Chain-of-custody loophole under the anti-drugs law

This is the case of People v. Dacir (G.R. No. 232298. January 08, 2018). One of the issues raised by the accused-appellant is the alleged non-compliance with the requirements of Section 21 of RA 9165, particularly on the failure to conduct the inventory at the place of the arrest and the lack of representatives from the media and the Department of Justice (DOJ).

The Supreme Court ruled that said non-compliance was NOT fatal to the prosecution's case.

Both RA 9165 and its IRR state that the non-compliance with the procedures thereby delineated and set would not necessarily invalidate the seizure and custody of the dangerous drugs provided there were justifiable grounds for the non-compliance, and provided that the integrity of the evidence of the corpus delicti was preserved. But the non-compliance with the procedures, to be excusable, must have to be justified by the State's agents themselves.[1]In the present case, PO1 Sanoy was able to satisfactorily explain the reason for their failure to conduct the inventory and photograph taking of the confiscated illegal drugs at the site of accused-appellant's arrest. Based on PO1 Sanoy's testimony, the buy-bust team decided to conduct the inventory and photograph taking of the seized illegal drugs at the barangay hall of Sta. Lucia since there were already numerous onlookers at the buy-bust site and there was a need to preserve the integrity and evidentiary value of the confiscated items. It was at the Sta. Lucia barangay hall that the police inventoried and photographed the seized items.

As for the lack of representatives from the media and the DOJ, PO1 Sanoy explained that they did not coordinate for the same since the media and the DOJ had historically failed to arrive during their previous buy-bust operations. While this reason appears to be unacceptable, it is not sufficient to dismiss the case against accused-appellant. It must be noted that accused-appellant was presented to Kagawad Mission upon arrival at the barangay hall of Sta. Lucia and the inventory was conducted before them. As admitted by accused-appellant, he never denied that the drugs were seized from him and he even signed the Inventory of Seized Drugs. That accused-appellant even declared that Kagawad Mission was his father's friend and he still failed to proclaim his innocence runs contrary to accused-appellant's position.

Thus, the High Court found that the non-compliance with the requirements of Section 21 of R.A. No. 9165 does not necessarily render the arrest of accused-appellant illegal or the items seized and confiscated from him inadmissible in evidence. Although ideally the prosecution should offer a perfect chain of custody in the handling of evidence, substantial compliance with the legal requirements on the handling of the seized item is sufficient. Simply put, mere lapses in procedures need not invalidate a seizure if the integrity and evidentiary value of the seized items can be shown to have been properly preserved and safeguarded.[2]

[1] People of the Philippines v. Alberto Gonzales y Santos, also known as Tokyo, G.R. No. 182417, April 3, 2013.
[2] People of the Philippines v. Rustico Ygot y Repuela, G.R. No. 210715, July 18,2016.

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