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In February 2009, members of the Muntinlupa Police Station conducted a buy-bust operation against Dave Claudel. After the alleged sale of illegal drugs was made, the police brought him to the police station. At the police station, the police searched the person of Dave and they recovered from him the buy-bust money. After that, the police inventoried the sold illegal drug and the buy-bust money. The search and the inventory was witnessed by a certain Rodolfo Baldobino. In his defense, Dave argued, among others, that the police did not follow the procedure as required by Section 21 of the Anti-Dangerous Drugs Act (R.A. No. 9165) because of the fact that the mandatory witnesses (DOJ representative/media representative and an elective official) were not present during the operation. Eventually, Dave was convicted for selling illegal drugs.
ISSUE: Whether or not the conviction is correct.
HELD: No. The absence of the mandatory witnesses is fatal to the case. Baldobino is neither a DOJ/media representative nor an elective official.
In drugs cases, the confiscated drug constitutes the very corpus delicti of the offense and the fact of its existence is vital to sustain a judgment of conviction. It is essential that the identity and integrity of the seized drug be established with moral certainty. Thus, in order to obviate any unnecessary doubt on its identity, the prosecution has to show an unbroken chain of custody over the same and account for each link in the chain of custody from the moment the drug is seized up to its presentation in court as evidence of the crime.
The presence of the three witnesses must be secured not only during the inventory but more importantly at the time of the warrantless arrest. It is at this point in which the presence of the three witnesses is most needed, as it is their presence at the time of seizure and confiscation that would belie any doubt as to the source, identity, and integrity of the seized drug. If the buy-bust operation is legitimately conducted, the presence of the insulating witnesses would also controvert the usual defense of frame-up as the witnesses would be able to testify that the buy-bust operation and inventory of the seized drugs were done in their presence in accordance with Section 21 of RA 9165.