I am a college student. I read a lot of articles in newspapers regarding arrests for drug-related incidents. I am just wondering, in arrests and investigations involving illegal possession of prohibited drugs, is it really necessary that the drugs involved and confiscated be under the strict possession and custody of police officers? Is there a standard procedure as to the handling and transmittal of these confiscated items, and if so, will it result in the dismissal of the complaint if it is shown that such procedure was not followed?
The use, possession, sale and disposition, by any means, of prohibited drugs are frowned upon by our laws. But it needs to be emphasized that, while we have stringent laws imposing penalties for illegal usage and transmission of prohibited drugs, due process must, at all times, be complied with.
To be more specific, Republic Act RA 9165, or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002, not only provides penalties for the unlawful possession, use, manufacturing, sale, trading, delivery, importation of prohibited drugs and the like, but it also explicitly provides the procedure to be followed in handling confiscated or seized dangerous drugs, controlled precursors, paraphernalia and the like, as well as the custody and disposition thereof. As provided therein, the initial custody and control of the confiscated drugs shall be with the apprehending team, who must immediately have physical inventory thereof in the presence of the accused or his/her representative or counsel, 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 and be given a copy thereof. Such confiscated items must be submitted to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) Forensic Laboratory for a qualitative and quantitative examination within 24 hours from confiscation, and within 24 hours after receipt thereof, a sworn certification of the forensic laboratory examination results shall be issued, unless the same is voluminous in which case a partial laboratory examination report shall be provisionally issued and the final certification shall be issued within the next twenty-four hours. Within 72 hours from the filing of the criminal case, the court must conduct an ocular inspection of the confiscated items, and within 24 hours thereafter proceed with the destruction of the same through the PDEA, retaining only representative samples which shall be submitted to the court having jurisdiction over the case together with a sworn certification as to the fact of destruction from the Dangerous Drugs Board (Section 21, Ibid.).
It bears stressing that substantial compliance to the foregoing procedure as to the chain of custody of confiscated items involving drugs case may be accepted. In fact, it is stated under Section 21 of the Implementing Rules and Regulations of R. A. No. 9165 that non-compliance under justifiable grounds will not invalidate the seizures of and custody over said items as long as the integrity and the evidentiary value of the seized items are properly preserved by the apprehending officer/team.
However, the Supreme Court has clearly declared that if there is non-compliance or imperfect conduct of the foregoing procedure as to the chain of custody of confiscated items, the officers concerned must “present justifiable reason for their imperfect conduct and show that the integrity and evidentiary value of the seized items had been preserved.” Failure thereof must then result in the dismissal of the case and acquittal of the person accused (People vs. Watamama,G.R. No. 194945, July 30, 2012, 677 SCRA 737).
We hope that we were able to answer your queries. Please be reminded that this advice is based solely on the facts you have narrated and our appreciation of the same. Our opinion may vary when other facts are changed or elaborated.
Editor’s note: Dear PAO is a daily column of the Public Attorney’s Office. Questions for Chief Acosta may be sent to email@example.com