Allison v. United States - 160 U.S. 203 (1895)
U.S. Supreme Court
Allison v. United States, 160 U.S. 203 (1895)
Allison v. United States
Submitted November 20, 1895
Decided December 16, 1895
160 U.S. 203
When a person indicted for the commission of murder offers himself at the trial as a witness on his own behalf under the provisions of the Act of March 16, 1878, c. 37, 20 Stat. 30, the policy of that enactment should not be defeated by hostile intimations of the trial judge. Hicks v. United States, 150 U. S. 442, affirmed.
The defendant in this case having offered himself as a witness in his own behalf, and having testified to circumstances which tended to show that the killing was clone in self-defense, the court charged the jury:
"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."
Held that this was reversible error.
Other statements made by the court to the jury are held to seriously trench on that untrammeled determination of the facts by a jury to which parties accused of the commission of crime are entitled.
What is or what is not an overt demonstration of violence sufficient to justify a resistance which ends in the death of the party making the demonstration varies with the circumstances, and it is for the jury, and not for the judge, passing upon the weight and effect of the evidence, to determine whether the circumstances justified instant action because of reasonable apprehension of danger.
Where the charge of the trial judge takes the form of animated argument, the liability is great that the propositions of law may become interrupted by digression and be so intermingled with inferences springing from forensic ardor that the jury will be left without proper instructions, their province of dealing with the facts invaded, and errors intervene.
John Allison, some 20 years old, was indicted for the murder of his father, William Allison, on the 5th day of January, 1895 at the Cherokee Nation in the Indian country in the Western District of Arkansas, found guilty by a jury, under the instructions of the court, and sentenced to be hanged, whereupon he sued out this writ of error.
The evidence tended to show that the Allisons resided, up to the year 1893, in the State of Washington; that the parents had been divorced; that the father had repeatedly threatened the lives of the members of his family, and for an assault upon one of his sons and his son-in-law, by shooting at them with a pistol, had been sent to the penitentiary for a year, and that thereupon the family left the State of Washington, and came to the Indian country. In about a year, the father appeared, first at Hot Springs, Arkansas, where one daughter had located, and then in the neighborhood of the other members of the family in the Indian country, and at once began threatening the lives of the entire family, and particularly that of his son John. A great variety of vindictive threats by the deceased in Washington at Hot Springs, and in the Indian country was testified to.
Evidence was also adduced that on one occasion he came to the house where the mother and her children were living and demanded to see the children, who (except John, and one whom he had seen) were not at home, and he then wished to see their mother, who objected to meeting him; that he persisted, whereupon his son John, who had a gun in his hand, told him he must leave, and the father dared John to come out, and he would fight him outside, but John answered that he did not want any trouble with him, only wanted him to stay away from there, and the deceased replied, "God damn you, I will go off and get a gun, and kill the last damned one of you;" that he subsequently told his son-in-law to tell John Allison
"that he would blow his God damned brains out the first time he seen him; told him to tell him he would kill his mother and the entire family;" that the day after this occurrence John Allison and his mother made an affidavit to get a peace warrant for William Allison, and on that occasion John told the prosecuting attorney that the old man threatened his life, and he thought he was in danger, and asked him if he killed the old man what would be done with him, and he replied that
"if the old man came to his house, and raised a racket, and tried to carry out his threats, that he told me he had made on him, I told him he would be justified in doing it,"
but that he must not go "hunting the old man up, and trying to kill him," and that John said, "I will not bother him; if he will let me alone, I will let him alone," and that this was five or six days before the killing. The evidence further tended to show that the deceased had been in the habit of carrying a pistol; that he stated that he had one; that on New Year's day, he threatened one of the witnesses with that weapon, and another witness testified to catching a glimpse of it once when he put his hand around to his hip pocket; but that he had no pistol on him when he was killed. The deceased was staying at the house of one Farris, and a witness testified in rebuttal to conversing with John when he was "warming" on one occasion at the barn -- presumably Farris’ barn -- and asking him why he did not go up to the house, and he said he did not want to go up there; that he was afraid he and his father would have some trouble; that he was afraid his father would hurt him, and that he was going to kill him just as quick as he caught him away from the house.
As to the circumstances immediately surrounding the homicide, the defendant testified that he and a man by the name of Rucker had killed a deer near Rucker's the day before, and that he had promised Rucker to come back the next day to hunt for others, and was riding by Farris' place, which was on the road to Rucker's, with his gun in his hand on that errand on the morning of January 5th when he saw a person whom he took to be his brother Jasper up at Farris' house;
that this person turned out to be Farris with his brother's coat on, but he stopped at the stable, thinking that his brother would come down that way, as he had learned from his sister that his brother was to be at the place at that time for the purpose of removing some household goods; that he did not go up to the house, because he did not want to meet his father; that shortly after he arrived at the barn, his father came through the gate, and he stepped to one side, to let him go into the barn if he wished to, but deceased did not go towards the door, came straight towards him, and when he got a few feet from him said, "You have got it, have you?" and threw his hand back as if he was going to get a pistol -- "made a demonstration that way" -- and that this demonstration and the threats he had made led defendant to believe that he was going to draw a pistol, and he fired; that he fired three shots, but none after the deceased fell. Defendant was corroborated by Rucker and others in many particulars, but contradicted by the government's witnesses in respect of firing after his father was down; they testifying that he fell at the first shot.