Muntinlupa court affirms 'Alabang Boys' acquittal

by Ina Reformina, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 25 2011 02:40 PM | Updated as of Nov 26 2011 07:11 AM

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) - The Muntinlupa City Regional Trial Court Branch 204 has junked a motion for reconsideration (MR) filed by prosecutors of the Department of Justice on the trial court's judgment of acquittal on the drug case involving so-called "Alabang Boys" Richard Brodett and Jorge Joseph.

The denial of the MR last October 25 is based on the doctrine of double jeopardy.

"Finding no cogent reason to disturb the findings of the court, the said motion is hereby frnied. [S]aid motion is barred by the rule on double jeopardy," the court's 2-page ruling read.

"Any reconsideration of the said judgment of acquittal will put the accused Richard Brodett and Jorge Joseph twice in jeopardy, contrary to the constitutional provision," the ruling read.

Under Section 21, Article III of the Constitution, "[n]o person shall be twice put in jeopardy of punishment for the same offense." 

The same is echoed in  the Rules of Court.

Break in custody of evidence

Brodett and Joseph were acquitted by trial court judge Juanita Guerrero in August due to a "break in the custody" of drug evidence.

Guerrero, in her ruling, held that "the link in the custody of the drug evidence has been broken" based on the testimony on rebuttal of a critical prosecution witness, the evidence custodian and at the same time, Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) forensic chemist.

The ruling held that the failure of the prosecution to establish all the links in the chain of custody was fatal to the case, and that the presumption of regularity should bow down to the presumption of innocence of the accused.

An MR on a judgment of acquittal is a prohibited pleading because it puts the accused in double jeopardy.

There are, however, exceptions to this rule, though "the grounds are exceptional and narrow," as held by both the Supreme Court (SC) and the Court of Appeals (CA).

This is what led the Department of Justice (DOJ) to seek a reconsideration of the judgment of the trial  court.

Justice Secretary Leila De Lima, in previous interviews, cited a Supreme Court ruling, which she said, gives more weight to the issue of preservation of the integrity of evidence than custody links.

No breach, according to PDEA

The DOJ was convinced, after hearing the clarifications of former PDEA head Dionisio Santiago and ex-PDEA officer Ferdinand Marcelino, that there was no breach in the chain of custody of evidence seized from the accused contrary to the ruling of the trial court and that the evidence was accounted for every step of the way.

Brodett and Joseph were arrested following a PDEA buy-bust operation on Sept. 19, 2008 inside  posh Ayala Alabang Village for alleged possession of some 60 'ecstasy' tablets.

There is no word yet whether the DOJ will appeal the ruling before the appellate court.

In previous interviews De Lima had expressed willingness to do this should the trial court sustain its ruling, which it, in fact, did.

Among exceptions cited by jurisprudence on appeals for reversal of an acquittal are: when the trial court acted with grave abuse of discretion, and a mistrial, in which case the judgment is rendered void.

In the Philippines, only the Aquino-Galman case was ordered reviewed and reopened by the courts despite an acquittal on the basis of a mistrial.