US vs. Ah Chong

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THE UNITED STATES, plaintiff-appellee,

G.R. No. L-5272
March 19, 1910


The defendant, Ah Chong, was employed as a cook at “Officers’ quarters, No. 27,” Fort Mc Kinley, Rizal Province, and at the same place Pascual Gualberto, deceased, was employed as a house boy or muchacho. “Officers’ quarters No. 27” as a detached house situates some 40 meters from the nearest building, and in August, 19087, was occupied solely as an officers’ mess or club. No one slept in the house except the two servants, who jointly occupied a small room toward the rear of the building, the door of which opened upon a narrow porch running along the side of the building, by which communication was had with the other part of the house. This porch was covered by a heavy growth of vines for its entire length and height. The door of the room was not furnished with a permanent bolt or lock, and occupants, as a measure of security, had attached a small hook or catch on the inside of the door, and were in the habit of reinforcing this somewhat insecure means of fastening the door by placing against it a chair. In the room there was but one small window, which, like the door, opened on the porch. Aside from the door and window, there were no other openings of any kind in the room.

On the night of August 14, 1908, at about 10 o’clock, the defendant, who had received for the night, was suddenly awakened by some trying to force open the door of the room. He sat up in bed and called out twice, “Who is there?” He heard no answer and was convinced by the noise at the door that it was being pushed open by someone bent upon forcing his way into the room. Due to the heavy growth of vines along the front of the porch, the room was very dark, and the defendant, fearing that the intruder was a robber or a thief, leaped to his feet and called out. “If you enter the room, I will kill you.” At that moment he was struck just above the knee by the edge of the chair which had been placed against the door. In the darkness and confusion the defendant thought that the blow had been inflicted by the person who had forced the door open, whom he supposed to be a burglar, though in the light of after events, it is probable that the chair was merely thrown back into the room by the sudden opening of the door against which it rested. Seizing a common kitchen knife which he kept under his pillow, the defendant struck out wildly at the intruder who, it afterwards turned out, was his roommate, Pascual. Pascual ran out upon the porch and fell down on the steps in a desperately wounded condition, followed by the defendant, who immediately recognized him in the moonlight. Seeing that Pascual was wounded, he called to his employers who slept in the next house, No. 28, and ran back to his room to secure bandages to bind up Pascual’s wounds.

There had been several robberies in Fort McKinley not long prior to the date of the incident just described, one of which took place in a house in which the defendant was employed as cook; and as defendant alleges, it was because of these repeated robberies he kept a knife under his pillow for his personal protection.

The deceased and the accused, who roomed together and who appear to have on friendly and amicable terms prior to the fatal incident, had an understanding that when either returned at night, he should knock at the door and acquiant his companion with his identity.

Defendant was placed under arrest forthwith, and Pascual was conveyed to the military hospital, where he died from the effects of the wound on the following day.

The defendant was charged with the crime of assassination, tried, and found guilty by the trial court of simple homicide, with extenuating circumstances, and sentenced to six years and one day presidio mayor, the minimum penalty prescribed by law.


Should the defendant be acquitted by invoking mistake of fact?


YES. Under these provisions we think that there can be no doubt that defendant would be entitle to complete exception from criminal liability for the death of the victim of his fatal blow, if the intruder who forced open the door of his room had been in fact a dangerous thief or “ladron,” as the defendant believed him to be. No one, under such circumstances, would doubt the right of the defendant to resist and repel such an intrusion, and the thief having forced open the door notwithstanding defendant’s thrice-repeated warning to desist, and his threat that he would kill the intruder if he persisted in his attempt, it will not be questioned that in the darkness of the night, in a small room, with no means of escape, with the thief advancing upon him despite his warnings defendant would have been wholly justified in using any available weapon to defend himself from such an assault, and in striking promptly, without waiting for the thief to discover his whereabouts and deliver the first blow.

The question then squarely presents itself, whether in this jurisdiction one can be held criminally responsible who, by reason of a mistake as to the facts, does an act for which he would be exempt from criminal liability if the facts were as he supposed them to be, but which would constitute the crime of homicide or assassination if the actor had known the true state of the facts at the time when he committed the act. To this question we think there can be but one answer, and we hold that under such circumstances there is no criminal liability, provided always that the alleged ignorance or mistake or fact was not due to negligence or bad faith.

Since evil intent is in general an inseparable element in every crime, any such mistake of fact as shows the act committed to have proceeded from no sort of evil in the mind necessarily relieves the actor from criminal liability provided always there is no fault or negligence on his part; and as laid down by Baron Parke, “The guilt of the accused must depend on the circumstances as they appear to him.” That is to say, the question as to whether he honestly, in good faith, and without fault or negligence fell into the mistake is to be determined by the circumstances as they appeared to him at the time when the mistake was made, and the effect which the surrounding circumstances might reasonably be expected to have on his mind, in forming the intent, criminal or other wise, upon which he acted.

A careful examination of the facts as disclosed in the case at bar convinces us that the defendant Chinaman struck the fatal blow alleged in the information in the firm belief that the intruder who forced open the door of his sleeping room was a thief, from whose assault he was in imminent peril, both of his life and of his property and of the property committed to his charge; that in view of all the circumstances, as they must have presented themselves to the defendant at the time, he acted in good faith, without malice, or criminal intent, in the belief that he was doing no more than exercising his legitimate right of self-defense; that had the facts been as he believed them to be he would have been wholly exempt from criminal liability on account of his act; and that he can not be said to have been guilty of negligence or recklessness or even carelessness in falling into his mistake as to the facts, or in the means adopted by him to defend himself from the imminent danger which he believe threatened his person and his property and the property under his charge.

The judgment of conviction and the sentence imposed by the trial court should be reversed, and the defendant acquitted of the crime with which he is charged and his bail bond exonerated, with the costs of both instance de oficio.

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