One Wrong Turn Led To Another

Exploring the Monahan Shooting in a Virginia context

In a tragic incident on the night of April 15, 2023, a New York man was found guilty of fatally shooting a 20-year-old woman who was a passenger in a friend’s car. The events unfolded in rural Hebron, New York when Kaylin Gillis and her companions inadvertently turned into the driveway of 65-year-old Kevin Monahan while searching for a friend’s house.

Despite their unintentional mistake, Monahan discharged at least two shots from his deck, hitting Gillis and resulting in her death. This heart-wrenching episode underscores the importance of understanding property rights and the lawful use of force in self-defense scenarios.

In our exploration, Amestratus will delve into the application of Virginia law to aspects of the NY driveway shooting. Specifically, we will focus on determining whether the actions would meet Virginia’s standards for justifiable force. This analysis aims to shed light on the legal implications surrounding property protection within the backdrop of the NY incident.

By juxtaposing Virginia’s legal framework with the events in question, we aim to show the principles guiding using force in safeguarding property. Through this comparative examination, we seek an understanding of the laws surrounding property rights and the considerations inherent in using force.

In Virginia, one finds the legal framework governing the “Use Of Force” in defense of property in the state’s statutes and case law. Virginia adheres to the principle that individuals have the right to defend their property from unlawful interference, but this right is subject to certain limitations and conditions

New York – During his testimony, Monahan stated that he fired a warning shot to alert the individuals on the driveway of his armed presence, as reported by the Associated Press (AP). He likened the warning shot to initiating a dialogue, suggesting that it served as a means of communication in the tense situation. “The warning shot, to me, is almost like starting a dialog,” Monahan remarked during cross-examination, highlighting his perspective on the intent behind the gunfire.

Virginia Case Law states: 

The common law in this state has long recognized the right of a landowner to order a trespasser to leave, and if the trespasser refuses to go, to employ proper force to expel him, provided no breach of the peace is committed in the outset… Absent extreme circumstances, however, such force may not endanger human life or cause great bodily harm.

Pike v. Commonwealth, 24 Va. App. 373, 375-376, 482 S.E.2d 839 (1997)

Under Virginia law, individuals may use reasonable force to protect their property from trespass, theft, or damage. However, the use of deadly force is justified — Justifiable Homicide — only in specific circumstances. Deadly force may be used in defense of property only when there is an imminent threat of death or serious bodily harm to oneself or another person.

Virginia Case Law states: 

Justifiable homicide in self-defense occurs where a person, without any fault on his part in provoking or bringing on the difficulty, kills another under reasonable apprehension of death or great bodily harm to himself…

Bailey v. Commonwealth, 200 Va. 92, 96, 104 S.E.2d 28 (1958)

New York – According to The AP, Monahan’s defense attorney, Arthur Frost, has said Monahan was scared by the strangers who showed up on his driveway in the dark of the night. 

Virginia Case Law states: 

The “bare fear” of serious bodily injury, or even death, however well-grounded, will not justify the taking of human life…  “There must [also] be some overt act indicative of imminent danger at the time.”

Commonwealth v. Sands, 262 Va. 724, 729, 553 S.E.2d 733 (2001)

New York – Monahan testified that he fired one warning shot so the people on the driveway would know he was armed, the AP said.

Virginia Case Law states: 

The threat to use deadly force by brandishing a deadly weapon has long been considered an assault. [T]he owner of land has no right to assault a mere trespasser with a deadly weapon…  [A] deadly weapon may not be brandished solely in defense of personal Property.

Commonwealth v. Alexander, 260 Va. 238, 241, 242, 531 S.E.2d 567, (2000)

Virginia’s legal framework seeks equilibrium between individuals’ property rights and the imperative to mitigate excessive or unwarranted violence when defending property. By promoting reasonable force, Virginia’s laws aim to safeguard both property and human life. This balance underscores the state’s commitment to ensuring that property protection measures are proportionate, ethical, and conducive to maintaining societal order and safety.

Contact us to fulfill your training needs, including our “Self Defense & Legal Use of Force” course. Our experienced instructors will provide you with the essential knowledge and skills to protect yourself and your property within the confines of the law. Don’t hesitate to reach out and schedule your training session today!

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