Chain of custody NOT applicable if in flagrante delicto

FIRST DIVISION [ G.R. No. 236336, April 23, 2018 ] KENNETH SAN JOSE Y JULIAN VS. PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES.

The Court resolves to GRANT petitioner's Motion for Extension of Time seeking an additional period of 30 days from the expiration of the reglementary period within which to file his Petition for Review on Certiorari.

After carefully reviewing the allegations, arguments, and issues in the Petition for Review on Certiorari, the Court further resolves to DENY the same for failure of the petitioner to show that the Court of Appeals (CA) committed any reversible error in issuing its Decision dated March 9, 2017 and Resolution dated December 12, 2017 in CA-G.R. CR No. 38197 to warrant the exercise of this Court's discretionary appellate jurisdiction. On the contrary, the CA's Decision is in accord with the facts and applicable laws and jurisprudence.

For the successful prosecution of the offense of illegal possession of dangerous drugs under Section 11, Article II of Republic Act (R.A.) No. 9165, the following requisites must be established: (a) the accused was in possession of an item or object that was identified to be a prohibited or dangerous drug; (b) such possession was not authorized by law; and (c) the accused freely and consciously possessed the drug.[1] The prosecution was able to establish all these requisites in this case.

PO1 Allen Mendoza (PO1 Mendoza) testified that petitioner was caught in possession of a sachet containing white crystalline substance, which, after laboratory examination, tested positive for Methamphetamine Hydrochloride or shabu. There was no allegation, much less proof, that petitioner was authorized by law to possess shabu. He also freely and consciously possessed the drug as shown by his attempt to conceal the same during a checkpoint. Moreover, it is settled that possession of dangerous drugs constitutes prima facie evidence of knowledge or animus possidendi sufficient to convict an accused in the absence of a satisfactory explanation of such possession.[2]

In praying for his acquittal, petitioner assails the search conducted by POl Mendoza contending that the plain view doctrine does not apply since the requirements thereof were lacking, namely: "(a) the law enforcement officer in search of the evidence has a prior justification for an intrusion or is in a position from which he can view a particular area; (b) the discovery of the evidence in plain view is inadvertent; and (c) it is immediately apparent to the officer that the item he observes may be evidence of a crime, contraband, or otherwise subject to seizure."[3]

In this case, the Court agrees with both the trial court and CA that all the elements of the plain view doctrine were established. First, POl Mendoza was conducting a routine checkpoint when he flagged down a jeepney. After looking at the passengers of the said jeepney, PO1 Mendoza noticed that petitioner looked nervous and appeared to have been inserting something under the jeepney's seats in order to conceal the same. This prompted POl Mendoza to board the jeepney and verify what petitioner was hiding. Petitioner's suspicious activity was the reason why POl Mendoza boarded the jeepney. POl Mendoza's intrusion inside the jeepney was justified thus fulfilling the first element of the plain view doctrine.Upon closer inspection, PO1 Mendoza saw a small sachet containing white crystalline substance which was not fully inserted under the seat and was visible in plain view. POl Mendoza did not conduct a thorough body search on petitioner. The discovery of the sachet was inadvertent and immediately apparent. This fulfills the second element of the plain view doctrine.

Lastly, PO1 Mendoza confiscated the sachet containing white crystalline substance since it appeared that the same could be evidence of a crime, contraband, or otherwise subject to seizure. The CA correctly found that all the elements of the plain view doctrine were established in this case.

With regard to petitioner's argument that the chain of custody was not complied with, the Court likewise upholds the CA when it held that there was substantial compliance with the same. As a general rule, strict compliance with the requirements of Section 21, R.A. No. 9165 is mandatory. It is only in exceptional cases that the Court may allow non-compliance with these requirements, provided the following requisites are present: (1) the existence of justifiable grounds to allow departure from the rule on strict compliance; and (2) the integrity and the evidentiary value of the seized items are properly preserved by the apprehending team.[4]

To recall, this case started with a checkpoint in front of the Cardona Police Station where petitioner was caught in flagrante delicto possessing a sachet of shabu. There was no buy-bust operation conducted by the police officers but a mere routine check. This explains the absence of a representative from the media and the Department of Justice. Moreover, while the marking and the physical inventory were not done at the place of the arrest, which was inside the jeepney, POl Mendoza marked the same in the police station which was right in front of the checkpoint. The Court finds that there was substantial compliance with the rule on chain of custody since it would be impracticable to mark and conduct a physical inventory inside the jeepney. In addition, Section 21 allows that marking, physical inventory, and photograph taking be conducted at the nearest police station. In this case, the nearest police station was right in front of the checkpoint where the seizure took place.

The Court agrees with the CA that the rule on chain of custody was substantially complied with. PO1 Mendoza seized the sachet of shabu from petitioner inside the jeepney and immediately proceeded to the Cardona Police Station right in front of the checkpoint. There, POl Mendoza marked the sachet in the presence of the petitioner and an elected barangay official. Photographs were taken and the physical inventory conducted. Thereafter, POl Mendoza forwarded the seized sachet to the Rizal Provincial Crime Laboratory where it was personally received by Police Senior Inspector Beaune Villaraza as evidenced by the stamp mark receipt on the Request for Laboratory Examination. In Chemical Report No. D-502-12, it revealed that the sachet tested positive for Methamphetamine Hydrochloride. The sachet of shabu was subsequently offered in evidence where PO1 Mendoza positively identified the same and explained the markings on it. In view of the foregoing circumstances, the Court holds that the integrity and evidentiary value of the seized sachet of shabu were duly preserved.

ACCORDINGLY, the Court resolves to AFFIRM the March 9, 2017 Decision and December 12, 2017 Resolution of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CR No. 38197.

SO ORDERED. Sereno, C.J., on leave; De Castro, J., designated as Acting Chairperson per Special Order No. 2540 dated February. 28, 2018.

[1] People vs. TamaƱo, G.R. No. 208643, December 5, 2016, 812 SCRA 203, 222.
[2] People v. Resurreccion, 711 Phil. 135, 145 (2013).
[3] Miclat v. People, 672 Phil. 191, 206 (2011).
[4] COMPREHENSIVE DANGEROUS DRUGS ACT OF 2002, as Amended by Republic Act No. 10640, Sec. 21 (1).

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