SC issues 4-point mandatory policy to ensure tight drug cases
The Supreme Court (SC) has come up with a mandatory policy aimed to immediately “weed out early from the courts the poorly built up drug-related cases.”
In an 18-page decision made public on Tuesday, the high court enumerated a four-point rule that should be strictly enforced in connection with arrest and seizures related to illegal drugs.
First, in the sworn statements/affidavits, the arresting officers must state their compliance with the requirements of Section 21 (1) of RA 9165 (Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002), and its Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR);
Section 21 refers to the so-called “chain of custody” which requires the arresting team having initial custody and control of the drugs to immediately undertake a physical inventory of the confiscated drugs, and to take photographs while in the presence of the accused or the person/s from whom such items were confiscated and/or seized, or his/her representative or counsel. The law also requires a representative from the media and the Department of Justice (DOJ) and any elected public official who shall be required to sign the copies of the inventory.
Within 24 hours upon confiscation of dangerous drugs, these must be submitted to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) Forensic Laboratory for a qualitative and quantitative examination. The forensic laboratory examiner must then make a certification of the forensic laboratory examination results. The said certification must be issued within 24 hours after the receipt of the subject items.
The law requires strict implementation of the process. Otherwise, the case will be dismissed if there were no other evidence to warrant a conviction.
Second, in case of non-observance of the provision on the chain of custody, the high court said arresting officers must state the justification or explanation as well as the steps they have taken in order to preserve the integrity and evidentiary value of the seized items.
Third, if there is no justification or explanation expressly declared in the sworn statements/affidavits, the SC said the investigating prosecutor must not immediately file the case before the court. Instead, he or she must refer the case for further preliminary investigation in order to determine the (non) existence of probable cause.
Fourth, if the investigating prosecutors filed the case despite non-compliance with the chain of custody and absence of explanation why, the SC said the court may exercise its discretion to either refuse to issue a commitment order (or warrant of arrest) or dismiss the case outright for lack of probable cause in accordance with the Rules of Court.
The high court ordered that copies of its 18-page decision be given to the DOJ Secretary, as well as to the Head/Chief of the National Prosecution Service, Office of the Solicitor General, Public Attorney’s Office, Philippine National Police, PDEA, National Bureau of Investigation, and Integrated Bar of the Philippines for their information and guidance.
Likewise, the SC directed the Office of the Court Administrator to disseminate copies of the decision to all trial courts, including the Court of Appeals (CA).
The decision was written by Associate Justice Diosdado Peralta who earlier admitted that the court is failing on drug-related cases.
The high court’s latest mandatory policy is contained in a decision that acquitted and ordered the immediate release of Romy Lim from the Davao Prison and Penal Farm.
“Accused Romy Miranda Lim is acquitted on reasonable doubt, and is ordered immediately released from detention, unless he is being lawfully held for another cause. Let an entry of final judgment be issued immediately,” the SC en banc voting unanimously said. The decision was promulgated on September 4.
According to the SC, the arresting team failed to follow the chain of custody in securing the evidence confiscated from the suspect.
Lim and his stepson were arrested in a buy-bust operation on October 19, 2010 conducted by PDEA. Authorities seized from the suspect the P500-drug money, one heat-sealed transparent plastic sachet containing shabu which was being sold to the undercover agent plus another sachet containing suspected drugs in Lim’s pocket.
The lower court sentenced Lim to life imprisonment, which was eventually affirmed by the CA. Lim’s stepson, on the other hand, was acquitted by the regional trial court due to insufficiency of evidence against him.
But the SC said the arresting officers mishandled the evidence against Lim, creating a reasonable doubt.
One of the arresting officers admitted that he took the seized evidence to the PDEA office where it was marked accordingly. The officer said they could not conduct the inventory at the house of Lim because it was risky.
The high court, however, questioned how the inventory could be risky onsite when there were 10 arresting officers, and only Lim and his stepson, in the house.
The SC said Lim should be acquitted, stressing that the absence of an elected public official, as well as representatives of the DOJ and the media to witness the physical inventory and photograph of the seized items was evident.
“In fact, their signatures do not appear in the Inventory Receipt,” the high court noted.
The SC also said the prosecution failed to explain why they did not secure the presence of a DOJ representative, while testimonies of the prosecution witnesses failed to establish the details of an earnest effort to coordinate with and secure presence of the required witnesses.
“In other words, in a criminal case, the prosecution must offer sufficient evidence from which the trier of fact could reasonably believe that an item still is what the government claims it to be,” the high court pointed out.
Concurring with Peralta were 12 other justices, including Chief Justice Teresita Leonardo-De Castro. Associate Justice Francis Jardeleza inhibited due to prior action as Solicitor General, while Associate Justice Mariano Del Castillo was on wellness leave. /kga
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