Criminal Law

People of the Philippines vs Romy Lim

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G.R. No. 231989 – 839 Phil. 598 – Criminal Law – Special Penal Laws – R.A. 9165 – Anti-Dangerous Drugs Act – Section 21 – Chain of Custody

Romy Lim was subjected to a buy-bust operation. He was convicted by the trial court and his conviction was affirmed by the Court of Appeals.

ISSUE: Whether or not Romy Lim’s conviction must be reversed.

HELD: Yes. Lim is acquitted.

It appears from the evidence that during the buy-bust operation, the operatives failed to comply with the requirements of Section 21 of RA 9165. They did not secure the presence of the insulating witnesses (no media representative and no elected official). The operatives also completed the inventory of the evidence at their office.

The Supreme Court emphasized the strict requirements of Section 21 or the chain of custody rule in drugs cases.

In the event that the operatives cannot comply with Section 21 due to valid excuses, the following must be observed:

1. In the sworn statements/affidavits, the apprehending/seizing officers must state their compliance with the requirements of Section 21 (1) of R.A. No. 9165, as amended, and its IRR.

2. In case of non-observance of the provision, the apprehending/seizing officers must state the justification or explanation therefor as well as the steps they have taken in order to preserve the integrity and evidentiary value of the seized/ confiscated items.

3. If there is no justification or explanation expressly declared in the sworn statements or affidavits, the investigating fiscal must not immediately file the case before the court. Instead, he or she must refer the case for further preliminary investigation in order to determine the (non) existence of probable cause.

4. If the investigating fiscal filed the case despite such absence, the court may exercise its discretion to either refuse to issue a commitment order (or warrant of arrest) or dismiss the case outright for lack of probable cause in accordance with Section 5, Rule 112, Rules of Court.

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