The recent case of the surgeon who was robbed outside his home and ended up killing the perpetrator has sparked differences of opinion among those who consider that he acted in self-defense and those who called it murder.
Given that this incident has once again raised the issue of self-defense, we must outline its requirements and limits. We can start from the premise that, as nobody is obligated to be killed, hurt or robbed, we have the right to defend ourselves from any illegal attack when the public security forces are not present. That right, which dates back to the beginning of history, forms part of the criminal law of our country, and allows for the defense of life as well as the health and property of a person. Indeed, the penal code refers to the “defense of the person or his rights,” which leaves no doubt this includes his personal property.
The condition required by law for that defense to be lawful is that, when suffering an attack, one employ rational means to prevent or repel it. But it does not require an identical weapon to be used. For example, if someone attacked me with a knife I could defend myself with a gun because otherwise I could be facing serious danger of being hurt. Moreover, the use of firearms in self-defense is allowed even in the case where it is later proved that the offender’s gun had no bullets, since it is impossible to know that in the moment of the attack. In addition, there must be immediacy between the attack and the victim’s reaction, which marks the difference between self-defense and vigilante justice. Vigilante justice is when a victim sets out to find a robber and kills him rather than leave it in the hands of law enforcement. This behavior is not protected by the law and must be repudiated.
Logically, the person who is attacked does not have to wait until the aggression is consummated to react. One could act to preempt an aggression and stop the offender from achieving his purpose. Furthermore, when considering the victim’s reaction we must keep in mind that he is not thinking or acting normally given that he is emotionally overwhelmed by what is happening. His behavior can not be judged with the detachment of someone who analyzes it from a desk without thinking like the victim, who has received an unexpected aggression that made him fear for his life or physical integrity, especially in these times of so much insecurity.
Dr. Lino Villar Cataldo was intercepted by an armed individual who threatened him with a gun and wanted to steal his car as the doctor was leaving his house. It was in these circumstances that the doctor took a weapon he had stored and killed the robber with four shots.
To begin analyzing this issue, we should not lose sight of the fact that there is a victim and an aggressor. Indeed, if it were not for the actions of the offender, who broke the law, it would not have led to the chain of events that ended with his death. Thus, the main cause of his death has been his own will to commit a crime that ended tragically for him. Given this premise, we find that a citizen who was leaving his home was surprised by someone who was breaking the law and wanted to steal his vehicle, while threatening to kill him if he resisted. Under these conditions, the doctor was faced with the dilemma of whether to defend himself. He chose the latter and thereby prevented the robbery. We must not forget that police reports in recent years have shown that some thieves, after carrying out their crimes, kill their victims before leaving the crime scene without reason. If we consider the reaction of the surgeon in that context and knowing that, if he had not defended himself, he could have faced the same fate. Or at the very least, lost his car, which was his property.
It is often said that you cannot compare a vehicle with a human life but that premise is false. The fact is you cannot determine the importance that personal property holds for each person. For example, think of a couple that has saved for many years to fulfill their dream of owning a home and on their way to completing the purchase they are robbed. Faced with the danger of losing everything they have worked for, would it be so outrageous to defend themselves with a revolver? Obviously not. And, I repeat, the person who has broken the law is the thief and, therefore, he must face the consequences of his unlawful actions. There is no such thing as property that is considered worthy of being defended at the cost of the robber’s life, and property that is not. The law, as we saw, is clear in that it allows the defense of any property leaving aside, obviously, trivial objects or those of very little value.
In conclusion, I believe that we have a case of self-defense since the reaction of the victim was proportional to the aggression he suffered, regardless of the place he had stored the gun or if he was being threatened at gun-point at the time when he made use of his own weapon.