Published 16 July 2021, The Daily Tribune
In the light of the alarming reports on extrajudicial killings and arbitrary arrests in connection with the execution of warrants issued by trial courts, the Supreme Court (SC) issued last 29 June 2021 and published last 9 July 2021, the Rules on the Use of Body-Worn Cameras in the Execution of Warrants (A.M. 21-06-08). The Rules apply to all applications, issuances, and executions of arrest and search warrants, as well as warrantless arrests under the Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure.
According to the SC, the use of body-worn cameras in serving warrants promotes transparency and protects the constitutional rights of individuals on arrest, search and seizure.
These cameras produce video and audio recordings, which do not only prevent law enforcers from excessively using force in the execution of warrants, but also aid the courts in resolving issues that may become relevant in criminal cases, such as in cases of conflicting eyewitness accounts.
The Rules require law enforcers to have at least one body-worn camera and one alternative recording device, or a minimum of two devices during the execution of warrants. The officers using body-worn cameras must wear the devices in a conspicuous location and in a manner that maximizes their ability to capture a recording of the arrest.
In case of the unavailability of body-worn cameras, the implementing officer must file an ex parte motion before the court, requiring the authority to use an alternative device for justifiable reasons. For an alternative recording device to be used as a functional equivalent, the Rules provide minimum standard requirements on video resolution, frame rate, and battery life among others.
Upon making an arrest by virtue of a warrant, the enforcer wearing the devices shall immediately notify the person to be arrested that he is arresting the person by virtue of a warrant, and that the arrest is being recorded.
All recordings from the devices shall be stored in an external media storage device and surrendered to the issuing court. The manner of recording shall be detailed in an affidavit to be submitted by the enforcer to the court. Failure to timely file the affidavit may hold the enforcer liable for contempt.
Failure to observe the requirement of using the devices does not render the arrest unlawful or the evidence obtained inadmissible. Testimonies of arresting officers, those arrested, and other witnesses may prove the executed warrant.
Except in cases where the devices were not activated due to malfunction that the enforcer was not aware of prior to the incident, an enforcer who fails to use the devices without reasonable grounds, or intentionally interferes with the ability of the camera to accurately record the arrest or search warrants, or manipulate the recordings may be held liable for contempt.
For application for search warrants, the Rules require the applicant to state the availability of body-worn cameras to be used in the execution of the search warrant. In case of unavailability, the applicant may request to use alternative recording devices.
Similar to the rule on executing arrest warrants, upon conducting a search by virtue of a warrant, the enforcer wearing the devices shall immediately notify the lawful occupants of the premises to be searched, that the execution of the search warrant is being recorded and they are conducting a search pursuant to a lawful warrant.
Unlike in cases of arrest warrants, failure to observe the requirement of using the devices without reasonable grounds during the execution of the search warrant shall render the evidence obtained inadmissible for prosecution of the offense.
In addition to the grounds provided under the Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure, a motion to suppress evidence may be filed by a person searched if the search fails to comply with the use of body-worn cameras or alternative recording devices without any reasonable ground.
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