State v. Maestas

Decision Date27 June 1957
Docket NumberNo. 6168,6168
Citation1957 NMSC 57,313 P.2d 337,63 N.M. 67
PartiesSTATE of New Mexico, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Max L. MAESTAS, Defendant-Appellant.
CourtNew Mexico Supreme Court

David Chavez, Jr., Santa Fe, for appellant.

Fred M. Standley, Atty. Gen., Harry E. Stowers, Jr., Asst. Atty. Gen., Santiago E. Campos, Asst. Atty. Gen., for appellee.

COMPTON, Justice.

Appellant, Max L. Maestas, was found guilty of murder in the second degree for the killing of Cipriano Trujillo January 29, 1955. At the time of the killing, appellant, his wife, and his brother, Felipe Maestas, were at the home of Felipe's estranged wife, Ramoncita Maestas. Felipe either asked or ordered the deceased to leave the house. A struggle between the deceased and Felipe ensued inside the house after the other parties had gone outside. Apparently the only eyewitness to the struggle was Leo Gonzales, son of Ramoncita Maestas by another marriage. Appellant testified that he approached the kitchen door, saw that the deceased had his brother bent backward over a table and that his brother was very bloody. Appellant admitted the killing but contended that the homicide was justified in self-defense, or more definitely stated, in defense of his brother. He testified that he shot the deceased because he feared that otherwise the deceased would have killed his brother.

The refusal of the court to give certain requested instructions is assigned as error. Appellant contends first that the jury went uninstructed as to his lawful right to arm himself for the purpose of defending himself and his brother from any anticipated assault, and that the jury was inadequately instructed on the law in regard to justifiable homicide in defense of another. The basis for this contention is the refusal of the trial court to give appellant's requested instructions 9 and 3.

We are unable to agree with appellant's contention. It is quite true that a defendant is entitled to have his theory of the case submitted to the jury if supported by substantial evidence. It is equally true that upon request a defendant is entitled to have the law declared in reference to the facts of his case, if there is evidence reasonably tending to substantiate it. State v. Jones, 52 N.M. 235, 195 P.2d 1020; State v. Martinez, 30 N.M. 178, 230 P. 379. This general rule is equally applicable where one accused of homicide defends upon the theory that his act was in defense of another. 4 Warren on Homicide Sec. 339. But in this case the appellant's right to arm himself and his theory of defense of another was properly submitted to the jury by the following instructions:

'10. A defense interposed by the defendant is that of defense of his brother Felipe Maestas. You are instructed that under the laws of New Mexico, a brother may do in defense of a brother, what he may do in defense of himself, under the law of self-defense. You are instructed that the rule of law on the subject of self-defense is as follows:

'You are instructed that the rule of law on the subject of self-defense is this: Where a person in the lawful pursuit of his or her business, is assaulted, and when from the nature of the assault there is reasonable ground to believe that there is a design to take his or her life, or to do him or her great bodily harm, and the party attacked does so believe, then the killing of the assailant under such circumstances would be excusable or justifiable, although it should afterwards appear that no injury was intended and no reasonable danger existed. It is enough that there be an apparent danger; such an appearance as to believe that he was in immediate danger of great bodily injury. Upon such appearance a party may act with safety, nor will he be held accountable though it should afterward appear that the indications were wholly fallacious, and that he was in no actual peril.

'The rule in such case is this: What would a reasonable person, a person of ordinary caution, judgment and observation, in the position of the defendant, seeing what he saw, and knowing what he knew, suppose from this situation and these surroundings. If such reasonable person so placed would have been justified in believing himself in imminent danger, then the defendant would be justified in believing himself in such peril, and in acting upon such appearances. And in considering whether the shooting was justifiable on the ground that the shooting was in self-defense, you should consider all the circumstances attending the shooting, the character of the wound and the conduct of the parties at the time and immediately prior thereto, and the degree and nature of force used by the defendant in making what is claimed to be self-defense, as bearing upon the question whether the shooting was actually done in self-defense, or whether it was done in carrying out an unlawful purpose.

'But the law of self-defense does not imply the right of attack, nor will it permit acts done in retaliation or for revenge, nor can it be invoked by one who himself seeks and is the moving cause of the difficulty in which he takes human life. And it is for you to determine from all the evidence whether the claim of the defendant that he killed the deceased in self-defense is made in good faith or is a mere pretense.'

'11. You are therefore instructed that in this case, if you believe from the evidence, or have a reasonable doubt therefrom, that at the time the fatal shot was fired the deceased had Felipe Maestas, the brother of the defendant, Max L. Maestas, over a table and holding him by the throat and choking him, and that it appeared to the defendant, as a reasonable man, under all of the facts and circumstances that the deceased was attempting to choke or kill his brother, Felipe Maestas, or do him great bodily harm and unless you further believe from the evidence, or have a reasonable doubt therefrom, that Felipe Maestas himself sought and was the moving cause of the difficulty in which the life of the deceased was taken, then the defendant had the right to use such force as would appear reasonably necessary to an ordinary reasonable man under all of the circumstances to prevent or repel such assault upon his brother, even to the extent of taking human life and you will find the defendant not guilty.

* * *

* * *

'13. You are instructed that under the laws of the State of New Mexico, any person who has reasonable grounds to believe that his brother is about to be unlawfully assaulted by another, or is being unlawfully assaulted by another, has a legal right to arm himself for the purpose of resisting said assault, and such circumstances, if you find such to have existed in this case at the time or immediately prior to the homicide, should in no wise be considered by you to the prejudice of the defendant.'

It is appellant's contention that the foregoing instructions are too abstract; that they do not direct the jury's attention to the particular facts of the case. However, in construing a charge as to defense of another the usual rule applies, that is, instructions are to be viewed as a whole, and the charge will be held sufficient, if when thus viewed, they adequately cover every phase of the case raised by the evidence on which the defendant is entitled to have the jury instructed. State v. Beal, 55 N.M. 382, 234 P.2d 331; State v. Martin, 53 N.M. 413, 209 P.2d 525; Chandler v. Battenfield, 55 N.M. 361, 233 P.2d 1047.

Viewing the instructions together, the law regarding justifiable homicide in defense of another, is correctly stated, and the law is adequately tied to the particular facts in the case.

Appellant also urges that the court below committed error in not instructing the jury that homicide is justifiable when done while resisting any attempt to commit a felony upon one's brother. The portion of Sec. 40-24-13, N.M.S.A.1953, dealing with justifiable homicide in coming to the defense of another provides as follows:

'Such homicide is also justifiable * * * committed in the lawful defense of * * * brother * * * when there shall be reasonable ground to apprehend a design to commit a felony, or to do some great personal injury, and there shall be imminent danger of such design being accomplished * * *.'

It is not imperative that the charge to the jury use the precise terms of the statute. Instructions are sufficient which substantially follow the language of the statute or use equivalent language. 4 Warren on Homicide Sec. 338. In this case it is clear that any design by the deceased to commit a felony arose out of the struggle between deceased and Felipe Maestas. So, the jury was plainly...

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24 cases
  • Duffy v. State
    • United States
    • Wyoming Supreme Court
    • December 5, 1986
    ...outside the penitentiary, under such circumstances and conditions as the parole authorities may provide." See also State v. Maestas, 63 N.M. 67, 313 P.2d 337 (1957). It is noteworthy and emphasized in New Mexico cases that "it is for the legislature to determine what act shall be regarded a......
  • State v. Lopez
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of New Mexico
    • June 20, 1969
    ...N.M.S.A.1953 (Repl. 1964). Instructions which substantially follow the language of the statute are sufficient. See State v. Maestas, 63 N.M. 67, 313 P.2d 337 (1957). Point M states the five dollar bill and the two one dollar bills were not specifically identified or proven to be the money t......
  • State v. Gunzelman
    • United States
    • New Mexico Supreme Court
    • May 25, 1973
    ...that instructions are sufficient which substantially follow the language of the statute or use equivalent language. State v. Maestas, 63 N.M. 67, 313 P.2: 337 (1957). See also State v. McFerran, 80 N.M. 622, 459 P.2d 148 We invite attention to the recent case in the Court of Appeals, State ......
  • State v. Harrison
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of New Mexico
    • May 28, 1970
    ...must be proved. * * *' We disagree. The instruction could have been worded to avoid the frequent use of 'must.' Compare State v. Maestas, 63 N.M. 67, 313 P.2d 337 (1957). Nevertheless, decisions of the New Mexico Supreme Court dealing with the elements of self-defense have consistently refe......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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