Dominador Awiten .
THOMAS Gray’s Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College concludes:
“Yet, ah! why should they know their fate,
Since sorrow never comes too late,
And happiness too swiftly flies?
Thought would destroy their Paradise.
No more;—where ignorance is bliss,
’Tis folly to be wise.”
In his final lines, Gray forsakes to teach the children that, in the end, life is a misery.
Which is what King Solomon realizes when he chooses to be wise instead of being wealthy in this world. He exclaims in Ecclesiastes: “Everything is meaningless.”
In certain decisions of the Supreme Court, there can be a blessing out of ignorance – of the fact or of the law. Serendipity happens in a court decision.
The case of United States v. Ah Chong (1910) is the acquittal of an accused for ignorance of the fact which the Supreme Court treated as innocence.
The case of In Re Filart (1919) lays down the admissible exception to the rule that ignorance of the law does not excuse us from liability for non-compliance.
Ah Chong is now the hornbook precedent in Philippine Criminal Law that a mens rea is essential for incurring criminal liability. Mens rea is the legal view that “there is no crime where there is no criminal intent.”
Ah Chong was employed in an officers’ quarters in Fort McKinley (now Taguig City) as a cook. In his dwelling place he had a companion, Pascual, who worked as a muchacho (house boy). One fateful night, Ah Chong was already asleep while his roommate was outside when he was awakened by a sound of someone attempting to get inside. He called out who the intruder might be and even warned that he was ready to defend himself should the unknown intruder forced his way in. Without an answer, the intruder barged in as the door was only secured with a hook and a chair, and when Ah Chong was hit by the chair, he thought he was being robbed since, in the days past robberies took place in the fort. Claiming to have acted in self-defense, he wounded in the stomach with a knife that he placed under the sleep pillow the intruder who scampered outside, and in a faint light, Ah Chong realized to be his roommate. At the hospital, Pascual succumbed to the stomach wound.
The majority of the Court acquitted Ah Chong, and ruled that the “mistake of fact” that impelled him to act in self-defense was evidence of the “lack of criminal intent.”
The dissenting opinion would have Ah Chong guilty of reckless negligence. However, to the majority, Ah Chong exercised due diligence in his repeated and loud warnings to the unknown intruder, given that the place was dark and isolated.
In the separate case entitled In re the complaint against Attorney Anacleto Filart, the holding of the Court is there could be reasonable doubt in favor of an attorney, citing precedents.
“No attorney is bound to know all the law; God forbid that it should be imagined that an attorney or a counsel, or even a judge, is bound to know all the law.” (Montorious vs. Jeffreys, 2 Car. & P., 113.)
Filart received money from a litigant who later sued him for alleged fraud and negligence that led to the loss of their cause in the Supreme Court.
The Court merely reprimanded Filart and did not impose upon him suspension or disbarment for his alleged failings.
The Court quoted the case of Pitt vs. Yalden, (, 4 Burr., 2060):
“That part of the profession which is carried on by attorneys is liberal and reputable, as well as useful to the public, when they conduct themselves with honor and integrity; and they ought to be protected when they act to the best of their skill and knowledge. But every man is liable to error; and I should be very sorry that it should be taken for granted that an attorney is answerable for every error or mistake. Not only counsel but judges may differ, or doubt, or take time to consider. Therefore, an attorney ought not to be liable in case of reasonable doubt.”
Bearing that in mind, we are not at all dumbfounded by the fact that no judge has been prosecuted for the crime of “knowingly rendering an unjust judgement.”
The reason, perhaps, lies in a provision in our Civil Code that mistake upon a difficult or doubtful question of law may be the basis of good faith.
The poem “Essay on Criticism” by Alexander Pope is telling: “To err is human, to forgive is divine.”