against warrantless searches and seizures is not
absolute, but admits of certain exceptions. The situation in the case at bar does not fall
under any of the accepted exceptions.
1. Search of a moving vehicle (ito yung sense ng case talaga)
The rules governing searches and seizures of moving vehicles have been liberalized
for the purposes of practicality. Obtaining a warrant for a moving vehicle is
particularly difficult for want of a specific description of the place, things, and
persons to be searches. Also, it is not practicable to secure a warrant because the
vehicle can be quickly moved out of the jurisdiction in which the warrant must be
sought. Still, however, there must be probable cause to conduct such warrantless
search.
One form of search of moving vehicles is the stop-and-search without warrant at
checkpoints, which has been declared as not illegal per se, for as long as it is
warranted by the exigencies of public order and conducted in a way least intrusive
to motorists. A checkpoint may either be a mere routine inspection or it may involve
an extensive search.
Routine inspections are not regarded as violative of an individuals right against
unreasonable search. The circumstances in this case, however, do not constitute a
routine inspection. They had to reach inside the vehicle, lift the leaves and look
inside the sacks before they were able to see the cable wires.
When a vehicle is stopped and subjected to an extensive search, such a search
would be constitutionally permissible only if the officers have probable cause to
believe that either the motorist is a law-offender or they will find the instrumentality
or evidence pertaining to a crime in the vehicle to be searched. In this case, the
officers flagged down the jeep because they became suspicious when they saw that
the back of the vehicle was covered with kakawati leaves, which, to them, was
unusual and uncommon. The Court believes that the fact that the vehicle looked
suspicious simply because it is not common for such to be covered in kakawati
leaves does not constitute probable cause to justify a search without a warrant. In
addition, there was no tip or confidential information that could have backed up
their search, as jurisprudence is replete with cases where tipped information has
become sufficient to constitute probable cause.
2. Plain view doctrine
It is clear from the records that the cable wires were not exposed to sight because
they were placed in sacks and covered with leaves. They had no clue as to what was

underneath the leaves. Object was not in plain view which could have justified mere
seizure without further search.
3. Consented search
At most, there was only implied acquiescence, a mere passive conformity, which is
no consent at all within the purview of the constitutional guarantee. Evidence is
lacking that Caballes intentionally surrendered his right against unreasonable
searches.