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Old January 9, 2012, 06:20 AM   #1
Sparks1957
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Vermont: Self Defense or Did Lady Die of an OD

http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/a...text|FRONTPAGE

Interesting case in the local newspaper today about the use of deadly force here in Vermont.

Vermont has no castle doctrine laws. The law around the use of deadly force is a bit vague, and the courts are quite free to interpret it.

Last edited by Sparks1957; January 10, 2012 at 05:03 AM.
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Old January 9, 2012, 08:57 AM   #2
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VERGENNES — An attorney representing the family of Yemalla Sprauve,
the woman killed while allegedly trying to rob a Vergennes convenience store in September,
...Sprauve’s death has prompted prosecutors to revisit language that outlines when the
use of deadly force is justified.

Sprauve, 34, of Vergennes, died Sept. 28 of cardiac arrhythmia — an irregular heartbeat
— while a male clerk at the Champlain Farms store on Main Street held her down and
compressed her chest, according to the Vermont Medical Examiner’s Office and police
reports. ...Sprauve was also “acutely intoxicated with cocaine” at the time, her death
certificate states. ...State’s Attorney David Fenster, who said Thursday that he intends
to assess, over the upcoming weeks, whether the clerk acted in self-defense when he
killed Sprauve. The report includes video footage of the attempted robbery and subsequent
struggle, police said.

Sprauve had wielded a knife and masked her face during the early morning robbery
attempt, police said. She was unresponsive when authorities arrived, and was later
pronounced dead at Porter Medical Center in Middlebury, police said.


Looking at the description above, I'm confused as to how "use of deadly force" even enters into the equation. The woman--high on cocaine and wielding a knife--was subdued and restrained by the clerk, ...not shot, choked, stabbed or otherwise subject to the normal definition of "deadly force." That she died of her own vulnerability to cardiac arrest due to drugs, and during the course of her own violent felony, make this article nonsensical.
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Old January 9, 2012, 09:06 AM   #3
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I know; I share your confusion about the 'real issues"

I posted it here because I think it is going to make the lawmakers look at the laws on the books... and we have learned to dread that here in VT
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Old January 9, 2012, 12:08 PM   #4
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Quote:
“Force has to be proportional,” said Michele Martinez Campbell, a professor at Vermont Law School. “You have to have a reasonable belief that whatever is happening is a threat of immediate physical harm to you or your family.”
So, Vermont is still practicing English common law regarding disparity of force.
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Old January 9, 2012, 01:00 PM   #5
Aguila Blanca
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sparks1957
Vermont has no castle doctrine laws, since it is a constitutional carry state. The law around the use of deadly force is a bit vague, and the courts are quite free to interpret it.
Constitutional carry has NOTHING to do with castle doctrine. Castle doctrine is the principle that a person is allowed to defend his home in whatever way he/she deems appropriate. Whether or not VT requires a permit to carry a firearm outside of the home has nothing to do with whether or not VT has or does not have castle doctrine in its state statutes.

And a convenience store clerk wrestling with a store robber also has nothing do do with castle doctrine, because a commercial enterprise is not a private home.

Lastly, as has already been pointed out, the circumstances as reported do not indicate that the clerk even used deadly force. The robber did -- she was armed with a deadly weapon (unless VT doesn't consider a knife to be a deadly weapon), but the clerk didn't. He just went mano a mano, so unless he's a multi-degree black belt he was using force, but not deadly force.
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Old January 9, 2012, 02:21 PM   #6
Sparks1957
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Quote:
Constitutional carry has NOTHING to do with castle doctrine.
You are absolutely right about that, of course. I probably shouldn't post anything without first reading it to see if it makes sense.

My point was, however, that VT is likely to be reviewing its laws around the use of force in situations like this, and since we don't have a castle doctrine here, it could lead to unpleasant changes.
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Old January 9, 2012, 02:53 PM   #7
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Are you certain that you don't have a castle doctrine? That would surprise me very much.

[edit to add]
Quote:
13 V.S.A. § 2305. Justifiable homicide

§ 2305. Justifiable homicide


If a person kills or wounds another under any of the circumstances enumerated below, he or she shall be guiltless:

(1) In the just and necessary defense of his or her own life or the life of his or her husband, wife, parent, child, brother, sister, master, mistress, servant, guardian or ward; or

(2) In the suppression of a person attempting to commit murder, sexual assault, aggravated sexual assault, burglary or robbery, with force or violence; or

(3) In the case of a civil officer; or a military officer or private soldier when lawfully called out to suppress riot or rebellion, or to prevent or suppress invasion, or to assist in serving legal process, in suppressing opposition against him or her in the just and necessary discharge of his or her duty. (Amended 1983, No. 23, § 2.)
That's a start. Not strictly a "castle doctrine" law, but fairly wide in scope. I'd say #2 fits the incident pretty well. The robber had a knife -- a deadly weapon. The clerk "suppressed" the robber.

Last edited by Aguila Blanca; January 9, 2012 at 03:05 PM.
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Old January 9, 2012, 11:52 PM   #8
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^ There's no castle in that law...

I thought it was interesting "Drunken Charlie" the poster boy for people who oppose Castle Doctrine and keep saying "It doesn't give you the right to slaughter the hapless drunk who wanders in to your home and falls asleep on your couch !" made appearances in Vermont year before last:

Quote:
In 2010, Vermont State Police responded to three similar incidents, in which homeowners in Bennington, St. Albans and Tunbridge found drunk strangers asleep on their couches. In each case, police arrested the trespasser.
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Old January 10, 2012, 12:13 AM   #9
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mistress, servant, guardian, or ward
Almost makes life in Vermont sound like a Boris Vallejo painting.

Nonetheless, that statute looks fairly similar to other states' castle doctrines, with the exception of immunity from civil suits arising from justified shoots. Is there any relevant case law clarifying or muddying the idea of a castle doctrine?
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Old January 10, 2012, 01:08 AM   #10
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Travesty.

I wish the media and the police cared as much about law-abiding working citizens as they seem to do about robbing crack who-ers and their ilk.

Society is better off without her.

I wonder how many others in her "family" will eventually meet the same fate.
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Old January 10, 2012, 01:14 AM   #11
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OK. Bad title for this thread. It has absolutely nothing to do with any purported castle doctrine.

Given the details in the article referenced by the OP, I can't decide if this is a case of justified self defense or did the perp simply OD?

I'm leaning towards an OD. If I'm correct, the State spending this kind of money to decide if this was a homicide is simply ludicrous.

Off to correct the title....
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Old January 10, 2012, 01:29 AM   #12
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Vermont is listed as one of the "States with weak or no specific Castle Law"

I think these Defense of Habitation laws fall along a spectrum and have different components, I'm not sure at which point they cease to be a Castle Law and are merely a lawful use of force / self defense / justifiable homocide. But it seems to me that a minimum component in Castle Law is that an intruder is making (or has made) forcible entry.

I don't see anything like that in Vermont law.

I could be wrong...

The best Castle Doctrines are the ones that grant presumption of a reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or great bodily harm by the very fact that the invader is in the process of unlawfully and forcefully entering, or had unlawfully and forcibly entered (like Oklahoma's law).

Last edited by C0untZer0; January 10, 2012 at 09:42 AM.
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Old January 10, 2012, 01:47 AM   #13
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Not even sure the cocaine played a part in the actual cause of death

Didn't the coroner determine cause of death?

She died of cardiac arrhythmia. There is mention that it occured while her chest was being compressed but the story doesn't say the arrhrythmia was brought about by or even aggravated by compressing her chest, and it does not say what the role of cocaine was on the arrhythmia either.


Maybe instead of Addison County State’s Attorney David Fenster determining if the clerk acted in self defense when he "killied" Sprauve, he should determine if the clerk even killed her.
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Old January 10, 2012, 05:07 AM   #14
Sparks1957
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Quote:
Off to correct the title...
Thanks, Al. I also edited my original post.

It's interesting that the press is using this particular case as an excuse to bring up the use of deadly force...

I am learning a lot from all your posts.
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Old January 10, 2012, 06:41 AM   #15
Aguila Blanca
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Quote:
Originally Posted by C0untZer0
Vermont is listed as one of the states that has "States with weak or no specific Castle Law"
Where is this list, please?
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Old January 10, 2012, 06:56 AM   #16
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Quote:
Where is this list, please?
The best my google fu could do this morning is Wikipedia:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Castle_Doctrine


Quote:
States with weak or no specific Castle LawThese states uphold castle doctrine in general, but may rely on case law instead of specific legislation, may enforce a duty to retreat, and may impose specific restrictions on the use of deadly force.

Idaho (Homicide is justified if defending a home from "tumultuous" entry; duty to retreat not specifically removed)
South Dakota "Homicide is justifiable if committed by any person while resisting any attempt to murder such person, or to commit any felony upon him or her, or upon or in any dwelling house in which such person is." SD Codified Laws 22-16-34 (2005).
Iowa ([44])
Nebraska
New Mexico
Virginia
Vermont
District of Columbia
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Old January 10, 2012, 10:35 AM   #17
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About cocaine

I've recently read a little about cocaine. Here's how it pertains to the situation.

Cocaine causes blood vessels to clamp down and our heart rate to go up. The net effect is high blood pressure. As for which blood vessels - the most dangerous part about it is that it will constrict the coronary arteries which feed the heart. So now you have a heart that's beating fast and you've cut your supply line to it. That by itself could produce a heart attack. In fact from what I understand if you ever hear of a young person with a heart attack cocaine should be included in the suspicion somewhere.

And that's all before any activity happens. So add all the excitement on there and the heart is even more starved for oxygen. If a part of the right side of the heart dies from the heart attack there's high likelihood that you've messed with the conduction system - the circuitry that times the heart rhythm. I think ventricular fibrillation may be the most lethal arrhythmia to die from after a heart attack - not sure.

Could the man pinning her down have caused an arrhythmia by himself? This is an opinion but mine is leaning towards no. During CPR / chest compressions it is common to find that the ribs were broken - and they'd probably have to be in order to manually squeeze the heart enough to make it pump from the outside. It would take a pretty strong touch to mess with the conduction system from the outside. So it would help us figure it out to know if her ribs were broken. The other thing is that they did not say she died from being unable to breathe. So if the man pinning her down didn't do that hard enough to stop her rib cage from moving while she inhaled / exhaled , I feel it's less likely that he was able to push directly on her heart in order to mess with the conduction and cause an arrhythmia.

You only get one shot at life.

I didn't read the article so I don't know the family's stance. This is just hearsay but I was warned that a defender's action could be the most justified in the world but then relatives who hadn't been in contact with the deceased may come from all over - suing and swearing fierce loyalty. Or sometimes a family may sue just as an expression of grief because death isn't a good thing. Just something to take note of.

God bless.
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Old January 10, 2012, 11:52 AM   #18
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IMO, this is not a case of "self defense"....

The clerk did not (apparently) use "deadly force", or force that would normally be considered to be deadly force by a reasonable person.

"Use of force" is not the same as "deadly force". Many statutes make clear distinctions. New York law specifies "physical force" and then makes clear distinction between "physical force" and subsets, or "degrees" of physical force, including the specific subset "deadly physical force". Obviously this is not New York but the same legal standard exists in some form or another in most places.

So, IMO, this is not a case of the clerk using "deadly physical force". The clerk used reasonable physical force to prevent a robbery. The perpetrator placed themselves in a condition and situation where a normal, healthy person would have survived with little, probably no, injury but a situation in which their self-induced condition led to death.

This is no more a "Self defense" incident than when a drunk runs a red light, gets T-boned by someone with the green and ends up dead. Self-induced fatality at someone elses hands.

Suicide by store clerk.
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Old January 10, 2012, 04:09 PM   #19
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I agree. The article made some assumptions (and it seems that the attorney did too). The attorney is concerned with whether or not he "killed her" in self defense.

If the coroner is correct he did not kill her. She died.

Last edited by dyl; January 10, 2012 at 04:18 PM.
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Old January 10, 2012, 04:36 PM   #20
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Quote:
wielding a knife
She showed deadly intent.

And virginia does not have a 'castle law' but we have a very long and strong set of common (case) law that is almost as good.

No duty to retreat in any place you are legally allowed to be (including public places).
'Reasonable man' fear of death or grave injury.

A well defined set of rulings defining excusable and justifiable homicide.
The state legislature has turned down attempts to pass a statutory castle law since it would open the door for all sorts of mischief with the existing case law.
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Old January 10, 2012, 04:36 PM   #21
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Laws are laws and we have a legal system, etc...

That notwithstanding I find it irksome that consideration is given to a crack smoking, would be robber. Especially when all the clerk did was hold her down.

I realize this incident doesn't exactly meet the criteria of the SD/HD situations we usually discuss. Even so I can't help thinking about the civil penalty the clerk may have to endure and why immunity from civil suit is so important.

The whole notion that a perpetrator of a robbery who died, or was injured during the course of a crime, could then have themselves, or their families rewarded/compensated in a civil judgment is ridiculous.
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Old January 10, 2012, 06:28 PM   #22
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I've heard there is a law that places responsibility of deaths caused during a crime on the person committing it. Although it may not apply here as it is possible no one was "killed" - does that include responsibility for your own death?
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Old January 12, 2012, 08:35 PM   #23
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First of all, the language used in the report is suspect. It makes assumptions, no doubt suggested by the prosecution, or the defense....or simply a reporter or editor with an agenda...

Lets look at a few basic facts, and assume them to be true, as reported...
Woman had a knife.
Attempted robbery.
Clerk held her down.

Ok, so far? knife is a deadly weapon. Robbery with a knife is armed robbery, so to me that puts it in the violent felony category.

Now the clerk held her down (we assume he disarmed her, otherwise he might have been stabbed/cut and there was no mention of that)

Now, the report says held her down and compressed her chest
Just what, exactly does this mean? That he did CPR chest compressions on her while waiting for the police to show up? Because she was having a heart attack ( arrhythmia )?

Or does it mean he held her down with his body weight across her chest, to restrain her from escaping? And that some lawyer, recognising that someone laying on you compresses your chest decided that was what triggered the heart attack?

Leaving out the commonly known fact that a large cocaine concentration in the body can cause a heart attack, all on its own, without the added stressors of attempting a violent physical act like armed robbery?

My wife has arrhythmia, and it can lead to a fatal heart attack. No question of that, I have numerous hours spent in hospital emergency rooms as personal testimony to that possibility. She controls hers (mostly) with medication. If have a firm conviction that if she was a cocaine user (even with prescribed meds) she would have died from a cocaine induced heart attack.

Based on what was reported, lacking in critical details as it is, there is no doubt in my mind that the woman died as a result of her own actions (knowingly or not) and that the clerk did not "kill" her.

That the clerk "killed" her is lawyer BS, in my not so humble opinion, and I don't see how a jury (who will, presumably have facts that we do not) will see it any other way.

The woman OD'd. Clearly, as far as I can see with the facts in my possession.
If there is something significant being withheld, I reserve the right to change my mind.
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Old January 12, 2012, 08:55 PM   #24
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All good points so far, so let me throw a monkey wrench into the mix:

Civil law has a concept called the "eggshell skull" rule, which basically says an attacker takes the victim as he finds him -- that when someone commits a negligent act that leads to another person getting injured, then that person is culpable for the entire extent of the injury even if the victim had some pre existing condition that turned what should have been a minor problem into a major one.

In criminal law, a similar doctrine applies in self defense. If you have (for example) a bleeding disorder, the attacker doesn't have to know he is putting you in legitimate & reasonable fear for your life if he threatens to punch you. You simply have to know it and be able to articulate your reasonable belief that the person about to punch you in the head was actually about to use deadly force against you whether he fully realized it or not.

Seems to me that the eggshell skull doctrine comes into play on this one. The clerk didn't know & couldn't have known that the woman had put herself into a physically precarious condition, but IF it's found that he used too much force, he's on the hook for the entire consequences.

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Old January 12, 2012, 09:03 PM   #25
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This sounds like an ambulance chaser setting the stage for a civil suit.
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