When a criminal breaks into your home, the last thing you’re likely to think about is the potential legal liability that could come with taking aggressive steps to defend yourself, your family, and your property. From time to time stories appear about a homeowner being charged with murder or sued for civil damages after shooting a trespasser. Nevadans can benefit from understanding how state law defines the rights of a person to use deadly force to defend their home from intruders.
Elements of “justified homicide” in Nevada
Nevada law provides that it is not a crime to use deadly force against persons who “manifestly intend and endeavor, in a violent, riotous, tumultuous or surreptitious manner, to enter the occupied habitation or occupied vehicle, of another for the purpose of assaulting or offering personal violence to any person dwelling or being therein.” NRS 200.120. The clear intention of this rule is that the use of firearms to protect one’s home is permitted, though other forms of deadly force, such as knives, will also be protected. It has two key elements that are worth noting.
- The behavior of the person being defended against must be “violent, riotous, tumultuous or surreptitious.” The statute does not provide blanket authority for homeowners to shoot at someone who peacefully comes to the front door.
- The purpose of the trespass is a relevant fact. For example, if someone trespasses onto another person’s property to retrieve a mishandled ball or fetch a stray dog, the statute may not protect the homeowner who uses deadly force in the mistaken belief that they are under attack. On the other hand, a jury may conclude that the homeowner behaved reasonably under the circumstances—for example, if the person was behaving “surreptitiously” rather than announcing their presence in a responsible way.
Nevada’s “stand your ground” law, codified in NRS 200.120(2), applies to the home defense scenario insofar as a person is entitled to use deadly force in self defense provided that he or she is not the original aggressor. Going back to the example of the person coming to the front door in a peaceable way: a homeowner who initiates an aggressive exchange by threatening the visitor with a gun is not entitled to use deadly force if the visitor then draws a concealed weapon that she is lawfully carrying for self-defense purposes.
A home defender’s fear must be “reasonable”
To lawfully use deadly force a person must show “that the circumstances were sufficient to excite the fears of a reasonable person and that the person killing really acted under the influence of those fears.” NRS 200.130. The law provides two specific circumstances where home defenders have the benefit of a rebuttable presumption that their fear was reasonable:
- The defender knew or reasonably believed that the person who was killed was entering unlawfully and with force, or attempting to do so; the defender knew or reasonably believed that the person who was killed was committing or attempting to commit a crime of violence; and the defender did not provoke the person who was killed. NRS 200.130(2).
- While lawfully in his or her own residence or place of lodging, such as a hotel room, the defender uses deadly force against a person who is committing burglary or home invasion, or threatens use of a deadly weapon, and the defender knew or had reason to believe that such a crime was being committed. NRS 41.095.
Home defenders are immune from civil liability for injuries they cause to invaders unless the invader (or the invader’s estate) can overcome this presumption. NRS 41.095(1). In cases where a burglary was in progress and a homeowner used deadly force against the intruder, the legal picture is quite clear. The picture can be less clear in other situations.
Consult with a Las Vegas attorney after any self-defense situation
Anyone who uses force in self defense should be sure to consult with an attorney as soon as possible after the event to ensure that relevant facts are recorded properly and to avoid costly mistakes. The law firm of Greenman Goldberg Raby Martinez has served the Las Vegas community for over 45 years. If you would like to know more about Nevada’s home defense laws, call us for a free attorney consultation. We’re reachable at 702-388-4476 or send us a request through our site.