Unbroken link in the chain of custody

FIRST DIVISION
[ G.R. No. 201394, January 15, 2014 ]
PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE, VERSUS DENNIS ZABAL Y BALDOZA, ACCUSED-APPELLANT.


Before us is an appeal from the August 26, 2011 Decision[1] of the Court of Appeals (CA) which affirmed the Judgment[2] of the Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 34, of Iriga City, in Criminal Case No. IR-7507, finding appellant guilty beyond reasonable doubt of violation of Section 5, Article II of Republic Act (R.A.) No. 9165.[3]

Evidence for the prosecution established that on December 24, 2005, at around 1:40 p.m. at San Roque, Iriga City, the Iriga City Police Anti-Drug Operatives headed by SPO4 Andrew Belleza, conducted a buy-bust operation against appellant near the city terminal. PO3 Virnel Llona was designated as the poseur-buyer, while SPO4 Belleza and SPO2 Abdunnajir Asari acted as back up.[4] They went to appellant's house together with the police asset. When they arrived, the asset introduced PO3 Llona to appellant as someone who wanted to buy shabu worth P200. Appellant then left for a while and returned with a small heat-sealed transparent plastic sachet containing white crystalline substance. He gave the plastic sachet to PO3 Llona, who in turn handed his payment. When appellant turned his back, PO3 Llona took hold of appellant by the nape and introduced himself as a police officer. He announced to appellant that appellant was under arrest, but appellant struggled until both of them fell to the floor. PO3 Llona then told his asset to call for back up whereupon appellant was subdued.[5]

PO3 Llona turned over the plastic sachet to SPO4 Belleza who marked it with his initials "APB" at the very place where appellant was arrested.[6] The marked money which PO3 Llona recovered from the right pocket of appellant's pants was also turned over to SPO4 Belleza. After that, appellant and the seized items were immediately brought to the Iriga City Police Station.[7] SPO4 Belleza prepared a written request for laboratory examination of the contents of the plastic sachet and handed the sachet to SPO3 Pedro Martirez for delivery to the Naga City Provincial Crime Laboratory Office.[8] P/Sr. Insp. Josephine Macura Clemen, the forensic chemist, subjected the specimen to an examination which confirmed the presence of methamphetamine hydrochloride, a dangerous drug.[9]

In his defense, appellant claimed that he was arrested by PO3 Llona for no reason at all. He testified that on the said date and time, while he was taking care of his child inside his house, Loboy Magistrado arrived and invited him to go to the billiard hall. When they reached the gate of his house, a male companion of Magistrado took hold of him by the neck, identified himself as a policeman, and placed him under arrest. Then, he was brought to the police station and detained. PO3 Llona showed him a plastic sachet allegedly containing shabu and told him that a case will be filed against him.[10]

The RTC gave credence to the testimonies of the prosecution witnesses and ruled that the elements of illegal sale of dangerous drugs had been established beyond reasonable doubt. The RTC meted the penalty of life imprisonment and a fine of P500,000 on appellant.

In his appeal to the CA, appellant argued that the prosecution failed to prove the corpus delicti, contending that the prosecution failed to establish the chain of custody of the confiscated sachet, particularly the steps undertaken to preserve the integrity and evidentiary value of the seized items. Appellant insisted that the buy-bust team failed to comply with the mandatory procedures for the proper handling and disposition of the seized prohibited drugs under Section 21 of R.A. No. 9165.

As aforesaid, the CA affirmed the RTC Decision. Hence, appellant filed the present appeal essentially raising the sole issue of whether the prosecution was able to establish his guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

Our Ruling

We dismiss the appeal.

Appellant argues that the police officers failed to comply strictly with the mandated procedure under Section 21 of R.A. No. 9165 for the proper procedure in the custody and disposition of the seized drugs. We must stress however that it has been repeatedly held that noncompliance by the apprehending team with Section 21 of R.A. No. 9165 will not necessarily render an accused's arrest illegal or the items confiscated from him inadmissible. What is of utmost importance is the preservation of the integrity and the evidentiary value of the seized items, as the same would be utilized in the determination of the guilt or innocence of the accused.[11]

After reviewing the case, the Court agrees with the CA that the prosecution was able to prove appellant's guilt beyond reasonable doubt. We note that PO3 Llona, who acted as the poseur-buyer, positively identified appellant as the one who had sold to him one heat-sealed plastic sachet containing white crystalline powder for P200. The plastic sachet was turned over by PO3 Llona to SPO4 Belleza, who handed the same to SPO3 Martirez for delivery to the Naga City Provincial Crime Laboratory Office. Per Chemistry Report No. D-02-06 made by P/Sr. Insp. Clemen, the crystalline powder inside the sachet marked as "APB" was identified as methamphetamine hydrochloride or shabu. P/Sr. Insp. Clemen testified that the confiscated sachet presented before the RTC was the same as the one she had examined.

We find that the chain of custody of the seized drugs was unbroken and that the integrity and evidentiary value thereof were properly preserved, thus removing any doubt or suspicion that the confiscated sachet had been altered, substituted or otherwise tampered with. The unbroken link in the chain of custody also precluded the possibility that a person, not in the chain, ever gained possession of the seized evidence. Hence, the Court affirms appellant's conviction.

WHEREFORE, the appeal is DISMISSED. The Decision dated August 26, 2011 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CR-HC No. 04233 is AFFIRMED.

With costs against the accused-appellant.

SO ORDERED.

[1] Rollo, pp. 2-14. Penned by Associate Justice Ramon M. Bato, Jr. with Associate Justices Juan Q. Enriquez, Jr. and Florito S. Macalino concurring. The assailed decision was rendered in in CA-G.R. CR-HC No. 04233.[2] CA rollo, pp. 14-22. Penned by Presiding Judge Manuel M. Rosales.
[3] The Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.
[4] TSN, July 23, 2007, pp. 3-6; TSN, April 23, 2007, pp. 3-4.
[5] Id. at 6-9.
[6] TSN, April 23, 2007, pp. 8-9.
[7] TSN, July 23, 2007, pp. 9-12.
[8] TSN, April 23, 2007, pp. 9-11; records, p. 11.
[9] TSN, May 29, 2007, pp. 23-29; Chemistry Report No. D-02-06, records, p. 180.
[10] TSN, April 17, 2009, pp. 3-7.
[11] People v. De Leon, G.R. No. 186471, January 25, 2010, 611 SCRA 118, 133, citing People v. Naquita, 582 Phil. 422, 441-442 (2008); People v. Del Monte, 575 Phil. 576, 586 (2008).

Popular Posts