Del Castillo vs. People (G.R. No. 185128)

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In considering a criminal case, it is critical to start with the law’s own starting perspective on the status of the accused – in all criminal prosecutions, he is presumed innocent of the charge laid unless the contrary is proven beyond reasonable doubt.

 

FACTS

Pursuant to a confidential information that Ruben Del Castillo (petitioner) was engaged in selling shabu, police officers, headed by SPO3 Bienvenido Masnayon, secured a search warrant from the RTC. In the search warrant, the place of Del Castillo’s residence was specifically designated and described.

The same police operatives then went to Gil Tudtud St., Mabolo, Cebu City to serve the search warrant to petitioner. But upon their arrival, someone shouted “raid”, which prompted them to proceed to Del Castillo’s house and cordon/surround it. However, before these police operatives can implement the search warrant, Del Castillo allegedly fled and ran to a nipa hut located 20 meters away from Del Castillo’s residence. SPO3 Masnayon and his men chased Del Castillo but failed to do so because they are not familiar with the entrances and exits of the place. Thereafter, all the police officers went back to said residence and sought the assistance of the barangay tanods.

In the presence of the barangay tanod, Nelson Gonzalado, and the elder sister of petitioner named Dolly del Castillo, Masnayon and his men searched Del Castillo’s house, including the nipa hut where he allegedly ran for cover. The policemen who searched the residence of the petitioner found nothing, but one of the barangay tanods was able to confiscate from the nipa hut several articles, including four (4) plastic packs containing white crystalline substance. Later, these packs were found to be shabu after they were sent to the PNP Crime Laboratory for examination.

On the basis of such finding, an Information for Section 16, Article III of R.A. 6425, as amended was filed against Del Castillo. During arraignment, with the assistance of counsel, he pleaded not guilty. Then, trial on the merits ensued. Eventually, the Regional Trial Court found him guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime charged.

Del Castillo, aggrieved by the trial court’s decision, appealed his case to the Court of Appeals. However, the appellate court affirmed the court a quo’s decision, opining that Del Castillo had constructive possession of the nipa hut where the crystalline substance were found. Thus, such substance, which turned out to be shabu, are under his dominion and control. Also, it denied Del Castillo’s Motion for Reconsideration.

Undaunted, Del Castillo filed before the Supreme Court a Petition for Certiorari under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court. He argued that the packs of white crystalline substance found in the nipa hut are inadmissible in evidence against him. This is because the prosecution failed to prove that he is the owner of said hut and that he uses the same as his electric shop.

ISSUE

Can Del Castillo be convicted of the crime charged?

RULING

No. This is because the prosecution failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the nipa hut, in which the illegal drugs were found, is under Del Castillo’s control and dominion or constructive possession, which is an element of the crime charged.

Among other things, the prosecution must prove the accused’s possession of the prohibited drug. Here, the testimonies of the witnesses for the prosecution do not provide proof as to the ownership of the nipa hut where the seized articles (packs of crystalline substances) were found. During their direct testimonies, they just said, without stating their basis, that the same structure was the shop of petitioner. In addition, the RTC, as well as the CA, merely presumed that petitioner used the said structure due to the presence of electrical materials, the petitioner being an electrician by profession.

Thus, the Supreme Court ruled:

“The prosecution must prove that the petitioner had knowledge of the existence and presence of the drugs in the place under his control and dominion, and the character of the drugs. With the prosecution’s failure to prove that the nipa hut was under petitioner’s control and dominion, there casts a reasonable doubt as to his guilt.

In considering a criminal case, it is critical to start with the law’s own starting perspective on the status of the accused – in all criminal prosecutions, he is presumed innocent of the charge laid unless the contrary is proven beyond reasonable doubt.

Proof beyond reasonable doubt, or that quantum of proof sufficient to produce a moral certainty that would convince and satisfy the conscience of those who act in judgment, is indispensable to overcome the constitutional presumption of innocence.

WHEREFORE, the Decision dated July 31, 2006 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G. R. No. 27819, which affirmed the Decision dated March 14, 2003 of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 12, Cebu, in Criminal Case No. CBU-46291 is hereby REVERSED and SET ASIDE. Petitioner Ruben del Castillo is ACQUITTED on reasonable doubt.

SO ORDERED.

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