Section 21(a) of the IRR of R.A. No. 9165 – Rule on the Chain of Custody; Exception

The apprehending officer/team having initial custody and control of the drugs shall, immediately after seizure and confiscation, physically inventory and photograph the same in the presence of the accused or the person/s from whom such items were confiscated and/or seized, or his/her representative or counsel, a representative from the media and the Department of Justice (DOJ), and any elected public official who shall be required to sign the copies of the inventory and be given a copy thereof; Provided, that the physical inventory and photograph shall be conducted at the place where the search warrant is served; or at the nearest police station or at the nearest office of the apprehending officer/team, whichever is practicable, in case of warrantless seizures; Provided, further, that non-compliance with these requirements under justifiable grounds, as long as the integrity and evidentiary value of the seized items are properly preserved by the apprehending officer/team, shall not render void and invalid such seizures of and custody over said items.

G.R. No. 192284 Tionco v. People March 11, 2015

Facts:

In an Amended Information dated September 4, 2002, petitioner was charged with violation of Section 11(3), Article II of R.A. 9165. Petitioner entered a plea of not guilty to the charge upon his arraignment on December 9,2002.

During trial, it was proved that after petitioner was arrested and the suspected shabu was confiscated from him by PO1 Sta. Maria, the latter immediately brought the item to the police station where he marked the plastic sachet with petitioner’s initials “ATO,” and turned it over to the investigator POl Garcia. The latter, together with POl Sta. Maria, then forwarded the said plastic sachet marked with “ATO” ‘and the letter request for laboratory examination to the WPD Crime Laboratoiy. Forensic Chemist P/Insp. Macapagal personally received the same from POl Garcia and after conducting qualitative examination on the contents thereof, found the same to be positive for methamphetamine hydrochloride or shabu. When the prosecution presented as evidence in court the plastic sachet marked with “ATO,” POl Sta. Maria in no uncertain terms positively identified it as the one he confiscated from petitioner. Also proved was the fact that there was no physical inventory conducted on and photograph taken of the seized item.

The RTC, in its Amended Decision of August 29, 2008, convicted petitioner.

On appeal, the CA affirmed the amended decision where it upheld the integrity and evidentiary value of the confiscated item after observing that its chain of custody was duly established. Petitioner, on the other hand, filed a Motion for Reconsideration, which was denied in a Resolution dated May 13, 2010. Hence, this Petition for Review on Certiorari, where petitioner attempts to raise doubts on the identity of the item confiscated from him. He asserts that there was failure on the part of the police officers to preserve the integrity and evidentiary value of the seized item as no physical inventory thereof was conducted, or photograph of it taken, immediately upon seizure, in violation of the procedures provided by law.

Issue:

Whether or not the CA was correct in giving full weight and credence to the prosecution’s evidence (the seized item) despite lack of physical inventory on and photograph taken of the same.

Ruling:

Yes.

  • Procedural: It is significant to note that the defense did not question the admissibility of the seized item as evidence during trial. In no instance did he intimate before the trial court that there were lapses in the handling and safekeeping of the item that might affect its admissibility, integrity and evidentiary value. It was only during the appeal to the CA that he questioned the same. Settled is the rule that no question will be entertained on appeal unless it had been raised in the court below as enunciated in People v. Sta. Maria and reiterated in subsequent cases.
  • Substantive: [W]hile there was indeed no physical inventory conducted and no photograph of the seized item was taken, the Court has already ruled in several cases that the failure of the arresting officers to strictly comply with the law is not fatal and will not render an accused’s arrest illegal or the items seized/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.”