The Supreme Court has upheld the conviction of an Irishman who was found with less than a gram of marijuana at a Philippine airport.
In a decision made last December but made public today (Thursday, March 21) the court affirmed the conviction of Eanna O’Cochlain, aged 53, who was caught with .38 grams of marijuana at Laoag City Airport in 2013.
According to the dangerous drugs law, possession of marijuana resin or marijuana resin oil weighing less than five grams is punishable by a prison term of 12 to 20 years and fine of up to 400,000 pesos.
In ruling against O’Cochlain, the Supreme Court (SC) held that his arresting officers “substantially complied with the chain of custody rule”. The SC has previously acquitted drug convicts due to noncompliance with this rule.
As we have previously reported, the nurse from County Cork has consistently denied the charges against him, and claims he was asked to pay a bribe after the drugs were found in a cigarette packet.
O’Cochlain elevated his case to the SC after it was rejected by the Court of Appeals in 2017.
His latest bid to overturn his conviction centred on procedural aspects of his arrest and treatment of the evidence against him.
The SC ruled that the prosecution had proved that the “integrity and evidentiary value” of the seized drugs were “properly preserved in every step of the way”.
Even if it were true that the marijuana was not immediately marked “such fact does not automatically result in an acquittal,” the Court ruled.
“As long as the integrity and evidentiary value of an illegal drug were not compromised, non-compliance with Section 21 (1) of R.A. No. 9165 and its IRR may be excused,” the SC held.
The SC said it is “almost always impossible” to perfectly follow the procedure for chain of custody, but even so, “the chain of custody need not be perfect for the evidence to be admissible”.
“It is unfortunate that rigid obedience to procedure on the chain of custody creates a scenario wherein the safeguards supposedly set to shield the innocent are more often than not exploited by the guilty to escape rightful punishment,” the SC said.
“The most important factor is the preservation of the integrity and evidentiary value of the seized item.”
The Court also ruled that O’Cochlain was validly subjected to a warrantless arrest.