Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Effect of noncompliance with Sec. 21, RA 9165; drug case - G.R. No. 184808

G.R. No. 184808

"x x x.

At any rate, non-compliance by the police with the directive of Section 21, Article 11 of R.A. No. 9165 is not necessarily fatal to a prosecution’s case, in light of the last sentence of its implementing rules expressly stating that “non-compliance with these requirements under justifiable grounds, as long as the integrity and the 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[.]” 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.[15] The procedures are there to ensure the integrity and evidentiary value of seized items, and can liberally be viewed if the attainment of these objectives is not in doubt.

Jurisprudence teems with pronouncements that failure to strictly comply with Section 21, Article II of R.A. No. 9165 does not necessarily render an accused's arrest illegal or the items seized or confiscated from him inadmissible. To reiterate, what assumes utmost importance is the preservation of the integrity and the evidentiary value of the seized items, as these are the critical pieces of evidence in the determination of the guilt or innocence of the accused.[16] In this case, as discussed, the integrity and the evidentiary value of the dangerous drug seized from the appellant were duly proven to have been properly preserved; its identity, quantity and quality remained untarnished. We thus see sufficient compliance by the police with the required procedure in the custody and control of the confiscated items. In the similar case of People v. Campomanes,[17] we held:

Although Section 21(1) of R.A. No. 9165 mandates that the apprehending team must immediately conduct a physical inventory of the seized items and photograph them, non-compliance with said section 21 is not fatal as long as there is a justifiable ground therefor, and as long as the integrity and the evidentiary value of the confiscated/seized items are properly preserved by the apprehending team. Thus, the prosecution must demonstrate that the integrity and evidentiary value of the evidence seized have been preserved.

We note that nowhere in the prosecution evidence does it show the "justifiable ground" which may excuse the police operatives involved in the buy-bust operation in the case at bar from complying with Section 21 of Republic Act No. 9165, particularly the making of the inventory and the photographing of the drugs and drug paraphernalia confiscated and/or seized. However, such omission shall not render accused-appellant's arrest illegal or the items seized/confiscated from him as inadmissible in evidence. In People v. Naelga [G.R. No. 171018, September 11, 2009, 599 SCRA 477], We have explained that what is of utmost importance is the preservation of the integrity and the evidentiary value of the seized items because the same will be utilized in ascertaining the guilt or innocence of the accused.

It must be stressed that said "justifiable ground" will remain unknown in the light of the apparent failure of the accused-appellant to challenge the custody and safekeeping or the issue of disposition and preservation of the subject drugs and drug paraphernalia before the RTC.

Finally, we find the penalty imposed to be within the range provided by law,[18] and was, therefore, correctly imposed by the RTC and affirmed by the CA.

x x x."


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