CASE BRIEF 2019-0004

CASE: People of the Philippines vs. Mark Vincent Corral [G.R. No. 233883, January 07, 2019]

PONENTE: Perlas-Bernabe, J.:

SUBJECT: RA 10640: Witnesses during inventory and photography of seized illegal drugs

FACTS:        Members of the Calamba City Police Station successfully conducted a buy-bust operation against Corral, during which a small plastic sachet containing 0.03 gram of white crystalline substancewas recovered from him. When Corral was frisked after his arrest, SPO1 Lorenzo Colinares (SP01 Colinares) was able to seize another plastic sachet containing 0.18 gram of white crystalline substancefrom his possession. The police officers then took Corral and the seized items to the barangay hall, where the marking, inventory, and photography were conducted in the presence of Barangay Captain Antonino P. Trinidad (Trinidad).  Thereafter, Corral and the seized items were brought to the police station, and eventually, said items were brought to the crime laboratory, which, after examination, tested positive for the presence of methamphetamine hydrochloride or shabu, a dangerous drug. 

The RTC found Corral guilty beyond reasonable doubt of Illegal Sale of Dangerous Drugs.

The CA affirmed the RTC ruling.

ISSUE:

(A) Who are the required witnesses during the inventory and photography of seized illegal drugs? Is their presence during the inventory mandatory?

RULING:

The law requires that the inventory and photography be done in the presence of the accused or the person from whom the items were seized, or his representative or counsel, as well as certain required witnesses, namely: (a) if prior to the amendment of RA 9165 by RA 10640,  a representative from the media and the Department of Justice (DOJ), and any elected public official; or (b) if after the amendment of RA 9165 by RA 10640, an elected public official and a representative of the National Prosecution Service or the media. The law requires the presence of these witnesses primarily “to ensure the establishment of the chain of custody and remove any suspicion of switching, planting, or contamination of evidence.”

However, non-compliance thereof may be permitted if the prosecution proves that the apprehending officers exerted genuine and sufficient efforts to secure the presence of such witnesses, albeit they eventually failed to appear. While the earnestness of these efforts must be examined on a case-to-case basis, the overarching objective is for the Court to be convinced that the failure to comply was reasonable under the given circumstances.  Thus, mere statements of unavailability, absent actual serious attempts to contact the required witnesses, are unacceptable as justified grounds for non-compliance. These considerations arise from the fact that police officers are ordinarily given sufficient time – beginning from the moment they have received the information about the activities of the accused until the time of his arrest – to prepare for a buy-bust operation and consequently, make the necessary arrangements beforehand, knowing fully well that they would have to strictly comply with the chain of custody rule.

In this case, while the prosecution acknowledged the absence of the representatives from the media and DOJ in the aforesaid conduct, they failed to provide any justification for said absence. Worse, there is no showing that they even tried to contact said witnesses. The Supreme Court therefore conclude that the integrity and evidentiary value of the items purportedly seized from Corral were compromised, which consequently warrants his acquittal.

Read related Case Brief: People vs. Rodelina Malazo

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THINGS DECIDED:

A)       The law requires that the inventory and photography be done in the presence of the accused or the person from whom the items were seized, or his representative or counsel, as well as certain required witnesses, namely: (a) if prior to the amendment of RA 9165 by RA 10640,  a representative from the media and the Department of Justice (DOJ), and any elected public official; or (b) if after the amendment of RA 9165 by RA 10640, an elected public official and a representative of the National Prosecution Service or the media. The law requires the presence of these witnesses primarily “to ensure the establishment of the chain of custody and remove any suspicion of switching, planting, or contamination of evidence.”

B) Non-compliance of the witness requirement may be permitted if the prosecution proves that the apprehending officers exerted genuine and sufficient efforts to secure the presence of such witnesses, albeit they eventually failed to appear.

C) Mere statements of unavailability, absent actual serious attempts to contact the required witnesses, are unacceptable as justified grounds for non-compliance.

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