Irregularity in Entrapment Operations in Drug Cases

An entrapment operation is a valid way of apprehending perpetrators of sale of illegal drugs. Upon the consummation of the sale, the entrapment team is authorized to immediately arrest the seller of illegal drugs. The case would fall under the category of “in flagrante delicto” arrests, which do not require the issuance of a warrant of arrest. An “in flagrante delicto” arrest is one where the law enforcement officer witnesses that a crime has taken place or is about to take place, based on his own personal knowledge.

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However, notwithstanding the fact that the police officers have personally witnessed that a sale of illegal drugs has taken place, a person apprehended through an entrapment operation can still be acquitted. This is possible if he objects to the admissibility of evidence during trial, and the most important evidence in illegal drugs cases is the confiscated drugs themselves. The Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Law imposes a very strict procedure in handling confiscated drugs as evidence.

The case of People v. Casabuena (G.R. No. 186455, November 19, 2014) is instructive. Sometime in 2004, a group of police officers formed an entrapment team and assigned one agent as a poseur-buyer. The poseur-buyer went to the target area, with the rest of the team positioned 15 meters from the place of sale of illegal drugs. The poseur-buyer entered the seller’s house, and there conducted the sale. The accused was apprehended, and the drugs were confiscated.

However, the Supreme Court acquitted the accused because of an irregularity in the entrapment operation. Specifically, the police officers failed to undertake an inventory and to photograph the seize sachets of shabu at the place where they were seized or at the police station. Furthermore, the police officers did not even attempt to offer any justification why it failed to inventory and to photograph the seized items. The Supreme Court states, “In prosecutions involving narcotics, the narcotic substance itself constitutes the corpus delicti of the offense and its existence is vital to sustain a judgment of conviction beyond reasonable doubt. Proof beyond reasonable doubt demands that unwavering exactitude be observed in establishing the corpus delicti.”

The Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Law itself provides that the apprehending officer/team having initial custody and control of the drugs shall, immediately after seizure and confiscation, physically inventory and photograph the same in the presence of the accused or the person/s from whom such items were confiscated and/or seized.

The effect of non-compliance with the requirement to conduct an inventory and to photograph the evidence is the non-admissibility of the confiscated drugs as evidence. The judge therefore cannot consider said evidence in writing his decision. The net effect is the failure of sufficient evidence to convict. 

Respicio & Co. specializes in criminal law and defense of persons accused of drug-related offenses.