Supreme Court acquits drug suspect over weak case buildup

MANILA, Philippines – The Supreme Court (SC) acquitted and ordered released from jail a drug suspect convicted in 2013 for possession of illegal drugs, over what the justices called a weak case from the very beginning.

"Accused Romy Miranda Lim is acquitted on reasonable doubt, and is ordered immediately released from detention, unless he is being lawfully held for another cause. Let an entry of final judgment be issued immediately," the Supreme Court en banc voted unanimously in a decision promulgated on September 4.

The decision was penned by Associate Justice Diosdado Peralta, with concurrences from 12 other justices. Associate Justice Francis Jardeleza inhibited due to prior action as solicitor general, while Associate Justice Mariano Del Castillo was on wellness leave.

The en banc found that when agents of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) conducted a buy bust on Lim, the arresting team did not follow the chain of custody in the marking of the shabu sachets allegedly found on the suspect.

The buy bust happened in 2010 in Cagayan De Oro City. Lim was convicted and sentenced to life in 2012 by the Cagayan de Oro City Regional Trial Court (RTC) – a decision upheld by the Court of Appeals in February 2017. (IN CHARTS: Drug cases take over PH courts, have low disposition rates)

Weak handling

Republic Act No. 9165 or the Dangerous Drugs Law requires the arresting team to conduct a physical inventory and photograph evidence in the presence of the accused or his representative, a member of the media, a member of the Department of Justice (DOJ), and an elected public official.

In Lim's case, none of the 3 independent representatives were present in PDEA's inventory, and therefore, did not make the required signatures on the inventory receipt.

The SC said the PDEA, as well as the prosecution, failed to show a justifiable reason why said representatives could not be reached for the inventory.

This creates reasonable doubt, the SC said.  

"In other words, in a criminal case, the prosecution must offer sufficient evidence from which the trier of fact could reasonably believe that an item still is what the government claims it to be," the SC said. (READ: SC slams reckless drug buy-busts, wants weak cases junked)

The SC also said that from hereon, the chain of custody must be a mandatory requirement, as well as other rules found under the law, to "weed out early on from the courts' already congested docket any orchestrated or poorly built up drug-related cases." – Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

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