Criminal Law,  Legally Yours

People v. Dela Cruz

Criminal Law. Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act. Chain of Custody Requirement.
People of the Philippines v. Garry Dela Cruz y De Guzman
G.R. No. 205821; October 1, 2014
Leonen, J.:

FACTS:
Accused-appellant Garry Dela Cruz was arrested and charged for violation of Sections 5 and 11 of RA 9165, otherwise known as the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002. The RTC and the CA found accused-appellant guilty of the crimes charged, hence, this appeal.

Dela Cruz was arrested in a buy-bust operation which was allegedly conducted after a civilian informant tipped the police that a certain “Gary” was selling illegal drugs. The buy-bust operation team included PO1 Bobon, as poseur-buyer, and SPO1 Roca, as backup arresting officer. It was agreed that “PO1 Bobon would remove his bull cap once the sale of illegal drugs was [consummated].” The buy-bust team prepared a ­100.00 bill with serial number KM 776896 as marked money.

The buy-bust operation team, accompanied by the informant, went to the target area. The informant initially brokered the sale of shabu. It was PO1 Bobon who handed the marked money to Dela Cruz in exchange for one (1) heat-sealed plastic sachet of suspected shabu. After which, he removed his bull cap. SPO1 Roca then arrested Dela Cruz.

Upon frisking Dela Cruz, PO1 Bobon supposedly recovered six (6) more heat-sealed sachets of suspected shabu. PO1 Bobon placed the sachet he purchased from Dela Cruz in his right pocket and the six (6) other sachets in his left pocket.

Accused-appellant assails the prosecution’s failure to establish the chain of custody of the seized sachets of shabu, as well as the validity of the buy-bust operation and the prosecution’s failure to present the informant in court.

ISSUE:
Was the prosecution able to establish compliance with the chain of custody requirements under Section 21 of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002

HELD:
NO, the prosecution was not able to establish compliance with the chain of custody requirements. The significance of complying with Section 21’s requirements cannot be overemphasized. Non-compliance is tantamount to failure in establishing the identity of corpus delicti, an essential element of the offenses of illegal sale and illegal possession of dangerous drugs. By failing to establish an element of these offenses, non-compliance will, thus, engender the acquittal of an accused.

The mere marking of seized paraphernalia, unsupported by a physical inventory and taking of photographs, and in the absence of the persons required by Section 21 to be present, does not suffice. In this case, no physical inventory of the seized items was conducted. Similarly, there is nothing in the records to show that the seized items were photographed in the manner required by Section 21. Likewise, none of the persons required by Section 21 to be present (or their possible substitutes) have been shown to be present.

The circumstance of PO1 Bobon keeping narcotics in his own pockets precisely underscores the importance of strictly complying with Section 21. His subsequent identification in open court of the items coming out of his own pockets is self-serving. The prosecution effectively admits that from the moment of the supposed buy-bust operation until the seized items’ turnover for examination, these items had been in the sole possession of a police officer. In fact, not only had they been in his possession, they had been in such close proximity to him that they had been nowhere else but in his own pockets. Keeping one of the seized items in his right pocket and the rest in his left pocket is a doubtful and suspicious way of ensuring the integrity of the items.

Even without referring to the strict requirements of Section 21, common sense dictates that a single police officer’s act of bodily-keeping the item(s) which is at the crux of offenses penalized under the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002, is fraught with dangers. Moreover, PO1 Bobon did so without even offering the slightest justification for dispensing with the requirements of Section 21.

As the integrity of the corpus delicti of the crimes for which Dela Cruz is charged has not been established, it follows that there is no basis for finding him guilty beyond reasonable doubt. It is proper that Dela Cruz be acquitted.

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