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SC issues guide to plea bargaining in drug cases

/ 05:44 PM May 04, 2018
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The Supreme Court has issued a framework on plea bargaining in illegal drugs cases to enable drug offenders to avail themselves of such arrangement.

In its Plea Bargaining Network made public Friday, the high court clarified that plea bargaining is not allowed in drug cases where the imposable penalty is life imprisonment or death.

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Also, the high court reiterated that plea bargaining is also prohibited under Section 5 of Republic Act 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act. Section 5 of RA 9165 penalizes sale, trading, administration, dispensation, delivery, distribution and transportation of all kinds of dangerous drugs.

Based on the new framework, the high court said an accused charged with violation of Section 11 of RA 9165 for possession of dangerous drugs where the quantity is less than five grams (in case of shabu, opium, morphine, heroin and cocaine, and less than 300 grams in case of marijuana) with a penalty of 12 years and one day to 20 years in prison and a fine ranging from P300,000 to P400,000, he or she can plea bargain to a violation of Section 12 on possession of equipment, instrument, apparatus, etc. with a penalty of six months and one day to four years in prison and a fine ranging from P10,000 to P50,000.

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“The court is given the discretion to impose a minimum period and a maximum period to be taken from the range of the penalty provided by law,” the high court said.

“A straight penalty within the range of six months and 1 day to one year may likewise be imposed,” the high court added.

The high court added there has to be a drug dependency test in all instances regardless if the maximum period of the penalty has been served.

“If accused admits drug use, or denies it but is found positive after drug dependency test, he/she shall undergo treatment rehabilitation for a period of not less than six month,” the high court said.

It added that the treatment or rehabilitation has to be credited “to his/her penalty and the period of his/her after-care and follow-up program if penalty is still unserved. If accused is found negative for drug use/dependency, he/she will be released on time served, otherwise, he/she will serve his sentence in jail minus the counseling period at rehabilitation center.”

“However, if accused applies for probation in offenses punishable under RA 9165, other than for illegal drug trafficking or pushing under Section 5 in relation to Section 24 thereof, then the law on probation shall apply.”

On the other hand, if the accused is charged with possession of shabu, opium, morphine, heroin and cocaine of more than five grams but not exceeding 10 grams, or with marijuana of 300 grams but not more than 500 grams (Section 11), the accused can enter into a plea bargain to violation of Section 11 (less than five grams in case of shabu, etc. and less than 300 grams of marijuana) to lower the penalty from 20 years to life imprisonment and fine ranging from P400,000 to P500,000,  to 12 years and one day to 20 years prison term and fine ranging from P300,000 to P400,000.

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If an accused is charged with possession of equipment, apparatus and other paraphernalia for dangerous drugs under Section 12, he or she can plea bargain to violation of Section 15 or use of dangerous drugs to lessen the penalty from six months and one day to four years in prison and fine from P10,000 to P50,000, to six months treatment and rehabilitation if he or she admits drug use or is found positive after drug use/dependency test.

For violation of Section 14 for possession of equipment, apparatus and other paraphernalia for dangerous drugs during parties, social gatherings or meetings, he or she can plea bargain to violation of Section 15 on use of dangerous drugs to lower the penalty from a maximum or four months in prison to six months of treatment and rehabilitation.

The plea bargaining framework was adopted by the SC as an offshoot of its  Aug. 15, 2017 decision that declared unconstitutional Section 23 of RA 9165 for being contrary to the rule-making authority of the High Tribunal under the Constitution.

Section 23 of RA 9165 provides that any person charged under the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002, regardless of the imposable penalty, should be denied plea bargaining or pleading guilty to a lesser offense.

The high court issued the guideline following its ruling in the case involving Salvador Estipona versus Legazpi City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 3 Judge Frank Lobrigo.

In its ruling, the high court declared as unconstitutional the prohibition against plea bargaining in Republic Act 9165 (Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002).

The framework was released following a meeting between Associate Justice Diosdado M. Peralta, who wrote the Estipona decision and officers of the Philippine Judges Association which submitted the draft on the plea bargaining framework.

The SC directed Court Administrator Jose Midas P. Marquez to issue a circular to all trial courts in the country for the implementation of the plea bargaining framework.

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TAGS: Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act, Drugs, on plea bargaining, Philippine news updates, Republic Act 9165, Supreme Court
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