G.R. No. 231383. March 7, 2018
Two (2) Informations were filed before the RTC charging Sanchez with the crimes of illegal sale and illegal possession of dangerous drugs. A buy-bust operation was organized against a certain alias “Totoy” (later on identified as Sanchez), who was allegedly engaged in illegal drug trade. Tabuyo, the poseur-buyer, was able to meet Sanchez, who, after receiving the marked money, handed over a heat-sealed plastic sachet containing a white crystalline substance to the former. Sanchez was arrested. He was also found during search two (2) other plastic sachets also containing a white crystalline substance.
The buy-bust team then conducted the markings, inventory, and photography on site before proceeding to their office for documentation purposes. The team was met with representatives from the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the media, both of whom signed the Certificate of Inventory. The seized plastic sachets were then taken to the PNP Crime Laboratory where it was confirmed that their contents are indeed methamphetamine hydrochloride or shabu.
Sanchez pleaded not guilty to the charges against him. He provided that while he was collecting bets for jueteng, 2 unknown men approached him and gave their numbers; and that when they were about to pay, they handcuffed and arrested him for allegedly selling drugs. The men were only able to find money from the bets he collected and that they only made it appear that they recovered sachets containing shabu from him.
The RTC found that the buy-bust team validly arrested Sanchez who was caught in flagrante delicto selling shabu to the poseur-buyer; and that after his arrest, the arresting officers discovered two (2) more sachets, also containing shabu, from his pocket.
The CA affirmed the RTC ruling.
Whether or not the arresting officers followed the procedures in conducting buy-bust operation, and that the evidence were preserved as the chain of custody thereof was not broken
No. The arresting officers committed unjustified deviations from the prescribed chain of custody rule, thereby putting into question the integrity and evidentiary value of the dangerous drugs allegedly seized from Sanchez.
Section 21, Article II of RA 9165 outlines the procedure which the apprehending officers must follow when handling the seized drugs in order to preserve their integrity and evidentiary value. 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, and the seized drugs must be turned over to the PNP Crime Laboratory within twenty-four (24) hours from confiscation for examination.
While it appears that representatives from the DOJ and the media were present during the conduct of the inventory as evidenced by their signatures on the Certificate of Inventory, a more careful scrutiny of the records shows that the buy-bust team conducted the marking, inventory, and photography where the arrest was made, and merely made the aforesaid representatives sign the Certificate of Inventory upon the buy-bust team’s arrival at their office. Moreover, the said procedures were not done in the presence of any elected public official.
The law requires the presence of an elected public official, as well as representatives from the DOJ and the media during the actual conduct of inventory and photography to ensure that the chain of custody rule is observed and thus, remove any suspicion of tampering, switching, planting, or contamination of evidence which could considerably affect a case. However, minor deviations may be excused in situations where a justifiable reason for noncompliance is explained. In this case, despite the nonobservance of the witness requirement, no plausible explanation was given by the prosecution.
The absence of these required witnesses does not per se render the confiscated items inadmissible. The apprehending officers are compelled not only to state reasons for their noncompliance, but must in fact, also convince the Court that they exerted earnest efforts to comply with the mandated procedure, and that under the given circumstances, their actions were reasonable
Thus, for failure of the prosecution to provide justifiable grounds or show that special circumstances exist which would excuse their transgression — as in fact the only reason given was that they were conducting a “rush operation” — the Court is constrained to conclude that the integrity and evidentiary value of the items purportedly seized from Sanchez have been compromised.
Joey Sanchez y Licudine is ACQUITTED of the crimes charged. The Director of the Bureau of Corrections is ordered to cause his immediate release, unless he is being lawfully held in custody for any other reason.
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