People v. Valdez, GR 129296, 25 September 2000
· Abe Valdez y Dela Cruz, accused-appellant, is charged for violating Section 9 of the Dangerous Drugs Act of 1972 (R.A. No. 6425), as amended by R.A. No. 7659.
· The accused was allegedly caught in flagrante delicto and without authority of law, planted, cultivated and cultured seven (7) fully grown marijuana plants known as Indian Hemp from which dangerous drugs maybe manufactured or derived.
· Appellant was arraigned and with assistance of counsel, pleaded not guilty to the charge. Trial on the merits then ensued.
· The prosecution presented its witnesses, namely: SPO3 Marcelo Tipay, SPO2 Noel V. Libunao, SPO2 Pedro S. Morales, SPO1 Romulo G. Tobias and PO2 Alfelmer I. Balut, all member of the police force, who testified how the information was received, the commencement of their operation and its details under the specific instruction of Inspector Parungao.
· Accordingly, they found appellant alone in his nipa hut. They, then, proceeded to look around the area where appellant had his kaingin and saw seven (7) five-foot high, flowering marijuana plants in two rows, approximately 25 meters away from his nipa hut. PO2 Balut asked appellant who owned the prohibited plants and, according to Balut, the latter admitted that they were his.
· They uprooted the seven marijuana plants, took photos of appellant standing beside the cannabis plants and arrested him. One of the said plants was sent to the Philippine National Police Crime Laboratory for analysis which produced a positive result.
· The prosecution also presented a certification from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources that the land cultivated by appellant where the growing marijuana plants were found, was part of the public domain.
· Appellant was acknowledged in the certification as the occupant of the lot, but no Certificate of Stewardship had yet been issued in his favor.
· The defense presented appellant as its sole witness. He testified he was weeding his vegetable farm when he was called by a person whose identity he does not know.
· He was asked to go with the latter to see something. This unknown person then brought appellant to the place where the marijuana plants were found, approximately 100 meters away from his nipa hut.
· Five armed policemen were present and they made him stand in front of the hemp plants. He was then asked if he knew anything about the marijuana growing there.
· When he denied any knowledge thereof, SPO2 Libunao poked a fist at him and told him to admit ownership of the plants.
· Appellant was so nervous and afraid that he admitted owning the marijuana. The police team then brought him to the police station at Villaverde.
· At the police headquarters, appellant reiterated that he knew nothing about the marijuana plants seized by the police.
· Appellant contends that there was unlawful search. First, the records show that the law enforcers had more than ample time to secure a search warrant. Second, that the marijuana plants were found in an unfenced lot does not remove appellant from the mantle of protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.
· The right against unreasonable searches and seizures is the immunity of one’s person, which includes his residence, his papers, and other possessions.
(1) Whether or not the search and seizure of the marijuana plants in the present case is lawful and the seized evidence admissible.
(2) Whether or not the seized plants are admissible in evidence against the accused.
(3) Whether or not the prosecution has proved appellant’s guilt beyond reasonable doubt.
(4) Whether or not the sentence of death by lethal injection is correct.
In the instant case, there was no search warrant issued by a judge after personal determination of the existence of probable cause given the fact that police had ample time to obtain said warrant. The protection against illegal search and seizure is constitutionally mandated and only under specific instances are searches allowed without warrants. The mantle of protection extended by the Bill of Rights covers both innocent and guilty alike against any form of high-handedness of law enforcers, regardless of the praiseworthiness of their intentions.
With respect to the first issue, the confiscated plants were evidently obtained during an illegal search and seizure. As to the second issue, which involves the admissibility of the marijuana plants as evidence for the prosecution, the said plants cannot, as products of an unlawful search and seizure, be used as evidence against appellant. They are fruits of the proverbial poisoned tree. It was, therefore, a reversible error on the part of the court a quo to have admitted and relied upon the seized marijuana plants as evidence to convict appellant.
In the third issue, it is fundamental in criminal prosecutions that before an accused may be convicted of a crime, the prosecution must establish by proof beyond reasonable doubt that a crime was committed and that the accused is the author thereof. The evidence arrayed against the accused, however, must not only stand the test of reason, it must likewise be credible and competent. Competent evidence is “generally admissible” evidence. Admissible evidence, in turn, is evidence “of such a character that the court or judge is bound to receive it, that is, allow it to be introduced at trial. And as earlier discussed, it was error on the trial court’s part to have admitted evidences against the accused and to have relied upon said proofs to convict him for said evidence is doubly tainted.
In the fourth issue, the Constitution decrees that, “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall be presumed innocent until the contrary is proved.” To justify the conviction of the accused, the prosecution must adduce that quantum of evidence sufficient to overcome the constitutional presumption of innocence. The prosecution must stand or fall on its evidence and cannot draw strength from the weakness of the evidence for the accused. Absent the required degree of proof of an accused’s guilt, he is entitled to an acquittal.
WHEREFORE, the decision promulgate on February 18, 1997, by the Regional Trial Court of Bayombong, Nueva Vizcaya, Branch 27, in Criminal Case No. 3105, finding Abe Valdez y Dela Cruz, guilty beyond reasonable doubt of violating Section 9 of the Dangerous Drugs Act of 1972, and imposing upon him the death penalty, is hereby REVERSED and SET ASIDE for insufficiency of evidence. Appellant is ACQUITTED and ordered RELEASED immediately from confinement unless held for another lawful cause.