The defense of accident in criminal law is a legal principle that is utilized to excuse or justify an act that would otherwise be considered a crime. The accident defense is based on the theory that the person who committed the act did so unintentionally and as a result of circumstances beyond their control.
The accident defense is commonly used in cases where the defendant intended to commit a lawful act but the act resulted in death or serious injury due to an unforeseen event. The defense of accident is also known as the “doctrine of exempting circumstances” in certain jurisdictions.
Defense of Accident in Criminal Law
An accident is an unintended and unexpected event, especially one that is undesirable or harmful, that does not occur in the usual course of events under the circumstances in which it occurred, or that would not be reasonably anticipated.1
In our day-to-day activities, we often hear or encounter accidents. It may be in the news or it may happen in front of you. Minor accidents are sometimes ignored. But how about a major accident?
Should a person who causes injury to a person be penalized if it is an accident? Isn’t fair that the person injured wants to seek justice for the harm done? Or is it unfair to the person who cause the accident be penalized if he has no intention to cause harm?
Accident is an exempting circumstance that can be used to reduce or eliminate criminal liability. The accused must demonstrate that the crime was committed by accident and that he was not negligent.
In cases of homicide, assault, and other crimes, the defense of accident can still be availed of. To establish such defense, the accused must show that the crime was committed as a result of an unforeseen event beyond his control.
A Circumstance which may exempt one from criminal liability
Paragraph 4, Article 12, Revised Penal Code
“Any person who, while performing a lawful act with due care, causes injury by mere accident without fault or intention of causing it.”
Under the paragraph 4, there are four elements:
- A person is performing a lawful act;
- With due care;
- He causes injury to another by mere accident; and
- Without fault or intention of causing it.
A person is performing a lawful act
Basically, it is when a person acting or undertaking any activities not prohibited by any law or ordinance. A doctor performing a surgery, driving a car or a bicycle, playing your favorite sports or just walking in a park are all considered lawful. However, in these activities’ accident may or may happen.
With due care
In reference to the Black’s Law Dictionary, due care is engaging in just, proper, and sufficient care based on given circumstances to show the absence of negligence. It is when a driver checks his breaks before a long journey or when a police officer locks his service firearms when on duty.
He causes injury to another by mere accident
Amongst the elements of Article 12, paragraph 4, in my opinion is the most important element. An accident happens outside the human will or in a limited sense occurs without human intervention. The degree of injury another person suffers is oftentimes directly related to the accident.
Accident is an affirmative defense which the accused is burdened to prove, with clear and convincing evidence.2
Without fault or intention of causing it
It is essential that person who have caused the injury have no intention or fault in the accident. Circumstances surrounding the accident determines if a person is at fault or acted in negligence. Driving a car with a broken headlight during day time is not considered as negligence.
However, driving a car with broken headlight during at night is entirely different scenario. The driver knowing that his car headlight was broken, the he is considered negligent and does not satisfy the fourth element.
Relative to this exempting circumstance of accident under Article 12, Paragraph 4 of the Revised Penal Code, the Philippine supreme Court, in certain cases, had expounded and explained this doctrine. When the same is applicable or not.
When accident is appreciated
United States vs. Cecilio Tañedo:3
Facts: Cecilio Tañedo (accused) went with some of workers to hunt for wild chickens. He carried his shotgun with few shells across the stream. On the other side he met the deceased, who with his mother and uncle, had been living in a small shack for a month or so.
The accused asked where he could find a good place to hunt wild chickens. The uncle pointed out in a general way a portion of the forest. The accused when to the place pointed out and when he saw a chicken, the shot the chicken when then heard a human cry.
Issue: Whether or not the accused is guilty of homicide.
Ruling: The accused was acquitted.
Only one shot was heard that morning and a chicken was killed by gunshot wound. Chicken feathers were found in considerable qualities at the point where the chicken was shot and where the accident occurred.4
So far as can be ascertained from the evidence the prior relations between the accused and the deceased had been normal. The deceased was a tenant on the land belonging to a relative of the accused. There was no enmity and no unpleasant relations between them.5
No attempt was made to show any. There appears to have been no motive whatever for the commission of the crime. The only possible reason that the accused could have for killing the deceased would be found in fact of sudden quarrel between them during the hunt.6
That idea is wholly negative by the fact that the chicken and the man were shot at the same time, there having been only one shot fired.7
In this case there is no absolutely no evidence of negligence upon the part of the accused. Neither is there any question that he engaged in the commission of a lawful act when accident occurred. Neither is there any evidence of the intention of the accused to cause the death of the deceased.
When accident as a defense is not appreciated
People of the Philippines vs. Armando Delector:8
Facts: During the trial, the accused insisted that the shooting of his brother, Vicente, was an accident. His own son backed up his assertion. Accused claimed that while he had first departed to go to their mother’s home nearby to avoid a confrontation with Vicente, the latter had come to their house looking for him..
Vicente, on the other hand, followed him to their mother’s house and dared him to come out, forcing Antolin to intervene and attempt to appease Vicente. Instead, Vicente attached Antolin, forcing the accused to flee their mother’s home.
When he saw Vicente carrying his gun, he tried to take it from him, and they then grappled for control of the gun. Vicente was injured when the gun accidentally fired.
Issue: Whether or not the exempting circumstance of accident was present.
Ruling: Accident could not be appreciated herein as an exempting circumstance simply because the accused did not establish that he had acted with due care and without fault or intention of causing the injuries to the victim.9
The gun was a revolver that would not fire unless there was considerable pressure applied on its trigger, or its hammer was pulled back and released. The assertion of accident could have been accorded greater credence had there been only single shot fired, for such happenstance could have been attributed to the unintentional pulling of the hammer during the forceful grappling for control of the gun.10
Yet the revolver fired twice, which we think eliminated accident. Verily, the CA itself pointedly debunked the story of accused as how the accident had occurred by characterizing such story not only incomprehensible but also contrary to human experience and behavior. The accused Armando Delector is found guilty beyond reasonable doubt of homicide.11
The exempting circumstance under Article 12 paragraph 4 is based on the premise that the person has no intention to do wrong or committed no negligence on his act. When an accident happens and it used as a defense, circumstances surrounding must be carefully examine.
In the above jurisprudence, the court is careful in appreciating accident as a defense. In the first case, the accused was acquitted because on the fact that he has no intention of killing the deceased, hunting wild chickens is a lawful act, the shot was fired intentionally to the chicken and accidentally recoiled to the deceased. It is an unfortunate event that the deceased was shot by mere accident.
While for the second case, the court is not convinced that the firing of the gun is an accident. The accused and the deceased have previous altercation, intention to hurt is debatable. The firing of the gun twice eliminated the possibility of accident.
Paragraph 4 of Article 12 of the Revised Penal Code applies to any person who causes injury to another person by an accident but he has no intention or fault causing it. It is reasonable for the accused to be exempt if he has no fault or intention to commit the act. On the other hand, it is equally fair for the injured party to seek justice and compensation for the damage done by a person who is negligent and has intention to do harm.
- Webster, New Word Law, Dictionary, 2006[↩]
- People vs. Isaias Castillo y Completo, G.R. No. 172695, June 29, 2007[↩]
- G.R. No. L-5418, February 12, 1910[↩]
- G.R. No. 200026,October 04, 2017[↩]