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Padraig Nally : the right to defend October 25, 2006

Posted by Rambling Man in General Bloggery, Ireland & the Irish.

I’d like to give my tuppence ha’penny on the Padraig Nally affair. The item has been one of the most prevalent in Irish news over the recent months as the 1 year anniversary of the incident has recently passed.

For those of you who don’t know the background to the story, Padraig Nally is 62 year old farmer who lived alone in the west of Ireland. Around this time last year, he shot and fatally injured a traveller, John Ward who entered his (Nally’s) home unlawfully. He received 6 years in jail. Here is a more detailed background to the story.

When I read a little bit about this case I asked myself two things. Did Nally do wrong and what would I do ? When I thought about it, I realised that I believed Mr.Nally did do wrong but does not deserve to be in jail. It throws up in my mind all the different scenarios of what I would do if my home was being attacked or broken into. We just never know how we will react when our personal safety or that of our family is put into jeopardy by someone threatening to rob your house or who is already inside trespassing inside.

I am by no means a legal expert but without knowing the ins-and-outs of the terminology, the main question I am asking myself (and I’m sure the courts did too) was “Did the defendant use reasonable force to defend himself and his property, or did he use excessive force ?” In the heat of the moment, it would appear that Mr.Nally used excessive force leading to the death of Mr.Ward. Nally shot Mr.Ward twice and then as the burglar was making his way from the scene, went back into his house and reloaded his gun before following Mr.Ward down the street and delivering the fatal shot. That force was excessive. He reloaded. He didn’t just shoot the burglar in his legs to incapacitate him and then call the police – he emptied his gun, reloaded and shot again, causing his death.

Was this wrong to reload and follow him down the road and then dump his body in a field ? Yes it was. Would I have done something similar ? Probably. I have come to the conclusion that we cannot think straight (at least I think I could not) when placed in such a perilous and perceived dangerous situation. Mr.Nally was in fear of his life and tried to ensure that the criminal would not be in a position to threaten him again. It would take a strong, extremely calm and able man not to have done something along the lines of what Nally did (except the reload).

We have a right to defend – but only using reasonable force. But what is reasonable force when there is an intruder in your house threatening you, your property and your family ? It’s easy for me to say the Nally shouldn’t have finished the burglar off but if I was still in fear what would I do ? What would you do ? Surely the courts must take this into account when handing down sentences in these cases … or else we’ll end up like some of these people in the US (read some of the comments after the news story – apparently it’s better if you plain just kill the intruder instead of showing restraint and only maiming him, because then they’ll sue you for maiming them !)

PS : If I am a burglar and threaten someone while breaking and entering, do I not lose my rights ?

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1. Padraig Nally trial starting this week « The Rambling Man - December 4, 2006

[…] I have blogged about this before and will be, along with half the country, keeping a close eye on proceedings. One wonders whether the people on both sides of the argument can get a fair trial because of the amount of media coverage about this incident. The trial, in the Central Criminal Court, is likely to take the guts of two weeks to complete with the jury being instructed by the sitting Justice (O’Higgins) not base their decisions purely on the evidence presented to them and to disregard the media coverage. […]

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