I recently taught one of my favorite criminal law cases, People v. LaVoie, 395 P.2d 1001 (Colo. 1964), and I thought readers might enjoy weighing in on the case. LaVoie is a self-defense case that is only a page long, so the facts are very simple. The ultimate question is, did the defendant have a valid claim of self-defense on the facts presented? Here are the facts:
The defendant was employed as a pharmacist at the Kincaid Pharmacy, 7024 West Colfax Avenue, Lakewood, Colorado. His day’s work ended at about 12:30 A.M. After leaving his place of employment, he obtained something to eat at a nearby restaurant and started on his way home. He was driving east on West Colfax Avenue, toward the city of Denver, at about 1:30 A.M. An automobile approached his car from the rear. The driver of this auto made contact with the rear bumper of defendant’s car and thereupon forcibly, unlawfully, and deliberately accelerated his motor, precipitating the defendant forward for a substantial distance and through a red traffic light. There were four men in the automobile who were under the influence of intoxicating liquor in varying degrees. Prior to ramming the car of the defendant they had agreed to shove him along just for “kicks.” The defendant applied his brakes to the full; but the continuing force from behind precipitated him forward, causing all four wheels to leave a trail of skid marks.
When defendant’s car ultimately came to a stop the auto containing the four men backed away a few feet. The defendant got out of his car and as he did so he placed a revolver beneath his belt. He had a permit to carry the gun. The four men got out of their auto and advanced toward the defendant threatening to “make you eat that damn gun,” to “mop up the street with you,” and also directed vile, profane and obscene language at him. The man who was in advance of his three companions kept moving toward defendant in a menacing manner. At this point the defendant shot him. As a result, he died at the scene of the affray.
LaVoie was charged with murder. Based on the facts presented, should be be found guilty of murder or guilty of no crime because he acted in self defense? Why? Here’s a reader poll, and feel free to offer your thoughts in the comment thread.