Criminal Law

PEOPLE v. ROLANDO TERNIDA Y MUNAR G.R. No. 212626, June 03, 2019 R.A. 9165, Chain of Custody, Illegal Sale of Dangerous Drugs; Acquitted [J. LEONEN]

FACTS:

Acting on a tip from a confidential informant, concerning an illegal drug transaction involving herein accused, the San Fernando City Police formed a buy-bust team composed of Inspector Quesada, PO2 Annague as poseur-buyer, and PO3 Batnag, as back-up. 

On November 17, 2009, at around 10:40 p.m., the officers spotted accused Ternida along Quezon Avenue. PO2 Annague approached him.

Ternida asked how much PO2 Annague would buy, PO2 Annague said P1,000.00 worth. Ternida then gave PO2 Annague one (1) heat-sealed plastic sachet of crystalline substance in exchange for PO2 Annague’s P1,000.00 bill. 

After securing the sachet, PO2 Annague gave the pre-arranged signal to PO3 Batnag, who immediately approached and arrested Ternida. 

A Certificate of Inventory was subsequently prepared. The seized plastic sachet was then sent to the crime laboratory for forensic examination, where it tested positive for methamphetamine hydrochloride or shabu.

In his defence, Ternida denied that there had been a buy-bust operation. He claimed that on November 17, 2009, he was about to cross Quezon Avenue on his way to a Restaurant when three (3) men, whom he later identified as Inspector Quesada, PO3 Batnag, and PO2 Annague, arrested him. Inspector Quesada held his neck, while PO3 Batnag and PO2 Annague handcuffed him.

After frisking him, the officers took his cell phone and coin purse containing P150.00. They then brought him under a tree, where they took photos of him beside the plastic sachet. Afterwards, they brought him to the police station, where he was detained.

An Information was filed charging Ternida with selling 0.0402 gram of shabu, in violation of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act.

Upon arraignment, Ternida pleaded not guilty to the crime charged. 

Pre-trial was conducted, and trial on the merits then ensued.

The RTC found Ternida guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the offense charged. 

On appeal, Ternida argued that the prosecution failed to preserve the identity and integrity of the corpus delicti, and that the prosecution did not give justifiable grounds for the apprehending officers’ failure to comply with the chain of custody requirements under the law.

The CA affirmed the RTC’s findings in toto.

Hence, this appeal.

ISSUE:

Whether or not accused­-appellant Rolando Ternida y Munar is guilty beyond reasonable doubt of illegal sale of dangerous drugs.

RULING:

Accused-appellant should be acquitted.

To convict an accused of the illegal sale of dangerous drugs, the prosecution must not only prove that the sale took place, but also present the corpus delicti in evidence. In doing this, the prosecution must establish the chain of custody of the seized items To prove with moral certainty the identity of the dangerous drug seized.

That the photographing and physical inventory of the seized drugs must be done immediately where seizure had taken place minimizes the possibility that evidence may be planted. 

Noncompliance with this legally mandated procedure, upon seizure, raises doubt that what was submitted for laboratory examination and as evidence in court was seized from an accused.

Here, the prosecution failed to provide any evidence that the allegedly seized drugs were photographed upon seizure, in the presence of the accused. 

No photograph of the seized drugs was offered in evidence raises questions as to whether the specimen submitted for laboratory examination was seized from accused-appellant in the buy-bust operation.

Worse, the prosecution did not even address the apprehending team’s failure to photograph the seized items.

Before courts may consider the seized drugs as evidence despite noncompliance with the legal requirements, justifiable grounds must be identified and proved. 

The prosecution must establish the steps taken to ensure that the integrity and evidentiary value of the seized items were preserved. It has the positive duty to establish its reasons for the procedural lapses.

In this case, the prosecution has failed to perform such duty.

The arresting officers’ failure to photograph the seized drugs, to explain this failure, and to establish that the integrity of the seized drugs was preserved despite the failure, are sufficient to reverse accused­ appellant’s conviction based on reasonable doubt.

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