G.R. No. 200877 November 12, 2014
PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Plaintiff-Appellee,
CHARVE JOHN LAGAHIT, Accused-Appellant.
“x x x.
Time and again, this Court held that in every prosecution for illegal sale of dangerous drugs, like marijuana, the following essential elements must be duly established: (1) the identities of the buyer and the seller, the object, and consideration; and (2) the delivery of the thing sold and the payment for it.18 Similarly, it is essential that the transaction or sale be proved to have actually taken place coupled with the presentation in court of evidence of corpus delicti, that is, the actual commission by someone of the particular crime charged.19
On the other hand, to successfully prosecute a case of illegal possession of dangerous drugs, the following elements must be established: (1) the accused is in possession of an item or object which is identified to be a prohibited drug; (2) such possession is not authorized by law; and (3) the accused freely and consciously possessed the drug.20
The prohibited drug is an integral part of the corpus delicti of the crimes of illegal sale and illegal possession of dangerous drugs; proof of its identity, existence, and presentation in court is crucial. A conviction cannot be sustained if there is a persistent doubt on the identity of the drug. The identity of the prohibited drug must be established with moral certainty. Apart from showing that the elements of possession or sale are present, the fact that the substance illegally possessed and sold in the first place is the same substance offered in court as exhibit must likewise be established with the same degree of certitude as that needed to sustain a guilty verdict.21 The chain of custody requirement performs this function in that it ensures that unnecessary doubts concerning the identity of the evidence are removed.22
Section 1(b) of Dangerous Drugs Board Regulation No. 1, Series of 2002, that implements the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002, defines "chain of custody" as follows:
"Chain of Custody" means the duly recorded authorized movements and custody of seized drugs or controlled chemicals or plant sources of dangerous drugs or laboratory equipment of each stage, from the time of seizure/confiscation to receipt in the forensic laboratory to safekeeping to presentation in court for destruction. Such record of movements and custody of seized item shall include the identity and signature of the person who held temporary custody of the seized item, the date and time when such transfer of custody were made in the course of safekeeping and use in court as evidence, and the final disposition.23
In People v. Gatlabayan24 citing People v. Kamad,25 this Court enumerated the links that the prosecution must establish in the chain of custody in a buy-bust situation to be as follows: first, the seizure and marking, if practicable, of the illegal drug recovered from the accused by the apprehending officer; second, the turnover of the illegal drug seized by the apprehending officer to the investigating officer; third, the turnover by the investigating officer of the illegal drug to the forensic chemist for laboratory examination; and fourth, the turnover and submission of the marked illegal drug seized by the forensic chemist to the court.
A careful perusal of the records shows that while the identities of the seller and the buyer and the consummation of the transaction involving the sale of illegal drug on 29 August 2003 have been proven by the prosecution through the testimony of PO3 Lawas, Jr.,this Court, nonetheless, finds the prosecution evidence to be deficient for failure to adequately show the essential links in the chain of custody, particularly how the four sticks of handrolled marijuana cigarettes subject of the saletransaction came into the hands of PO3 Lawas, Jr. from the trusted informant, who was the designated poseur-buyer.
To note, after the exchange of the buy-bust money and the four sticks of handrolled marijuanacigarettes between the trusted informant and the appellant, the former gave the pre-arranged signal to PO3 Lawas, Jr. and the two barangay tanodby taking off his bull cap. Immediately, thereafter, PO3 Lawas, Jr. and the two barangay tanod, who were positioned on the opposite side of the street, moved towards the other side, where the appellant and the trusted informant were, in order to apprehend the former. But, before they could do so, another person already approached the appellant and walked with him towards the opposite side of the road. PO3 Lawas, Jr. and the two barangay tanod then followed them until they apprehended the appellant and whose companion managed to escape. PO3 Lawas, Jr. handcuffed the appellant and bodily searched him leading to the recovery of the following: (1) eight more sticks of handrolled marijuanacigarettes from the latter’s pocket; (2) P20.00 peso bill marked money; and (3) cash money amounting toP90.00, believed to be proceeds ofhis illegal activities. Thereafter, the appellant was brought to the barangay hall and was later transferred to the Mabolo Police Station. All the seized items remained with PO3 Lawas, Jr. until they reached the police station. Upon arrival thereat, Barangay Tanod Nicor marked the four sticks of handrolled marijuana cigarettes subject of the sale transaction, while the other eight sticks of handrolled marijuana cigarettes recovered from the possession ofthe appellant during his arrest were marked by PO3 Lawas, Jr. These marked pieces of evidence, together with a Request for Laboratory Examination of the same, were brought by PO3 Lawas, Jr. to the PNP Crime Laboratory.26 The qualitative examination conducted on the specimens yielded positive result for marijuana, a dangerous drug.27
From the foregoing set of facts, there was no mention how the four sticks of handrolled marijuana cigarettes, which were the subject of the sale transaction, came into the hands ofPO3 Lawas, Jr. from the trusted informant. PO3 Lawas, Jr.’s testimony was lacking as towhen, where and how the said four sticks of handrolled marijuanacigarettes sold by the appellant to the trusted informant were turned over to him by the latter. In the same manner, PO3 Lawas,Jr. failed to state that he actually seized the sold four sticks of handrolled marijuanacigarettes. Considering that PO3 Lawas, Jr. was not the poseur-buyer and he was not even with the poseur buyer during the sale transaction as he was on the opposite side of the road, the turning over to him by the trusted informant of the four sticks of handrolled marijuana cigarettes sold by the appellant was the supposed first link in the chain of custody. Unfortunately, the prosecution failed to establish the same. This Court cannot overlook this evidentiary gap as it involves the identification of the sold four sticks of handrolled marijuana cigarettes. In the absence of the aforesaid link in the chain of custody, doubt arises if, indeed, the recovered four sticks of handrolled marijuanacigarettes that PO3 Lawas, Jr. brought to the barangayhall and then to the Mabolo Police Station; subsequently marked by Barangay TanodNicor; later brought to the crime laboratory; and examined by the forensic chemist, which yielded positive for marijuana, were the same drugs actually sold by the appellant to the trusted informant.
Given the foregoing circumstances, it is beyond any cavil of doubt that the prosecution miserably failed to specifically identify the four sticks of handrolled marijuana cigarettes that were actually sold at the buy-bust as among those that were presented in court. This evidentiary situation effectively translates to the absence of proof of corpus delicti, and cannot but lead this Court to conclude that no valid conviction for the crime of illegal sale of marijuanacan result.28
X x x.”