[Page 160 U.S. 203, 204]
Mr. Chief Justice FULLER, after stating the facts as above, delivered the opinion of the court.
'It cannot,' observed Scholfield, J., in Chambers v. People, 105 Ill. 409, 'be true that the evidence given by the defendant charged with crime is not to be treated the same as the evidence of other witnesses. It could not even be true, as a universal proposition, that, as matter of law, it is not to have the same effect as the evidence of other witnesses. Many times it certainly cannot have that effect, but there are times when it can and should; and of this the jury are made the judges.'
'You have heard in argument here,-incidentally dropped, no doubt, because these things have been repeated here so often in this court that every child knows what the law of self-defense is,-that if a man thinks he has a right to slay he can slay. That is a great misapprehension of what this proposition of the law is and what it means. If that was the case, how many men, when they were arraigned for the killing of a human being, would not assert that they thought they had a right to kill? They might be mistaken, but they thought so. They, perhaps, had a misunderstanding of the law, but then they thought they had the right to kill. What a perversion of this protection agency called the 'law of the land' this would be! No; that is not the law. It must be shown [Page 160 U.S. 203, 209] by the evidence that the party who was slain was at the time doing something that would satisfy a reasonable man, situated as was the defendant, that the deceased, William Allison, then and there was about to do that which would destroy the life of the defendant, and that he could not prevent it except by doing as he did do. The question as to whether that is the state of case or not is a question that is to be finally passed upon by the juries of the country, and by you in this case, and you must have something more tangible, more real, more certain, than that which is a simple declaration of the party who slays, made in your presence by him as a witness, when he is confronted with a charge of murder. All men would say that. No man created would say otherwise when confronted by such circumstances, and the juries, as a matter of fact, would have nothing to do but to record the finding which was willed or established by the declaration of the party who did the killing.'
'Now, of course, you are to distinguish (and I have to be particular upon this point; I have my reasons for it, and it is not necessary to name to you what they are) between a case where a man prepares simply to defend himself and keeps himself in, the right in that defense and a state of case where he prepares himself recklessly, wantonly, and without just cause to take the life of another. If he prepares himself in the latter way, and he is on the lookout for the man he has thus prepared himself to kill, and he kills him upon sight, that is murder; and it would shock humanity, or even the most technical and hair-splitting court, to decide anything else. That can be nothing else but murder. If he is in the right,- if he is in the right at the time of the killing,-and simply prepared himself to defend his own life, that is preparation, not to take the life of another, but preparation to defend himself. That is the distinction; a distinction that is clear and comprehensive.
'The first proposition is as follows: 'A man who, in the lawful pursuit of his business,'-I will tell you after a while what is meant by that. I will tell you, in short, in this connection, it means that the man is doing at the time just exactly what he had a right to do under the law. When so situated,-'is attacked by another under circumstances which denote an intention to take away his life, or to do him some enormous bodily harm, may lawfully kill the assailant, provided he uses all the means in his power, otherwise, to save his own life or to prevent the intended harm,- such as retreating as far as he can, or disabling his adversary without killing him, if it be in his power.' Now, that means, by its very language, that the party was in the right at the time. If he was hunting up his father for the purpose of getting an opportunity to slay him without just cause, and in the absence of legal provocation, he was not in the right, and the consequence would be that he would be deprived of the law of self- defense, as you will learn presently, when such a condition as that exists. Now, of [Page 160 U.S. 203, 212] course, in this connection,-and I am this particular again for certain reasons,-you are to draw the distinction between a state of case where a man arms himself, where there is ill will, or grudge, or spite, or animosity, existing, and he hunts up his adversary, and slays him, and the state of case where he simply arms himself for self-defense. He has a right to do the latter as long as he is in the right, but he has no right to do the former; and if he does the former, and slays because of that condition, he is guilty of murder.'
'Now, then, these mitigating facts which reduce the killing so as to make it manslaughter cannot be previous acts of violence, exerted at some other time, and so far in the past as that there was time for the blood to cool, or the party to think or to deliberate,-it cannot be an act of that kind that can be taken into account to mitigate the crime. Nor can they exist in the shape of previous threats, made at some other time than the killing, or, if you please, if the proof had shown that they were made at the time of the killing, because threats of violence-mere threats of that character-cannot be used to justify nor to mitigate a killing, unless they are coupled with some other condition, which I will give you in connection with the law given you showing the figure that threats cut in a case. ... If threats were made previous to the time of the killing, and they were not coupled with the condition that they may be used to illustrate, as I will give it to you presently, and the party kills because of those threats, that is evidence of spite, that is evidence of grudge, that is evidence showing that he kills because of ill will and special animosity existing upon his part against the party who is slain.'
'You want to know, of course, what figure threats cut. Evidence has been offered here of threats made by the deceased. You want to know what office they perform in the [Page 160 U.S. 203, 214] case; how you are to view them; whether you are to say that the law authorizes you to say that if a man has been threatened at some time previous to the killing, and that he kills because of these threats, or he kills when no overt demonstration of violence, really of apparently, is being made by the party slain at the time, whether or not those threats can be taken into consideration by you to excuse that killing, or to mitigate it. ... Now, you see, they do not cut any office at all in favor of a defendant unless at the time, in this case, his father was doing some act, making some actual attempt, to execute the threat, as shown by some act or demonstration at the time of the killing, taken in connection with the threat, that would induce a reasonable belief upon the part of the slayer that it was necessary to deprive his father of life in order to save his own or prevent some felony upon his person. That is the law, stated plainly, as to the office of communicated threats. ... If he ( the deceased) was doing some act or making some demonstration that really or apparently was of a character that indicated a design to take life, then the defendant could couple previous threats made with the act or demonstration. Now, the act or demonstration must have gone sufficiently far to show a reasonable purpose, or to induce a reasonable belief, when coupled with threats, under the circumstances, that that was William Allison's purpose at the time. It must have gone to that extent. It must have gone sufficiently far, the overt act done by him, as to induce a reasonable belief, when coupled with threats, that that was his purpose . ... Now, you see that, no matter how many threats William Allison may have made against his family, and no matter to what extent this family broil had gone, this defendant, because of threats of that character, could not hunt him up and shoot him down because of those threats. If that was the state of case, the threats cannot be considered in his favor, but they may be considered to show that he killed him because of malice, because of malice aforethought existing, because of a spirit of spite or ill will or grudge that he was seeking to satisfy by that sort of attack.'