G.R. No. 229183, February 17, 2021.
The authorities organized an entrapment one alias “Kacho”, on board of a passenger jeepney, who in his possession, control and custody a dangerous drug. After five minutes, the identified passenger jeepney arrived and was flagged down. At that time, Kacho was about to throw out of the window a small object wrapped with electrical tape but PO2 Garcia held his hand. When unwrapped it contained a white crystalline substance. Kacho was brought to the police station and identified as petitioner Leonides Quiap.
The RTC convicted Leonides of Illegal Possession of Dangerous Drugs and ruled that his denial cannot prevail over the presumption of regularity in the performance of police duties. Moreover, the integrity and evidentiary value of the confiscated item had been preserved.
On appeal, Leonides questioned the validity of his arrest and raised the failure of the police officers to comply with the proper handling and custody of dangerous drug, i.e. the marking was not made at the place of seizure, the insulating witnesses were absent during the physical inventory, and no photograph of the confiscated item was taken.
The CA affirmed Leonides’ conviction. The CA explained that the supposed defect in Leonides’ arrest is deemed waived absent any objection before his arraignment.
1. Whether Leonides was validly arrested without a warrant
2. Whether Leonides is guilty beyond reasonable doubt for violation of Section 11, Republic Act No. 9165
1. Yes. It is too late for Leonides to question the legality of his warrantless arrest in view of his arraignment and active participation at the trial. Neither did he move to quash the information, hence, any supposed defect in his arrest was deemed waived. Even assuming that Leonides can still impugn the legality of his arrest, the circumstances of this case are akin to a “stop and frisk” situation. Here, Leonides’ unusual and suspicious conduct, and the fact that the police officers were on an intelligence mission to verify the report of illegal drug activity, created a sufficient probable cause where search and seizure may be effected without first making an arrest. Differently stated, the apprehending team had a reasonable suspicion, based on the police officers’ experience and the surrounding conditions, that the person to be held had contraband concealed about him.
2. No, the disregard of the required procedures created a huge gap in the chain of custody. In Illegal Possession of Dangerous Drugs, the contraband itself constitutes the very corpus delicti of the offense, and the fact of its existence is vital to a judgment of conviction. Thus, it is essential to ensure that the substance recovered from the accused is the same substance offered in court.
The prosecution must satisfactorily establish the movement and custody of the seized drug through the following links: (1) the confiscation and marking of the specimen seized from the accused by the apprehending officer; (2) the turnover of the seized item by the apprehending officer to the investigating officer; (3) the investigating officer’s turnover of the specimen to the forensic chemist for examination; and (4) the submission of the item by the forensic chemist to the court. Here, the records reveal a broken chain of custody.
It is well to note that the absence of these required witnesses does not per se render the confiscated items inadmissible. However, a justifiable reason for such failure or a showing of any genuine and sufficient effort to secure the required witnesses under Section 21 of RA 9165 must be adduced. In this case, the absence of the required insulating witnesses during the inventory and photograph of the seized item puts serious doubt as to the integrity of the chain of custody. Admittedly, there was no representative from the media and the Department of Justice, and any elected public official. Worse, there was no attempt on the pru1of the buy-bust team to comply with the law and its implementing rules. The operatives failed to provide any justification showing that the integrity of the evidence had all along been preserved.
While the law enforcers enjoy the presumption of regularity in the performance of their duties, this presumption cannot prevail over the constitutional right of the accused to be presumed innocent, and it cannot by itself constitute proof of guilt beyond reasonable doubt. The presumption of regularity is disputable, and cannot be regarded as binding truth. Indeed, when the performance of duty is tainted with irregularities, such presumption is effectively destroyed.
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