SC promulgates rules on use of body-worn cameras to enforce arrest, search warrants

Published July 10, 2021, 11:08 AM

by Rey Panaligan 

Supreme Court

Pieces of evidence obtained by law enforcers who did not use body-worn cameras or alternative devices, which can record both video and audio, in the service of search warrants are “inadmissible for the prosecution of the offense for which the search warrant was applied.”

Persons who are subjects of search or arrest warrants should be informed that the enforcements of the warrants are being recorded from the start of the operation until terminated.

In case death results in the implementation of the search warrant, “an incident report detailing the implementation of the search, the reasons why such death occurred, the result of related inquest proceedings, if any— including possibly those against the officer or officers causing the death together with other relevant documents — shall likewise be submitted” to the court which issued the warrant.

However, in the service of arrest warrant, “failure to observe the requirement of using body-worn cameras or alternative recording devices shall not render the arrest unlawful or render the evidence obtained inadmissible since the facts surrounding the arrest may be proved by the testimonies of the arresting officers, the person arrested, and other witnesses to the arrest.”

A law enforcement officer “who fails, without reasonable grounds, to use body- worn cameras or alternative recording devices, or intentionally interferes with the body-worn cameras’ ability to accurately capture audio and video recordings of the arrest, or otherwise manipulates such recording during or after the arrest may be liable for contempt of court.”

A law enforcer is also liable for contempt of court for not using body-worn cameras or alternative recording devices in the service of search warrants.

On top of fine or imprisonment for contempt of court, a law enforcer who violates the rule on the use of body-worn cameras may be subjected to administrative complaints.

Data recorded by body-worn cameras and alternative recording devices “are not public record subject to disclosure, unless the recordings involve an incident resulting in a loss of life or an assault made on law enforcement officers during the arrest or search.”

Recordings and copies of such recordings “that depict or record circumstances in which a person dies while being apprehended by or while in the custody of law enforcement officers, or when assault is made on law enforcement officers, are considered public record.”

These are the salient features of the Supreme Court’s (SC) “Rules on the Use of Body-Worn Cameras in the Execution of Warrants” which were approved and promulgated last June 29 and will be enforced after publication in the Official Gazette or in two newspapers of general circulation.

The SC said that all trial courts, after finding probable cause, should issue search or arrest order “with an order requiring the use of at least one body-worn camera and one alternative recording device, or a minimum of two devices, or such number as may be necessary to capture and record the relevant incidents during its execution.”

“In case of unavailability of body-worn cameras, the law enforcement officers who will implement the warrant shall file an ex-parte motion before the court, requesting authority to use alternative recording devices for justifiable reasons,” the SC said.

“Should the trial court find merit in the motion, it shall issue an order allowing the use of alternative recording devices, which order shall be attached to and form part of the arrest warrant,” it said.

For safekeeping of the data, law enforcers are mandated to download the data from the body-worn cameras or alternative recording devices within 24 hours from the time of their recording, the rules state.

The rules state: “To ensure that no tampering is done during the downloading process, subjects of the recordings or their counsels shall be allowed to witness the downloading of the recordings from the cameras prior to safekeeping. Data downloaded from the cameras shall be encrypted. The metadata contained in the recordings, regardless if taken by body-worn cameras or alternative recording devices, shall be preserved.”

“When sensitive information and images appear in the recordings, such as in cases involving minors, sexual offenses, or domestic violence, it shall be the duty of the data custodian or his or her authorized representative to redact such information, images, and other personal identifiers of the person appearing in the recordings for his or her protection. Any person redacting information pursuant to this Section shall ensure that other incidents relevant to the arrest or search remain in the recordings,” the rules also state.

At the same time, the rules state that “to be admitted as evidence, any recording taken under these Rules, as well as those made by persons witnessing the arrest or search, must be presented during trial and authenticated by the person who captured the recording.”

The rules also state:

“Consent of the person arrested or those affected by searches and seizures to the use of the recordings resulting from the use of body-worn cameras or alternative recording devices in a court proceeding shall only be asked in the presence of counsel.

“If the person consents or remains silent, the recordings may be used by and against him or her in a court proceeding. If he or she declines, the recordings may not be used by or against him or her.

“In case of minor subjects, consent shall be secured from his or her parent or guardian.”

The SC, in its unanimous full court resolution, explained that the Constitution “guarantees that no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, and property without due process of law; and mandates the right of the people against unreasonable searches and seizures.”

It said “there are increasing reports of civilian deaths resulting from the execution of warrants issued by trial courts, the causes and conditions surrounding such deaths being widely disputed.”

As a result, it pointed out that it “received letters from lawyers’ groups and several human rights advocates… imploring to review the procedure in the issuance of search warrants….”

The rules were issued, it explained, under its power “to promulgate rules concerning the protection and enforcement of constitutional rights, pleading, practice, and procedure in all courts.”

The resolution was signed by Chief Justice Alexander G. Gesmundo, Senior Associate Justice Estela M. Perlas Bernabe, and Associate Justices Marvic M.V.F. Leonen, Alfredo Benjamin S. Caquioa, Ramon Paul L. Hernando, Rosmari D. Carandang, Amy Lazaro C. Javier, Henri Jean Paul B. Inting, Rodil V. Zalameda, Mario V. Lopez, Edgardo L. Delos Santos (who retired last June 30), Samuel H. Gaerlan, Ricardo R. Rosario, and Jhosep Y. Lopez.