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SC slams flawed evidence handling

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The Supreme Court (SC) has acquitted three men charged with dealing drugs for the failure of their arresting officers to maintain the chain of custody of evidence.

Set free by the High Court in a decision released to media yesterday were Emmanuel Oliva, Bernardo Barangot and Mark Angelo Manalastas.

The three were earlier convicted by a Makati court for allegedly dealing less than a gram of shabu, a conviction affirmed by the Court of Appeals (CA) before being overturned by the SC Third Division on 7 January.

The SC said government prosecutors failed to prove the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt on account of the absence of a representative from the Department of Justice (DoJ) and the media during the inventory of the drugs seized from them.

The chain of custody of evidence refers to the chronological documentation of custody, control, transfer, analysis and disposition of physical or electronic evidence.

The absence of a government prosecutor and a member of media during the inventory violated Section 21 of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act and rendered as flawed the chain of custody of evidence in the case against the three.

“A stricter adherence to Section 21 is required where the quantity of illegal drugs seized is minuscule since it is highly susceptible to planting, tampering or alteration,” the SC said in the decision written by Associate Justice Diosdado Peralta.

Aside from the presence of someone from the DoJ and the media, the aforementioned provision of the law requires the presence of the suspects, their lawyers and an elected public official like a barangay captain during the physical inventory of evidence.

The SC also issued an order last September which required arresting officers to state their compliance with the said rule, while laying down courses of action in case of non-compliance.

The SC order was intended to clear “poorly built up” drug cases from court dockets.

Many drug charges filed in court end up in acquittal because of the failure of arresting officers to testify or on account of technicalities like failure to follow the chain of custody of evidence.

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