PEOPLE vs. MORALES 616 SCRA 223
On or about January 2, 2003 in Quezon City Appellant Morales, not being authorized by law to possess or use any dangerous drug, the latter was charged in two separate Informations before the RTC with possession and sale of methylamphetamine hydrochloride (shabu) and found the appellant guilty beyond reasonable doubt. The trial court held that the prosecution witnesses positively identified the appellant as the person who possessed and sold to the poseur-buyer the "shabu" subject of this case, during the buy-bust operation conducted in the afternoon of January 2, 2003. The trial court found that from the evidence presented, the prosecution was able to sufficiently establish the following: (1) the fact of the buy-bust operation conducted at the parking lot of Jollibee Philcoa which led to the arrest of the appellant; and (2) the corpus delicti, through the presentation in court of the two sachets of white substance which was confirmed by the Chemistry Report to be methylamphetamine hydrochloride ("shabu"), found in the possession of and sold by the appellant. The CA affirmed the Decision of the trial court in toto. It found that contrary to the allegations of the appellant, there was no instigation that took place. Rather, a buy-bust operation was employed by the police officers to apprehend the appellant while in the act of unlawfully selling drugs. The appellate court further held that what is material in a prosecution for illegal sale of prohibited drugs is the proof that the transaction or sale actually took place, coupled with the presentation in court of the corpus delicti.
Whether or not, the CA erred when it affirmed the trial court’s findings of fact to established the elements of illegal sale and possession of shabu against the accused.
Prevailing jurisprudence uniformly hold that the trial court’s findings of fact, especially when affirmed by the CA, are, as a general rule, entitled to great weight and will not be disturbed on appeal. However, this rule admits of exceptions and does not apply where facts of weight and substance with direct and material bearing on the final outcome of the case have been overlooked, misapprehended or misapplied. After due consideration of the records of this case, evidence presented and relevant law and jurisprudence, we hold that this case falls under the exception. In actions involving the illegal sale of dangerous drugs, it must be shown that (1) the accused was in possession of an item or an object identified to be a prohibited or regulated drug, (2) such possession is not authorized by law, and (3) the accused was freely and consciously aware of being in possession of the drug. Similarly, in this case, the evidence of the corpus delicti must be established beyond reasonable doubt. The person whom the police officers gave the drugs for delivery of seized items was not present in court nor did they testify that they properly marked the drugs and failed to concretely identify the items seized from the appellant. Moreover, they did not also take photographs and had no representative from the media and Department of Justice or public official to sign an inventory of the seized items. In fine, the identity of the corpus delicti in this case was not proven beyond reasonable doubt. There was likewise a break in the chain of custody which proves fatal to the prosecution’s case. Thus, since the prosecution has failed to establish the element of corpus delicti with the prescribed degree of proof required for successful prosecution of both possession and sale of prohibited drugs, the accused must be acquitted.