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Chain of custody need not be 'by the book'

SC affirms drug conviction of Irish national

/ 03:45 PM March 21, 2019

MANILA, Philippines — Preserving the integrity of confiscated evidence is more important than the “by the book” compliance to the chain of custody in illegal drugs case, the Supreme Court said in a decision that affirmed the conviction of a 53-year old Irish national.

Eanna O’Cochlain was caught in possession of two sticks of marijuana weighing less than a gram at a final security checkpoint in the Laoag City International Airport, Ilocos Norte in 2013. A search was made on O’Cochlain when airport authorities detected the smell of marijuana in the departure area.

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The SC’s Third Division through Associate Justice Diosdado M. Peralta affirmed the Court of Appeals that agreed with the Laoag Regional Trial Court Branch 13 that convicted O’Cochlain for violation of Section 11, Article II of RA 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.

O’Cochlain argued that the police failed to follow the chain of custody when he was searched and seized the marijuana sticks. He said the alleged items seized from him were not properly marked. There was also an instance when his bags were opened while waiting for the people supposed to witness the inspection.

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Chain of custody under Section 21 of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 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 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 are no other evidence to warrant a conviction.

READ: SC issues 4-point mandatory policy to ensure tight drug cases

“As long as the integrity and evidentiary value of an illegal drug were not compromised, non-compliance with [the chain of custody] and its IRR may be excused,” the SC said.

In this case, the SC said the seized items were properly identified by two witnesses, a police and an airport personnel. With regards to the marking of evidence, the Court said the final checkpoint area at the airport was crowded so it was only fitting to take the seized evidence to the Philippine National Police-Airport Security Group (PNP-ASG) office.

The SC also noted that the police made sure that no one can touch the seized evidence and the authorities have been preoccupied in making the proper documentation.

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“While the procedure on the chain of custody should be perfect, in reality, it is almost always impossible to obtain an unbroken chain. The chain of custody need not be perfect…The most important factor is the preservation of the integrity and evidentiary value of the seized item,” the SC said.

The Court also ruled that in this case, there was not a reasonable airport search but that O’Cochlain had waived his right against unreasonable searches when he gave his consent to the warrantless search. /je

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TAGS: case, conviction, Drugs, Illegal drugs, Irish, Irish national, SC, Supreme Court
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