Warrantless Arrests

With the unfolding of events last week, many legal questions have cropped up and among these is the issue of warrantless arrests.  Under Section 5, Rule 113 of the Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure, a peace officer or a private person may, without a warrant, arrest a person:

(a) When, in his presence, the person to be arrested has committed, is actually committing, or is attempting to commit an offense;

(b) When an offense has in fact just been committed, and he has personal knowledge of facts indicating that the person to be arrested has committed it; and

(c) When the person to be arrested is a prisoner who has escaped from a penal establishment or place where he is serving final judgment or temporarily confined while his case is pending, or has escaped while being transferred from one confinement to another.

In cases falling under paragraphs (a) and (b) hereof, the person arrested without a warrant shall be forthwith delivered to the nearest police station or jail, and he shall be proceeded against in accordance with Rule 112, Section 7.

The rationale for warrantless arrests was enunciated in the case of Valmonte vs.De Villa (1990) where the Supreme Court held that:

“To hold that no criminal can, in any case, be arrested and searched for the evidence and tokens of his crime without a warrant, would be to leave society, to a large extent, at the mercy of the shrewdest, the most expert, and the most depraved of criminals, facilitating their escape in many instances.”

Under Section 5(a) of Rule 113, the officer arresting a person who has just committed, is committing, or is about to commit an offense must have personal knowledge of the fact. The offense must also be committed in is presence or within his view. (Sayo v. Chief of Police, 80 Phil. 859). This is where the terms “in flagrante delicto” and “caught in  the act” find application.

In arrests without a warrant under Section 5(b) of Rule 113, however, it is not enough that there is reasonable ground to believe that the person to be arrested has committed a crime. A crime must in fact or actually have been committed first. That a crime has actually been committed is an essential precondition. It is not enough to suspect that a crime may have been committed. The fact of the commission of the offense must be undisputed. The test of reasonable ground applies only to the identity of the perpetrator. Parenthetically, it may be observed that under the Revised Rule 113, Section 5(b), the officer making the arrest must have personal knowledge of the ground therefor as stressed in the case of People v. Burgos. 

In People vs. Mengote (G.R. No. 87059, June 22, 1992), the Supreme Court held that the accused acts of merely “looking from side to side” and “holding his abdomen,” do not constitute enough basis to implement a warrantless arrest. There was apparently no offense that had just been committed or was being actually committed or at least being attempted by the accused in the presence of the arresting officers.In this case, the Solicitor General argued that the actual existence of an offense was not necessary as long as Mengote’s acts “created a reasonable suspicion on the part of the arresting officers and induced in them the belief that an offense had been committed and that the accused-appellant had committed it.” The Court  shot down this argument stating that no offense could possibly have been suggested by a person “looking from side to side” and “holding his abdomen” and in a place not exactly forsaken.

In the same case, the Court added this caveat:

“It would be a sad day, indeed, if any person could be summarily arrested and searched just because he is holding his abdomen, even if it be possibly because of a stomach-ache, or if a peace officer-could clamp handcuffs on any person with a shifty look on suspicion that he may have committed a criminal act or is actually committing or attempting it. This simply cannot be done in a free society. This is not a police state where order is exalted over liberty or, worse, personal malice on the part of the arresting officer may be justified in the name of security.”

The case of People vs. Alvarez (1991), illustrates a warrantless arrest in accordance with Section 5(b) of Rule 113:

“In the instant case, it was the elder Alvarez who initiated the arrest a day after the crime was committed. Having been once a policeman, he may be said to have been equipped with knowledge of crime detection. And having had the opportunity to observe the conduct of the three Appellants, who were at his house the whole day following the commission, it is logical to infer that his act of going to the police, informing them that Appellants were the perpetrators of the crime and even fetching them to make the arrest sprang from a well-grounded belief that a crime had been committed and that Appellants had committed it. In this regard, the arrests without a warrant were validly effected.” 

As for cases of rebellion, the case of  Umil vs. Ramos (187 SCRA 311), clearly states that since rebellion is a continuing offense, a rebel may be arrested at any time, with or without a warrant, as he is deemed to be in the act of committing the offense at any time of the day or night.