When does a Mistake in Identity Become a Criminal Liability?
“Error in personae” or mistake in identity is injuring one person who is mistaken for another. The intended victim is not at the scene of the crime. It is the actual victim upon whom the blow was directed, but he is not really the intended victim. If the crime committed is the same as the crime intended, but on a different victim, error in persona does not affect the criminal liability of the offender.
The maxim “ignorantia facti excusat” applies only when the mistake is committed without fault or carelessness.
In this case, Oanis and Galanta, unlike Ah Chong, found no circumstances whatsoever which would press them to immediate action. The person in the room being then asleep, the two had ample time and opportunity to ascertain his identity without hazard to themselves, and could even effect a bloodless arrest if any reasonable effort to that end had been made, as the victim was accordingly unarmed. This, indeed, is the only legitimate course of action for appellants to follow even if the victim was really Balagtas, as they were instructed not to kill Balagtas at sight but to arrest him, and to get him dead or alive only if resistance or aggression is offered by him.
The crime committed by Oanis and Galanta is not merely criminal negligence, the killing being intentional and not accidental.
People vs. Oanis, G.R. No. L-47722, July 27, 1943