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[Cite as Coffee v. State, 72 Tenn. (4 Lea) 246
THOMAS B. COFFEE v. THE STATE.
Criminal Law. Unlawful
weapons. Self-defense. The courts can not, merely upon the ground that the
defendant was acting in self defense, sanction the use of an unlawful weapon in
an unlawful manner, nor will this Court revise the action of the trial judge in
inflicting punishment left by law to his discretion, except in a case of gross
abuse of that discretion.
Appeal in error from the Criminal Court of Shelby
County. L. B. Horrigan, J.
L.E. Wright for Coffee.
Attorney-General Lea for
Cooper, J., delivered the opinion of the
The plaintiff in error was indicted and convicted for carrying a
pistol, other than an army or navy pistol, concealed about his person, in the
streets of Memphis. The Court sentenced him to confinement in the county
workhouse for sixty days and fined him fifty dollars.
The defendant appealed in error.
The bill of exceptions shows that the defendant was found on the
street with a pistol concealed about his person, as charged, and that the pistol
(p.246)was not such as is used in the army or
navy of the United States. It further appears that the defendant is a peaceable
man, not in the habit of unlawfully carrying weapons; that his life had been
threatened within the previous hour by a dangerous and violent man, who was in
the wrong, and that the defendant sent for the pistol and armed himself for the
purpose of self defense.
Upon these facts, an earnest and able argument has been made on
behalf of the defendant, that the judgment should be reversed and a nolle
prosequi entered. But it is too clear for argument that the Courts cannot,
merely upon the ground that the party was acting in self defense, sanction the
use of an unlawful weapon in an unlawful manner, the intent to use it being
clearly shown: Day v. State, 5 Sneed, 496.
The law prescribes the mode in which the person of the citizen may be
protected. And if a party chooses to rely upon his rights of self defense, he
must take care, at his peril, to use a lawful weapon in a lawful manner.
It is true the facts disclosed may greatly extenuate the offense and
justify the trial Judge in remitting the discretionary part of the punishment.
This Court cannot, however, supervise the discretion except in a plain case of
abuse. The action of the Court below may be influenced not merely by the
circumstances of the particular case, but by the necessity of suppressing the
commission of that class of offences in the community.(p.247)
As the facts appear on paper, there are circumstances in this case
which do extenuate the guilt of the defendant. They have doubtless been duly
weighed by his Honor, the trial Judge, and may be again when the cause is
Affirm the judgment.