ERROR TO THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE UNITED STATES FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS.
MR. JUSTICE SHIRAS, after stating the case, delivered the opinion of the court.
The facts, as made to appear by the testimony on both sides, were substantially these:
The difficulty was between boys; the oldest, Philip Henson, was about seventeen; Alexander Allen, the defendant, about fifteen, and the other participants were about twelve and thirteen years of age. The first encounter was on Thursday, when a quarrel took place, sticks were thrown, and threats made. On Saturday there was another meeting, when hostilities were renewed. The evidence is conflicting as to whether Henson and his party crossed the fence into the Marks yard, and as to which party made the first assault. An undeniable incident was that Philip Henson was fatally shot by a pistol in the hands of Allen.
In this condition of the evidence the court gave under exception the following instruction:
"Now, gentlemen, these are the three conditions which I give
you in the case. I have told you that if it is true that this defendant went up on one side of the fence and when there struck Philip Henson in the mouth and then shot him, that is murder. On the other hand, if it is true that Henson and the other boys attacked him with sticks, and while that attack was going on and in the heat of that affray, and the sticks were not of a dangerous or deadly character, and under such circumstances he shot and killed Philip Henson, that would be manslaughter; but if there was an absence of that condition, then there is no manslaughter in it, nor could there be any self-defence in it. There could be nothing else but this distinct grade of crime known as murder; because self-defence, as I have before defined to you, comtemplates the doing of something upon the part of the one slain, or the ones acting with him, that was either actually and really so apparently of a deadly character, or which threatened great violence to the person; or that which seemed to do so. If they assaulted him with these sticks, and they were not deadly weapons, and they were engaged in a conflict, and in that conflict the defendant shot Philip Henson, without previous preparation, without previous deliberation, without previous selection of a deadly weapon, without a contemplated purpose to use that deadly weapon in a dangerous way, then that would be manslaughter, and it could not be self-defence, because the injury received would not be of that deadly character or that dangerous nature that could give a man the right to slay another because of threatened deadly injury or actual great bodily injury received."
By this instruction the jury were shut up, in effect, to find either manslaughter or murder -- the claim of self-defence was excluded.Or, rather, self-defence was eliminated if the sticks were not "deadly weapons." In this we think there was error. In one sense it may be true that sticks or clubs are not deadly weapons. Carrying them does not import any hostile intent, nor, even in view of an expected affray, a design to take life. But when a fight is actually going on sticks and clubs may become weapons of a very deadly character. Life may be endangered or taken by blows from them as readily as by
balls from a pistol. Hence we think that the jury ought not to have been told that there "could not be any self-defence in it;" and that "it could not be self-defence because the injury received would not be of that deadly character or that dangerous nature that would give a man the right to slay another because of threatened deadly injury or great bodily injury received." Such a question as that was one peculiarly for the jury, and we think that they should have been left free to say whether the accused had not a right, when defending himself from an attack made by several persons using sticks, to consider himself in danger of life or limb.The verdict found, that of murder, is, we think, convicting that the jury were misled by this instruction.
But we think there was another substantial error in the instruction complained of. The jury were told that if "in that conflict the defendant shot Philip Henson, without previous preparation, without previous deliberation, without previous selection of a deadly weapon, without a contemplated purpose to use that deadly weapon in a dangerous way, then that would be manslaughter and could not be self-defence."
This was objectionable, not only on the ground already considered, that it shut out from the consideration of the jury the claim of self-defence, but because of the assumption that if the defendant, in view of the previous threats that he was to be killed, and that Saturday had been fixed for the purpose, had armed him with a pistol and subsequently used it when attacked, it would have been not only not a case of self-defence, but not even of manslaughter, but of murder. The instruction was that using a deadly weapon, not previously selected with a purpose to use it, was, when used in circumstances of the kind shown, a case of manslaughter. Thus there was a necessary implication that, if the pistol had been previously procured, with a ...