No ‘buy,’ just ‘bust’: SC acquits grandpa
After languishing in jail for 13 years since his arrest in a police buy-bust operation, a grandfather was acquitted by the Supreme Court on grounds of reasonable doubt because he was nabbed before he had actually sold drugs.
In a 19-page decision written by Chief Justice Lucas Bersamin, the Court’s First Division ordered the Davao Prison and Penal Farm to immediately release Rogelio Yagao.
Yagao was convicted in February 2011 by the Cagayan de Oro City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 25 for selling, trading and delivering illegal drugs, a violation of Section 5, Article II of Republic Act No. 9165, or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.
He was sentenced to life imprisonment and fined P500,000.
The RTC decision was upheld by the Court of Appeals (CA) in September 2014.
According to court records, Yagao was caught with one transparent plastic bag containing 7.40 grams of dried marijuana during a supposed buy-bust operation in Barangay Bugo, Cagayan de Oro City, on Aug. 6, 2006. He was detained and charged five days later.
No sale transpired
The high court held that the prosecution failed to establish the “essential element” of delivery of the dangerous drug by Yagao to the poseur buyer.
Citing the stenographic notes, the court said the policeman who posed as a buyer immediately arrested Yagao as soon as he pulled out the plastic bag from his pocket.
“Under such circumstance, there was no sale because the delivery of the dangerous drug to the poseur buyer had not yet transpired. Delivery as one of the essential elements of illegal sale of dangerous drug under Section 5 of RA 9165 is defined as the act of knowingly passing a dangerous drug to another, personally or otherwise, and by any means, with or without consideration,” the court said.
The other division members—Justices Mariano del Castillo, Francis Jardeleza, Alexander Gesmundo and Rosmari Carandang—concurred with Bersamin.
In his defense, Yagao claimed he was at home talking to a relative while waiting for the start of his grandchild’s birthday party when a policeman accosted him and asked him if he was the one who had jumped bail in a pending drug case.
He said he was about to respond to the officer when others entered the house, apprehended him and took him to the police station where he was shown the two packets of marijuana and the two pieces of P20 bill marked money said to have been seized from him.
During the RTC trial, however, two of the officers admitted arresting Yagao while he was taking out the marijuana from his trouser’s pocket.
The court concluded that “the confiscation did not take place following a sale.”
For a buy-bust to be successful, the offender should have “accepted the offer” to buy the drug “and delivered the drug in exchange for the price agreed upon,” it said.
“This is precisely why the operation is aptly denominated as a ‘buy-bust.’ In this case, however, the operation was merely a ‘bust’ in view of the absence of a sale,” it added.
The court also raised grave doubts about the integrity of the drug as evidence of the commission of the crime because “[c]ontrary to the finding of the CA and the RTC, serious and unjustifiable gaps broke the chain of custody of the confiscated marijuana.”
It noted inconsistencies tainted the arresting and seizing officers’ recollections about the links in the chain of custody, which diminished the credibility of their supposed observance of the chain of custody and discredited their allegations against Yagao.
“As a result, we should doubt the stated reason for the arrest,” it ruled.
The court also found that the arresting policemen failed to comply with the requirements under the Dangerous Drugs Act because they did not inventory and photograph the seized drugs in the presence of Yagao or his counsel, and before a mediaman, a representative of the Department of Justice and an elected government official who are required to sign the inventory.
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