By Rey Panaligan
The Supreme Court (SC) has acquitted and ordered the release from detention of a Cagayan de Oro City resident from whom a sachet containing 7.4 grams of dried marijuana was confiscated by the police in a buy-bust operation in 2006.
Acquitted and ordered released from jail unless being held for another lawful cause was Rogelio Yagao who was convicted by the Cagayan de Oro City regional trial court and, on appeal, the conviction was upheld by the Court of Appeals (CA).
Yagao was charged with violation of Section 5 (sale of dangerous drugs), Article II of Republic Act No. 9165, the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act.
Chief Justice Lucas P. Bersamin wrote the decision that reversed both the RTC and the CA.
The SC found that the policemen who arrested Yagao failed to observe the requisites for the chain of custody of the seized illegal drugs such that the integrity of the evidence was not preserved as required by law.
Also, the SC found that the prosecution failed to establish the essential element of delivery of the dangerous drugs by Yagao to the poseur-buyer during the buy-bust operation.
A summary of the case issued by the SC’s public information office (PIO) stated:
“Citing the transcript of stenographic notes, the SC noted that the cop who acted as poseur-buyer quickly effected Yagao’s arrest just as soon as he had pulled out the marijuana from his pocket, hence, the seizure happened before Yagao could hand over the illegal drug.
“Under such circumstance, there was no sale because the delivery of the dangerous drug to the poseur-buyer had not yet transpired.
“Delivery as one of the essential elements of illegal sale of dangerous drug under Section 5 of RA 9165 is defined as the act of knowingly passing a dangerous drug to another, personally or otherwise, and by any means, with or without consideration.
“The SC further held that the chain of custody of the confiscated drug, not being unbroken, raised grave doubts about the integrity of the drug as evidence of the corpus delicti (i.e., the fact of a crime having been actually committed.)
“It stressed that it has ‘frequently held that the observance of the chain of custody was essential in the preservation of the identity of the confiscated drug’ because ‘the drug, being itself the corpus delicti of the crime of illegal sale charged, will be the factual basis for holding the accused criminally liable under Section 5 of RA 9165.’
“Contrary to the finding of the CA and the RTC, serious and unjustifiable gaps broke the chain of custody of the confiscated marijuana.’ It noted irreconcilable inconsistencies tainted the arresting and seizing officers’ recollections about the links in the chain of custody, which diminished the credibility of their supposed observance of the chain of custody.
“Hence, their incrimination of the accused-appellant was fully discredited and should not be allowed to stand. As a result, we should doubt the stated reason for the arrest.’”