PEOPLE VS. LORENZO - 619 SCRA 389
Two (2) Information where filed against accused-appellant Paterno Lorenzo y Casas (Lorenzo) for violation of Section 5 and 11 of Article II of R.A No. 9165. Meanwhile, Conrado Estanislao y Javier (Estanislao) was similarly charged in different Information (later acquitted due to insufficiency of evidence in connection with the offense charged against him).
After entering the plea of “not guilty”, the case was set for trial. The prosecution presented as its lone witness, Police Officer 1 (PO1) Noel Pineda, who was member of the buy-bust operation team which ensued leading to the arrest of Lorenzo and Estanislao. On the other hand, the accused interposes the twin defense of denial and frame-up.
RTC rendered its Decision convicting Lorenzo for Illegal Possession and Sale of Dangerous Drugs, but acquitting Estanislao.
Invoking his innocence, Lorenzo appealed his conviction to the Court of Appeals (CA), questioning the procedure followed by the police operatives in the seizure and custody of the evidence against him and that there is failure of the prosecution to convict him on the basis that there arises a reasonable doubt in the case at bar. Moreover, he claims that the prosecution failed to adopt required procedure by Section 21, Article II, RA. No. 9165, on the chain of custody and disposition of confiscated, seized, or surrendered dangerous drugs. CA affirmed the decision of the RTC.
Hence, this petition.
Whether or not the prosecution discharged its burden of proving Lorenzo’s guilt beyond reasonable doubt for the crime charged.
The presumption of innocence of an accused in a criminal case is a basic constitutional principle, fleshed out by procedural rules which place on the prosecution the burden of proving that an accused is guilty of the offense charged by proof beyond reasonable doubt. Corollary thereto, conviction must rest on the strength of the prosecution’s evidence and not on the weakness of the defense.
In both illegal sale and illegal possession of prohibited drugs, conviction cannot be sustained if there is a persistent doubt on the identity of the drug. The identity of the prohibited drug must be established with moral certainty. Apart from showing that the elements of possession or sale are present, the fact that the substance illegally possessed and sold in the first place is the same substance offered in court as exhibit must likewise be established with the same degree of certitude as that needed to sustain a guilty verdict.
PO1 Pineda testified that it was their confidential agent who purchased the shabu from accused-appellant and that he only retrieved it from said informant. He further testified that he marked the retrieved sachet of shabu together with the two other sachets of shabu that were allegedly seized from the accused, but it was not certain when and where the said marking was done nor who had specifically received and had custody of the specimens thereafter.
The Court also observes that the prosecution did not present the poseur-buyer who had personal knowledge of the transaction. The lone prosecution witness was at least four meters away from where accused-appellant and the poseur-buyer were. From this distance, it was impossible for him to hear the conversation between accused-appellant and the poseur-buyer. The foregoing facts and circumstances create doubt as to whether the sachets of shabu allegedly seized from accused-appellant were the same ones that were released to Camp Crame and submitted for laboratory examination. We therefore find that this failure to establish the evidence’s chain of custody is damaging to the prosecution’s case.
In sum, the totality of the evidence presented in the instant case failed to support accused appellant conviction of the crime charged, since the prosecution failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt all elements of the offense.
Accordingly, presumption of innocence should prevail.