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In September 2002, Ramil Dahil and Rommel Castro were indicted for selling and possession of illegal drugs after an alleged buy-bust operation. After ten years of trial in 2012, the trial court convicted the two. In 2013, the Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction.
On appeal before the Supreme Court, the defense argued that Dahil and Castro should be acquitted because the prosecution was not able to prove that there was an unbroken chain of custody as to the illegal drugs seized because of the fact that the inventory of the illegal drugs were conducted in the police station and not at the place where Dahil and Castro were allegedly arrested.
ISSUE: Whether or not Dahil and Castro should be acquitted.
HELD: Yes. In drugs cases, the chain of custody must be established:
First link: Marking of the Drugs Recovered from the Accused by the Apprehending Officer
Second Link: Turnover of the Seized Drugs by the Apprehending Officer to the Investigating Officer
Third Link: Turnover by the Investigating Officer of the Illegal Drugs to the Forensic Chemist
Fourth Link: Turnover of the Marked Illegal Drug Seized by the Forensic Chemist to the Court
Here, the inventory was not conducted immediately at the place where the alleged buy-bust happened (where the items were seized). In fact, there were even no pictures taken at the scene. This already casts doubt as to whether or not the illegal drugs presented in court were actually the drugs allegedly seized from Dahil and Castro. The affidavits of the police officers did not indicate what markings were placed on the alleged drugs seized. The markings were only indicated by the chemist. And, the chemist never appeared in court despite the subpoena sent to her. Since the chemist did not appear, the prosecution could not even explain how the illegal drugs were presented in court.
All these lapses indicate that the prosecution was not able to prove that the chain of custody was never broken.
But will the presumption of regularity make up with the lapses?
NO. The regularity of the performance of duty could not be properly presumed in favor of the police officers because the records were replete with indicia of their serious lapses. The presumption stands when no reason exists in the records by which to doubt the regularity of the performance of official duty. And even in that instance, the presumption of regularity will never be stronger than the presumption of innocence in favor of the accused. Otherwise, a mere rule of evidence will defeat the constitutionally enshrined right of an accused to be presumed innocent.