By By Atty. Romulo P. Atencia
Confiscation of Property
posted 20-Feb-2016  ·  
5,093 views  ·   0 comments  ·  

Article 45 of the Revised Penal Code, states that every penalty imposed for the commission of a felony shall carry with it the forfeiture of the proceeds of the crime and the instruments or tools with which it was committed. Such proceeds and instruments or tools shall be confiscated and forfeited in favor of the Government, unless they be the property of a third person not liable for the offense, but those articles which are not subject of lawful commerce shall be destroyed. 

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The Supreme Court interpreted this legal provision, as follows: “… Article 45 of the Revised Penal Code bars the confiscation and forfeiture of an instrument or tool used in the commission of the crime if such "be the property of a third person not liable for the offense ...". This was made in the celebrated case of Maggie de la Riva concerning the confiscation and forfeiture of the car used by the four accused when they committed the forcible abduction with rape, although the car did not belong to any of them. To bar the forfeiture of the tools and instruments belonging to a third person, there must be an indictment charging such third person either as a principal, accessory, or accomplice. Indeed, less than that will not suffice to prevent the return of the tools and instruments to the third person, for a mere suspicion of that person's participation is not sufficient ground for the court to order the forfeiture of the goods seized.

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According to the Rules of Court, personal property may be seized in connection with a criminal offense either by authority of a search warrant or as the product of a search incidental to a lawful arrest. If the search is by virtue of a search warrant, the personal property that may be seized may be that which is the subject of the offense; or that which has been stolen or embezzled and other proceeds, or fruits of the offense; or that which has been used or intended to be used as the means of committing an offense. If the search is an incident of a lawful arrest, seizure may be made of dangerous weapons or anything that may have been used or may constitute proof in the commission of an offense. Should there be no ensuing criminal prosecution in which the personal property seized is used as evidence, its return to the person from whom it was taken, or to the person who is entitled to its possession is but a matter of course, except if it is contraband or illegal per se. A proper court may order the return of property held solely as evidence should the Government be unreasonably delayed in bringing a criminal prosecution. The order for the disposition of such property can be made only when the case is finally terminated.

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The same principle is followed in the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 (Republic Act No. 9165). It forbids the disposition, alienation, or transfer of any property, or income derived from the commission of the offense that has been confiscated from the accused charged under R.A. No. 9165 during the pendency of the proceedings in the Regional Trial Court. Objects of lawful commerce confiscated in the course of an enforcement of R.A 9165 that are the property of a third person are subject to be returned to the lawful owner who is not liable for the unlawful act. But it expressly requires that such property or income should remain in custodia legis  in all that time and that no bond shall be admitted for the release of it. (Incidentally, “in custodia legis” is a Latin phrase which means “in the custody of the law”. This phrase is used in reference to property taken into the court’s custody during the pendency of litigation over it. In general, when things are in custodia legis, they cannot be distrained or interfered by a private person. Usually property held in custodia legis remains in the possession of the law until a court order is issued to distribute the same.).

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The 2011 case of Richard Brodett now guides trial courts on how to proceed in matters regarding confiscated non-drugs property. In this case, Brodett filed a Motion to Return Non-Drug Evidence during the trial in the RTC,  claiming that PDEA had seized several personal non-drug effects from him, including a 2004 Honda Accord car that PDEA refused to return to him despite repeated demands. It was not disputed that the said Honda Accord is owned by and registered in the name of Myra S. Brodett, not accused Richard Brodett. Also, it does not appear from the records of the case that said Myra S. Brodett has been charged of involvement in the crimes charged. The Highest Court noted that the RTC granted accused Brodett's Motion to Return Non-Drug Evidence  when the criminal proceedings were still going on, and the trial was yet to be completed. It held that ordering the release of the car at that point of the proceedings was premature, considering that Section 20, R.A. 9165. The status of the car (or any other article confiscated in relation to the unlawful act) for the duration of the trial in the RTC being in custodia legis is primarily intended to preserve it as evidence and to ensure its availability as such. To release it before the judgment is rendered is to deprive the trial court and the parties access to it as evidence. Thus, the Supreme Court issued the following directive: “…henceforth the Regional Trial Courts shall comply strictly with the provisions of Section 20 of R.A. No. 9165, and should not release articles, whether drugs or non-drugs, for the duration of the trial and before the rendition of the judgment, even if owned by a third person who is not liable for the unlawful act.”

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