Court acquits road worker who fired five shots at attacker

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Police at the scene of the shooting. They were able to arrest the shooter on the spot. Source: North District Prosecutor's Office

The Supreme Court has acquitted Dmitri Doroškevitš, a road worker, who shot a drunk attacker with his personal firearm in self-defense in August 2018.

The court noted that there was no major dispute over the course of events. The issue was whether the accused acted in self-defense when he fired a series of shots at a man who attacked him.

The accused had been carrying out roadwork on Mustakivi bridge in Tallinn late on the night of August 1, 2018, when the later victim - an intoxicated man living in a nearby building and disturbed by the noise of the roadwork - approached him. He unexpectedly punched Doroskevits in the head with a fist, resulting in Doroskevits' headphones breaking.

Doroškevitš retreated after the punch, but the victim started moving towards him again. The accused then withdrew his pistol, for which he had a valid permit, and fired a warning shot in the air. The victim then retreated and walked a small distance away, but continued to swear at the accused and shout at him, provoking the accused to shoot him.

Meanwhile, the accused saw an ambulance passing by and shouted at the driver to call the police. After that, Doroškevitš approached another road worker and asked him to call the police, and then tried to continue working.

A moment later, however, the accused noticed how the victim began to run towards him quickly, with his fists clenched, behind a bus. Doroškevitš stepped back a few steps, grabbed the gun again, and shot the victim who had made it to about five meters away from him, hitting him in the face or body five times.

As soon as the victim fell, Doroškevitš stopped shooting. The accused then dropped his weapon and went to his co-worker with his hands spread - indicating to the nearby ambulance brigade that he was not dangerous and that they could help the victim.

The prosecutor's office charged Doroškevitš with attempted manslaughter and the Harju County Court on September 23 last year found him guilty of attempted manslaughter and punished him with a six-year jail sentence. However, the Tallinn Circuit Court ruled that this was attempted manslaughter committed in a provoked state and handed Doroškevitš a conditional prison sentence of one year and six months with a two-year probation period. 

The county and circuit courts found that the victim attacked the accused himself and he had the right to defend himself, but in doing so he exceeded the limits of self-defense. The circuit court rejected some of the county court's arguments, but noted that firing the entire series of shots into the body was not justified: the accused should have aimed at the victim's feet and ascertained after each shot whether and what injuries he had caused.

The Criminal Law Chamber of the Supreme Court did not agree with the county and district courts and acquitted Doroskevits on Thursday. The Criminal Law Chamber emphasized that it is possible to speak of exceeding the limits of self-defense only if the means of defense clearly does not correspond to the level of danger of the attack or if the attacker has been caused obviously excessive damage.

According to the Supreme Court, the courts did not take sufficient account of the course of events in this case. It was a continued attack by the victim. He did not give up the attack even after the warning shot was fired, but instead insulted, threatened and provoked the accused and waited for just the right moment to attack him again, which he finally did. The victim continued the attack, even though he knew that Doroškevitš had a firearm.

The Chamber noted that the victim suddenly started running towards Doroshevich, his hands in a fist, and the distance between them was very small at the time of the shooting - only about five meters. This means that the accused had to react to the attack in just a few seconds. Therefore, he did not have the time or opportunity to think about exactly how to defend himself with a weapon.

The Supreme Court found that it was not possible for the accused to assess even after each shot whether the victim was hit and whether the attack was over. Given the short distance, there was a real danger that the victim would immediately reach Doroškevitš and try to grab the weapon from him, for example, endangering the accused's own life.

Nor, according to the Chamber, could the accused be expected to have aimed the shots at his feet. The victim did not stand still but was moving and the accused had to react very quickly. A shooting instructor interrogated as an expert in the criminal case described that even professionally trained police officers find it difficult to hit a moving target. It is also important that the accused continued to shoot only until the victim running towards him stopped and fell.

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Editor: Helen Wright

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