Flagrante Delicto

The meaning of  flagrante delicto lies in its Latin origin, which, in the law, refers to catching someone in the act of committing a crime. In flagrante delicto and in flagrante are additional ways of describing such a situation. For example, flagrante delicto exists when a convenience store clerk comes back from the bathroom to find a robber stealing money out of the cash register. To explore this concept, consider the following flagrante delicto definition.

Definition of Flagrante Delicto


  1. To catch someone “red-handed,” or in the act of committing a crime.



What is Flagrante Delicto?

Flagrante delicto, also called “in flagrante delicto” or “in flagrante,” is a Latin term for catching someone “red-handed,” or in the act of committing a crime. Consider the following examples of flagrante delicto:

  • A wife, upon returning home, witnesses her husband shooting their neighbor.
  • An undercover cop watches a drug deal go down in a casino.
  • A passenger watches as the individual driving their car throws trash out the window.

Of course, there are innumerable flagrante delicto examples, with some crimes being more severe than others.

The odds of beating a criminal charge when the individual committed the crime flagrante delicto are small, considering there is an eyewitness available to testify as to what he saw. In fact, the punishments for these crimes are typically more severe. For example, flagrante delicto may mean the difference between receiving prison time and probation.

“In Blazing Offense”

Another translation of the Latin in flagrante is “in blazing offense.” What this means is that someone discovers another person in the middle of doing something they shouldn’t be doing. In historic times, people used this term colloquially to refer to catching someone having sex with someone they shouldn’t. This may have been catching someone “in blazing offense” of coupling with a married person.

The fact that they are having sex somewhere discoverable may be offensive enough, as might be the identities of the people involved in the act. For example, flagrante delicto exists when a husband returns home to find his wife having sex with his best friend.

In Flagrante Delicto Warrantless Arrest

An in flagrante delicto warrantless arrest is another way of saying “citizen’s arrest.” This is true because any citizen may detain or place another under citizen’s arrest when he has just seen that person commit the crime.

As a law enforcement officer, to classify an in flagrante delicto warrantless arrest, it must meet the following three criteria:

  • The “In Flagrante Delicto” Rule: An individual is in the process of committing a crime, or is obviously attempting to commit a crime, especially while in the presence of a policeman.
  • The “Hot Pursuit” Rule: The person doing the arresting has probable cause to believe, by way of personal knowledge of the facts at hand, that the person he is arresting has committed the crime that just occurred.
  • Escapee: That the arrested individual is an escaped prisoner.

In any of these three circumstances, immediacy is of the utmost concern, and so a citizen or a police officer can make a warrantless arrest of the offender. For instance, in one case, the U.S. Supreme Court held that a warrantless arrest was unlawful and unconstitutional, as it occurred three months after the date of the crime. If a citizen or law enforcement officer catches an offender in flagrante delicto, then a warrantless arrest is legal, and any evidence obtained in connection with the arrest is admissible at trial.

Flagrante Delicto Example in the Philippines

Serving as one of such flagrante delicto examples is the matter of People of the Philippines v. Delos Reyes and Reyes (2011). Here, police arrested the accused for drug possession and sale, among other charges, of a drug called “Methamphetamine Hydrochloride,” or, more simply, shabu. The trial court and the Court of Appeals found the defendants guilty beyond a reasonable doubt and sentenced them to life in prison.


On appeal, the plaintiffs argued the justification of the warrantless arrests, in that police witnessed the defendants possessing and in the act of distributing shabu in a parking lot in Mandaluyong City. However, the Republic of the Philippines Supreme Court of Manila, a court similar to the U.S. Supreme Court, disagreed. The Court granted the defendants’ appeal and reversed the Court of Appeals.

The Court’s reason for doing so was that both the trial court and prosecutors showed uncertainty with respect to the facts of what really happened that night in Mandaluyong City. Further, the Court did not feel the prosecutors provided enough evidence to support their claims, and that police-witness statements contained serious inconsistencies.

In Their Own Words

Said the Court, in its Decision:

“In People v. Sy Chua, we questioned whether the shabu seized from the accused was the same one presented at the trial because of the failure of the police to mark the drugs at the place where it was taken…

The narcotics field test, which initially identified the seized item as marijuana, was likewise not conducted at the scene of the crime, but only at the narcotics office. There is thus reasonable doubt as to whether the item allegedly seized from accused-appellant is the same brick of marijuana marked by the policemen in their headquarters and given by them to the crime laboratory.

In the instant case, SPO1 Lectura, PO3 Santiago, and PO3 Yumul uniformly testified before the RTC that they brought the arrested suspects to the police office for investigation. SPO1 Lectura and PO3 Santiago were vague as to how they ascertained as shabu the contents of the box inside the white plastic bag, immediately after seizing the same from accused-appellant Reyes and before proceeding to the police office; while PO3 Yumul explicitly testified on cross-examination that he saw the shabu for the first time at the police office. At any rate, all three police officers recounted that the shabu was marked by SPO1 Benjamin David only at the police office.

Without valid justification for the in flagrante delicto arrests of accused-appellants, the search of accused-appellants persons incidental to said arrests, and the eventual seizure of the shabu from accused-appellants possession, are also considered unlawful and, thus, the seized shabu is excluded in evidence as fruit of a poisonous tree. Without the corpus delicti for the crime charged, then the acquittal of accused-appellants is inevitable.”

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Defendant – A party against whom a person has filed a lawsuit in civil court, or who stands accused of, or charged with, a crime or offense.
  • Probation – The release of an offender from prison, so long as he completes a period of supervised good behavior.
  • Warrant – A writ issued by a court or other legal official authorizing law enforcement or other agency to make an arrest, search a premises, or take some other action related to the administration of justice.