Republic of the Philippines
SUPREME COURT
Manila

EN BANC

G.R. No. L-12963        October 25, 1917

THE UNITED STATES, plaintiff-appellee,
vs.
URBANO DOMEN, defendant-appellant.

Leopoldo Rovira for appellant.
Acting Attorney-General Paredes for appellee.

 

MALCOLM, J.:

The defendant and appellant frankly admits that a wound inflicted by him with a tuba knife on the right arm of Victoriano Gadlit caused the death of the latter. The appellant, however, advances the claim, that he should be exempted from criminal liability because of having acted in defense of his person. Let us, therefore, examine the evidence to ascertain if the decision of the trial court finding the defendant and appellant guilty of homicide should be sustained or whether as contended by counsel and as recommended by the Attorney-General the defendant should be acquitted.

The widow took the stand for the prosecution and testified that the accused made an unprovoked attack upon her husband at the foot of the stairway leading up into their house, and that this attack was also witnessed by a neighbor, Angel Pocong. But Angel Pocong testified that he was absent from home at the time in question, and that all that he knew of the fight was what was told him by the widow. The court found that the widow was mistaken in her testimony. Not considering, therefore, her testimony, the prosecution has in addition only the testimony of Filomeno Antipuesto, who told of the accused having admitted that he had wounded the deceased, and the testimony of Angel Pocong as to the death of the deceased while being carried in a hammock. We must then perforce rely on the evidence for the defense. From the testimony of two witnesses who claimed to have seen what occurred and the testimony of the defendant, it appears that the defendant and the deceased quarrelled about a carabao of the defendant, which the deceased said had gotten into his corn patch; that the deceased attacked the defendant and struck him with a piece of wood called "Japanese," about a vara in length and about the size of one's wrist; that the deceased struck at the accused four or five times; and that the accused did not retreat but struck back wounding the deceased on the forearm.

The facts stated present a close question for the decision. Admitting that there was unlawful aggression on the part of the deceased, the doubt centers around the point as to whether there was reasonable necessity for the means employed by the defendant to repel the attack. Resolving, as it is our duty to do, any doubt in favor of the accused, and passing by well known principles of the criminal law, we come to the case of United States vs. Molina ([1911] 19 Phil., 227), and the doctrines therein enunciated. In the opinion handed down in this case by Mr. Justice Mapa, it is held that: (1) During an unlawful attack by another and while a struggle is going on and the danger to his person or to his life continues, the party assaulted has a right to repel the danger by wounding his adversary, and if, necessary, to disable him; (2) the fact that a person when assaulted does not flee from his assailant is not sufficient reason for declining in a proper case to uphold the rational necessity of the means employed in repelling the illegal attack. 1awphil.net

The first proposition of the Molina opinion is in accord with the settled jurisprudence of this court. (See U. S. vs. Laurel [1912], 22 Phil., 252; U. S. vs. Patoto [1914], 28 Phil., 535.) The second proposition dealing with the necessity of retreat by the accused can be further examined in the light of controlling authorities. The ancient common law rule in homicide was denominated "retreat to the wall." This doctrine makes it the duty of a person assailed to retreat as far as he can before he is justified in meeting force with force. This principle has now given way in the United States to the "stand ground when in the right" rule. The Supreme Court of the United States carefully examined the application of the two doctrines in Beard vs. United States ([1894] 158 U. S., 550). In the opinion handed down by Mr. Justice Harlan reference is made approvingly to the decision of the Supreme Court of Ohio in Erwin vs. State ([1876] 29 Ohio St., 186) in which it is said:

It is true that all authorities agree that the taking of life in defense of one's person cannot be either justified or excused, except on the ground of necessity; and that such necessity must be imminent at the time; and they also agree that no man can avail himself of such necessity if he brings it upon himself. The question, then, is simply this: Does the law hold a man who is violently and feloniously assaulted responsible for having brought such necessity upon himself, on the sole ground that he failed to fly from his assailant when he might safely have done so? The law, out of tenderness for human life and the frailties of human nature, will not permit the taking of it to repel a mere trespass, or even to save life where the assault is provoked; but a true man, who is without fault, is not obliged to fly from an assailant, who, by violence or surprise, maliciously seeks to take his life or do him enormous bodily harm.

Justice Harlan then concludes his opinion with these words:

The defendant was where he had the right to be, when the deceased advanced upon him in a threatening manner, and with a deadly weapon; and if the accused did not provoked the assault and had at the time reasonable grounds to believe and in good faith believed, that the deceased intended to take his life or do him great bodily harm, he was not obliged to retreat, nor consider whether he could safely retreat, but was entitled to stand his ground and meet any attack made upon him with a deadly weapon, in such way and with such force as, under all circumstances, he, at the moment, honestly believed, and had reasonable grounds to believe, was necessary to save his own life or to protect himself from great bodily injury.

The same Court reexamined and reaffirmed the doctrine in Rowe vs. United States ([1896] 164 U. S., 546).

We can do no better than to paraphrase the language of these well considered opinions for our present purpose. The accused did not provoke the assault. The accused was where he had a right to be. The law did not require him to retreat when his assailant was rapidly advancing upon him in a threatening manner with a deadly weapon. The accused was entitled to do whatever he had reasonable grounds to believe at the time was necessary to save his life or to protect himself from great bodily harm. The element of practicability made it impossible for him to determine during the heat of a sudden attack whether he would increase or diminish the risk to which exposed by standing his ground or stepping aside. His resistance was not disproportionate to the assault. The wound was inflicted, not on what is usually a vital part of the body but on the arm as one would naturally strike to defend himself. Viewed from all angles, we believe this is a "proper case" for the exemption of the accused from criminal liability because of having acted in legitimate defense of his person.

Agreeable to the recommendation of the Attorney-General and in conformity with the proof, judged in connection with the principles just stated, we must reverse the judgment of the trial court and acquit the defendant and appellant of the crime charged, with the costs of both instances de officio. So ordered.

Arellano, C. J., Carson, Araullo, and Street, JJ., concur.


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