Irish nurse nabbed for marijuana loses SC appeal

MANILA — The Supreme Court (SC) on Thursday bared the decision of the tribunal last December upholding the conviction of a 55-year-old Irish nurse arrested six years ago for possession of two marijuana sticks at the Laoag City International Airport.

In a 36-page decision promulgated last December 10 and penned by Justice Diosdado M. Peralta, the Court’s 3rd Division dismissed the appeal filed by Eanna O’Cochlain, who was caught with two sticks of marijuana weighing less than a gram during a final security checkpoint at the Laoag City International Airport, Ilocos Norte in 2013.

The decision affirmed the Feb. 9, 2016 decision and the July 21, 2016 resolution of the Court of Appeals (CA), which in turn affirmed the Nov. 22, 2013 decision of the Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 13, Laoag City, finding O’Cochlain guilty of violation of Section 11, Article II of RA 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.

The Laoag court sentenced O’Cochlain to 14 years imprisonment for the drug charge.

The Court ruled that failure to strictly comply with Section 21 (1) of RA 9165 on the chain of custody of evidence does not necessarily render an accused person’s arrest illegal or the items seized or confiscated from him inadmissible or render void and invalid such seizure. The most important factor is the preservation of the integrity and evidentiary value of the seized item.

In this case, the Court held that there was substantial compliance with the chain of custody rule, noting that the prosecution was able to prove, through documentary and testimonial evidence, that the integrity and evidentiary value of the seized items were properly preserved in every step of the way.

The Court also said the chain of custody rule is a matter of evidence and a rule of procedure, it being ultimately anchored on the weight and admissibility of evidence which the courts have the exclusive prerogative to decide.

Any missing link, gap, doubt, challenge, break, problem, defect or deficiency in the chain of custody goes to the weight of the evidence, not in its admissibility, it said.

The Court added that it need not rule out every possibility that the evidence underwent alteration; it needs only to find that the reasonable probability is that the evidence has not been altered inany material aspect.

The Court, however, held that there was a valid consented warrantless search in the case of O’Cochlain, who readily agreed when the security screening officer requested to conduct a pat down search on him.

It noted that there is no evidence that O’Cochlain objected to the body search. (PNA)

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