SC acquits drug convict due to cops’ technical flaw in handling evidence
Due to the police’s failure to comply with the “chain of custody” in handling seized illegal drugs, the Supreme Court (SC) has acquitted a man previously found guilty for selling shabu.
The high tribunal has ordered the release of Federico Señeres, Jr., who was arrested seven years ago for selling less than a gram of shabu, unless he is detained for other unlawful cause.
In a 15-page decision made public Thursday, the court reversed and set aside the Court of Appeals’ decision dated Nov. 16, 2016, which had affirmed a Taguig City regional trial court decision that convicted Señeres for the illegal sale of less than a gram of shabu.
Señeres was arrested in a buy-bust operation at the food court of a mall in Taguig City on September 14, 2011.
The lower court’s decision was affirmed by the Court of Appeals prompting him to elevate the case to the SC. He questioned the policemen’s failure to comply with the procedure for the custody and control of seized prohibited drugs under the law.
He claimed there was a gap in the chain of custody of the seized items. He said that he and his companion were seated and talking to each other when they were apprehended by two armed men.
Under the original provision of Section 21 of Republic Act 9165, the apprehending police is required to immediately conduct a physical inventory and photograph of seized drugs in the presence of the accused, or his representative or counsel; a representative of the media; a representative from the Department of Justice (DOJ); and any elected public official who shall be required to sign the copies of the inventory and be given a copy.
However, in Señeres’ case, there were no representatives from the media and the DOJ, and there was no elected public official present during the physical inventory and photograph of the seized items. Instead, only a security guard of the mall witnessed the inventory.
No explanation for the absence of the required witnesses was also not provided nor was there any evidence to prove that the police officers exerted any effort to seek their presence.
“There being no justifiable reason in this case for the non-compliance of Section 21 of R.A. No. 9165, this Court finds it necessary to acquit the appellant for failure of the prosecution to prove his guilt beyond reasonable doubt,” the decision read.
The High Court also stressed that “[a] stricter adherence to Section 21 of R.A. No. 9165 is required where the quantity of illegal drugs seized is miniscule since it is highly susceptible to planting, tampering, or alteration.”
The court also noted that in Señeres’ case, the old provisions of Section 21 of RA No. 9165 and its Implementing Rules and Regulations should apply because the alleged crime was committed before the amendment in 2014 under R.A. No.10640. /jpv
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