At this time when almost all persons charged with or arrested for drug-related offenses would seem to end up guilty, I am worried about my nephew’s situation. He was arrested, allegedly in a buy-bust in 2014 and until now his case remains unresolved. His wife and children already miss him. We have a number of witnesses to prove that the policemen who went to his house were very sneaky as they first searched the house without presenting any warrant. We believe that my nephew is innocent and that the sachets of shabu were only planted in his belongings. His lawyer tells us that he found a loophole in the prosecution’s case because the “chain of custody” was not established. What is that “chain of custody”? How is it relevant in the acquittal of my nephew?
There are two aspects in a case that must be considered: the substantive and the procedural, which are both crucial in looking through whether the guilt of an accused is proven beyond reasonable doubt. In the case of People of the Philippines vs. Myrna A. Gayoso (G.R. No. 206590, March 27, 2017), penned by Associate Justice Mariano del Castillo, an accused seller and possessor of illegal drugs was acquitted:
“The offense of sale of shabu has the following elements: ‘(1) the identities of the buyer and the seller, the object and consideration of the sale; and (2) the delivery of the thing sold and the payment therefor.’ On the other hand, the offense of illegal possession of shabu has the following elements: ‘(1) the accused is in possession of an item or an object which is identified to be a prohibited drug; (2) such possession is not authorized by law; and (3) the accused freely and consciously possessed said drug.’ In the prosecution for illegal sale and possession of shabu, there must be proof that these offenses were actually committed, coupled with the presentation in court of evidence of corpus delicti.”
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“’The chain of custody requirement performs this function in that it ensures that unnecessary doubts concerning the identity of the evidence are removed.’”
“Chain of custody is defined as ‘duly recorded authorized movements and custody of seized drugs or controlled chemicals or plant sources of dangerous drugs or laboratory equipment of each stage, from the time of seizure/confiscation to receipt in the forensic laboratory to safekeeping, to presentation in court for destruction.’”
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“It is indeed desirable that the chain of custody should be perfect and unbroken. In reality however, this rarely occurs. The legal standard that must therefore be observed “is the preservation of the integrity and the evidentiary value of the seized items as they will be used to determine the guilt or innocence of the accused.” [Emphasis supplied, citations omitted.]
In the above-captioned case, the accused was acquitted because other than the fact that the chain of custody was not properly established, the identity of the drug was also doubtful, viz.:
“[T]he apprehending team never conducted a physical inventory of the seized items at the place where the search warrant was served in the presence of a representative of the Department of Justice, nor did it photograph the same in the presence of appellant after their initial custody and control of said drug, and after immediately seizing and confiscating the same. Neither was an explanation offered for such failure. While this directive of rigid compliance has been tempered in certain cases, ‘such liberality, as stated in the Implementing Rules and Regulations can be applied only when the evidentiary value and integrity of the illegal drug are properly preserved.’ Such an exception does not obtain in this case. ‘Serious uncertainty is generated on the identity of the [shabu]in view of the broken linkages in the chain of custody. [Thus,] the presumption of regularity in the performance of official duty accorded to the [apprehending officers]by the courts below cannot arise.” [Emphasis supplied, citations omitted.]
Verily, it is possible that your nephew may be acquitted in the case filed against him, if indeed his lawyer will be able to prove in court the probable lapses in the chain of custody for the alleged seized drug, and that the lawyer will find the case of your nephew in accord with the facts of the above-cited decision.
Again, we find it necessary to mention that this opinion is solely based on the facts you have narrated and our appreciation of the same. The opinion may vary when the facts are changed or elaborated.
We hope that we were able to enlighten you on the matter.
Editor’s note: Dear PAO is a daily column of the Public Attorney’s Office. Questions for Chief Acosta may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org