Political Law

Harry Stonehill et al vs DOJ Secretary Jose Diokno et al

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G.R. No. L-19550 – 20 SCRA 383 – Political Law – Constitutional Law – Bill of Rights – Search and Seizure – General Warrants – Abandonment of the Moncado Doctrine

Stonehill et al and their corporation were alleged to have committed acts in “violation of Central Bank Laws, Tariff and Customs Laws, Internal Revenue (Code) and Revised Penal Code.” By the strength of this allegation a search warrant was issued against their persons and their corporation. The warrant provides authority to search the persons above-named and/or the premises of their offices, warehouses and/or residences, and to seize and take possession of the following personal property to wit:

“Books of accounts, financial records, vouchers, correspondence, receipts, ledgers, journals, portfolios, credit journals, typewriters, and other documents and/or papers showing all business transactions including disbursements receipts, balance sheets and profit and loss statements and Bobbins (cigarette wrappers).”

The documents, papers, and things seized under the alleged authority of the warrants in question may be split into (2) major groups, namely:

(a) those found and seized in the offices of the aforementioned corporations and

(b) those found seized in the residences of petitioners herein.

Stonehill averred that the warrant is illegal for:

(1) they do not describe with particularity the documents, books and things to be seized;

(2) cash money, not mentioned in the warrants, were actually seized;

(3) the warrants were issued to fish evidence against the aforementioned petitioners in deportation cases filed against them;

(4) the searches and seizures were made in an illegal manner; and

(5) the documents, papers and cash money seized were not delivered to the courts that issued the warrants, to be disposed of in accordance with law.

The prosecution counters, invoking the Moncado doctrine, that the defects of said warrants, if any, were cured by petitioners’ consent; and (3) that, in any event, the effects seized are admissible in evidence against them. In short, the criminal cannot be set free just because the government blunders.

ISSUE: Whether or not the search warrant issued is valid.

HELD: No. The SC ruled in favor of Stonehill et al. The SC emphasized however that Stonehill et al cannot assail the validity of the search warrant issued against their corporation for Stonehill are not the proper party hence has no cause of action. It should be raised by the officers or board members of the corporation.

Nevertheless, the constitution protects the people’s right against unreasonable search and seizure. It provides; (1) that no warrant shall issue but upon probable cause, to be determined by the judge in the manner set forth in said provision; and (2) that the warrant shall particularly describe the things to be seized. In the case at bar, none of these are met. The warrant was issued from mere allegation that Stonehill et alĀ  committed a “violation of Central Bank Laws, Tariff and Customs Laws, Internal Revenue (Code) and Revised Penal Code.” In other words, no specific offense had been alleged in said applications. The averments thereof with respect to the offense committed were abstract. As a consequence, it was impossible for the judges who issued the warrants to have found the existence of probable cause, for the same presupposes the introduction of competent proof that the party against whom it is sought has performed particular acts, or committed specific omissions, violating a given provision of our criminal laws. As a matter of fact, the applications involved in this case do not allege any specific acts performed by herein petitioners. It would be a legal heresy, of the highest order, to convict anybody of a “violation of Central Bank Laws, Tariff and Customs Laws, Internal Revenue (Code) and Revised Penal Code,” – as alleged in the aforementioned applications – without reference to any determinate provision of said laws or codes.

The grave violation of the Constitution made in the application for the contested search warrants was compounded by the description therein made of the effects to be searched for and seized, to wit:

“Books of accounts, financial records, vouchers, journals, correspondence, receipts, ledgers, portfolios, credit journals, typewriters, and other documents and/or papers showing all business transactions including disbursement receipts, balance sheets and related profit and loss statements.”

Thus, the warrants authorized the search for and seizure of records pertaining to all business transactions of Stonehill et al, regardless of whether the transactions were legal or illegal. The warrants sanctioned the seizure of all records of Stonehill et al and the aforementioned corporations, whatever their nature, thus openly contravening the explicit command of the Bill of Rights – that the things to be seized be particularly described – as well as tending to defeat its major objective: the elimination of general warrants. The Moncado doctrine is likewise abandoned and the right of the accused against a defective search warrant is emphasized.

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Read ’62 Resolution here.

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