SC Acquits Alleged Shabu Seller for Discrepancies in Markings of Seized Drugs, Failure to Comply with the Chain of Custody

April 16, 2019

“At the core of every prosecution for the sale of illegal drugs is the constitutional mandate of the State to adduce proof on the identity and integrity of the seized illegal drugs. The wisdom behind this burden is to ensure that the items seized were neither tampered nor contaminated. Failure to overcome such burden calls for the acquittal of the accused.”

Thus held the Supreme Court as it ordered the acquittal of a man who was convicted for illegal sale of dangerous drugs under Article II, Section 5 of RA 9165, or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2001, in 2012 by the Manila Regional Trial Court, which conviction was later upheld by the Court of Appeals (CA) in 2015.

In a 15-page decision penned by Justice Marvic M.V.F. Leonen, the Court’s Third Division, reversing and setting aside the April 20, 2015 decision of the CA, acquitted Lahmodim Ameril y Abdul for failure of prosecution to prove his guilt beyond reasonable doubt. The Court ordered Ameril’s immediate release from detention, unless he is confined for some other lawful cause.

The High Court  noted that while the Information alleged that Ameril was caught selling 3 transparent plastic sachets containing shabu marked “LAA,” “LAA-2,” and “LAA,” the evidence presented during trial showed he sold three plastic sachets with the markings “LLA-1,” “LLA-2,” and “LLA.” The Court that this raises doubts if the items presented in the trial court were the exact ones taken from accused-appellant. The Court also held that the compromise of the integrity of the corpus delicti was further magnified by the gap in the chain of custody as the testimony of the National Bureau of Investigation agent who seized the sachets of shabu showed he merely submitted the same to the Forensic Chemistry Division for examination and safekeeping and did not identify the person to whom he gave the seized illegal drugs upon delivery.

The Court thus concluded that the totality of the evidence presented shows that the arresting officers who conducted the buy-bust operation were remiss in the performance of their official functions. They made discrepancies in the markings of the seized illegal drugs, and failed to comply with the chain of custody. Consequently, the Court held that the presumption of regularity in favour of arresting officers was negated.

In closing the Court, quoting People v. Holgado, suggested that “Both law enforcers and prosecutors should realize the more effective and efficient strategy is to focus resources more on the source and true leadership of [drug cartels]. Otherwise, all these executive and judicial resources expended to attempt to convict an accused for 0.05 gram of shabu under doubtful custodial arrangements will hardly make a dent in the overall picture.”

(G.R. No. 222192, People v. Ameril, March 13, 2019)