The Court of Appeals has acquitted another drug pusher convicted previously by a regional trial court due to mishandling of evidence by police.
In a 20-page decision, the CA’s Ninth Division overturned and set aside the judgment of Sorsogon City RTC on June 2017 convicting Noel Lasca in an illegal drug sale case, citing as basis the violation of the required unbroken chain of custody of the evidence seized from the accused by the arresting officers.
The appellate court cleared Lasca of criminal complaint for violation of Section 5 of Republic Act 9165 of Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act.
The CA faulted the arresting officers from the Philippine National Police and Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency for violating the chain of custody of evidence under Section 21 of RA 9165 when they did not conduct the inventory of the sachets of shabu confiscated from the accused at the place of the seizure due to unavailability of mandatory witnesses.
“In this case, however, the physical inventory of the seized drugs was not immediately conducted at the place of seizure. In fact, the buy-bust team, along with the appellant, had go to the Burabod Barangay Hall, about 900 meters away from the place of seizure, to conduct the physical inventory,” stated the ruling penned by Associate Justice Geraldine Fiel-Macaraig.
“Given that there are patent irregularities present at the point of seizure, which is the “fist link” in the chain, there is no more practical value to establishing the unbroken chain of custody to show the integrity and the evidentiary value of the seized items were properly preserved,” the CA stressed.
The appellate court explained that the “entire rationale of placing witnesses at the scene and conducting an inventory and photographing in their presence immediately after the seizure of the dangerous drugs is to guarantee with moral certainty that the items were indeed recovered from the accused and not planted by the police officers.”
The appellate court also held that while R.A. 9165 provided exemption to the rule, the prosecution in this case failed to sufficiently provide a justification for the violation of the rule by the arresting authorities.
“While, this Court fully supports the State’s campaign against illegal drugs, it cannot turn a blind eye to breaches of the requirements under the law and the rules. We hold that it is the core duty of the prosecution to account for and explain any deviations from the mandatory requirements outlined in Section 21. Unfortunately, the prosecution in this case failed to sufficiently advance a justifiable reason for the deviation,” it pointed out.
With these findings, the CA ordered the immediate release of Lacsa from the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa City.
Associate Justices Apolinario Bruselas Jr. and Myra Garcia-Fernandez concurred in this ruling.
The Supreme Court last month also acquitted a drug convict due to mishandling of evidence by police.
The SC acquitted Jayson Torio and set aside the October 2013 verdict of the Lingayen RTC that found him guilty of illegal drug trade and possession of illegal drugs.
The SC cited the failure of authorities to establish an unbroken custody of evidence seized from the accused and also to prove the identity of the civilian asset who acted as buyer during the buy-bust operation.