Criminal Law

PEOPLE v. DELOCIEMBRE G.R. No. 226485 June 6, 2018 Sec. 21, Article II, R.A. 9165, Chain of Custody, Acquitted

FACTS:

An Information was filed, charging accused-appellants of the crime of Illegal Sale of Dangerous Drugs.

The prosecution alleged that a buy-bust team was organized to conduct an entrapment operation against Bernie, alias “Axe,” who was reportedly “operating” within the area of Quezon City. The buy-bust team, together with the informant, proceeded to the target area in NIA Road, Quezon City. Upon arriving, the informant introduced IO1 Avenido, the designated poseur-buyer, to Bernie and his companion, Dhats. Dhats then handed over a folded cardboard paper with a Lotto 6/49 logo containing a white crystalline substance to IO1 Avenido, who, in turn, paid Bernie using the marked money. The accused-appellants were apprehended. They were brought to the PDEA office, where the marking and inventory were done in the presence of a Barangay Kagawad, and accused-appellants, while SOII Macairap took pictures of the same. The seized drugs were delivered to the PDEA laboratory where they were received by Forensic Chemical Officer Santiago who confirmed that they tested positive for methamphetamine hydrochloride and meferonex, a dangerous drug.

For their part, accused-appellants raised the defenses of denial and alibi.

The RTC found accused­ appellants guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime charged.

On appeal, the CA affirmed in toto the Judgment of the RTC. Undaunted, accused-appellants elevated the matter to the Court.

The Court upheld the CA’s conviction of accused-appellants.

Dissatisfied, accused-appellants moved for reconsideration.

ISSUE:

Whether or not the police officers failed to comply with the mandatory procedures in the handling and disposition of the seized drugs as provided under Section 21, Article II of RA 9165.

RULING:

The Court grants the motion for reconsideration.

In this case, accused-appellants were charged with the crime of Illegal Sale of Dangerous Drugs, defined and penalized under Section 5, Article II of RA 9165.

It is essential that the identity of the prohibited drugs be established beyond reasonable doubt, considering that the prohibited drug itself forms an integral part of the corpus delicti of the crime. The prosecution has to show an unbroken chain of custody over the dangerous drugs so as to obviate any unnecessary doubts on the identity of the dangerous drugs on account of switching, “planting,” or contamination of evidence. Accordingly, the prosecution must be able to account for each link of the chain of custody from the moment the illegal drugs are seized up to their presentation in court as evidence of the crime.

Section 21, Article II of RA 9165 outlines the procedure which the police officers must follow when handling the seized drugs in order to preserve their integrity and evidentiary value. Under the said section, prior to its amendment by RA 10640, the apprehending team shall, among others, immediately after seizure and confiscation conduct a physical inventory and photograph the seized items in the presence of the accused or the person from whom the items were seized, or his representative or counsel, a representative from the media and the DOJ, and any elected public official who shall be required to sign the copies of the inventory and be given a copy of the same. Indeed, the x x x presence of such witnesses would have preserved an unbroken chain of custody.”

In this case, the Court finds that the police officers committed unjustified deviations from the prescribed chain of custody rule, thereby putting into question the integrity and evidentiary value of the items purportedly seized from accused-appellants.

An examination of the records reveals that while the requisite inventory of the seized drugs was conducted in the presence of accused­-appellants and an elected public official, the same was not done in the presence of the representatives from the media and the DOJ. More significantly, the apprehending officers failed to proffer a plausible explanation therefor.

There was no showing that the apprehending officers attempted to contact and secure the presence of representatives from the media and the DOJ. Furthermore, no plausible reasons were given as to why their presence could not be easily secured. Without a doubt, procedural lapses committed by the police officers, which were unfortunately unacknowledged and unexplained by the State, militate against a finding of guilt beyond reasonable doubt against the accused, as the integrity and evidentiary value of the corpus delicti had been compromised.

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