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The Legal Risks of Intervening in a Crime

Intervening to stop a crime can involve a significant degree of personal risk. This can be especially true if the criminal is armed or behaving in an unpredictable way, whether due to mental illness, drug use, or other causes. When the intervening person uses force and causes injuries to others or to property, it’s possible that the intervention could lead to civil or even criminal liability. Understanding these issues is important for anyone who thinks they might step in to stop a crime.

“Good Samaritan” laws may not apply in self defense cases

A common misconception is that someone who intervenes in a crime falls under the concept of the “Good Samaritan.” The Good Samaritan idea is that someone who intervenes in an emergency situation to help other people should not be held responsible for injuries that they cause in the course of helping someone else. The textbook example of a Good Samaritan is someone who pulls over to assist people who have been injured in a car accident. In the course of helping someone who has been injured it’s very easy for an untrained person to aggravate the injured person’s injuries. Nevada law shields ordinary people from liability for such incidents. NRS 41.500.

A crime, even a violent one or one that involves the threat of violence (for example, an armed robbery) may not qualify as an “emergency” under Nevada’s Good Samaritan law. The Good Samaritan law therefore may not protect the intervening person from liability if in the course of the intervention the person causes personal injury or property damage. Even though there may be a good argument that such damage arose only as a consequence of the criminal behavior, that might not be enough to prevent liability.

Using a weapon in self defense

Advocates for concealed carry permits often argue that having responsible, armed gun owners in public enhances public safety. For those who exercise their right to carry a gun in public, encountering an opportunity to prevent a crime presents an important decision point. Should a carried weapon be used to intervene in the crime? The answer to this question can be complicated, and depends on a range of considerations, including:

  • How clear is it that a crime is being committed at all? Threatening someone who was not doing anything criminal is itself a crime.
  • What sort of danger does the apparent criminal pose? Is he or she armed?
  • What is the nature of the crime? A violent crime may justify a different level of response from a property crime like shoplifting.
  • Is immediate intervention absolutely necessary to protect others from harm, or can the problem be safely left to the police?
  • Is the intervening person adequately trained to handle a firearm in an emergency context?
  • What else is going on? Are there lots of people around?

Firing a weapon in public is likely to draw scrutiny from law enforcement, regardless of how justified the shooting may have seemed at the time. Someone who intervenes in a situation with a weapon risks a number of consequences, the most significant being civil and even criminal liability for injuries to bystanders and even the criminal. At a minimum, be prepared to comply with police instructions, and also be prepared for the possibility that other armed citizens may arrive on the scene and mistake you for a criminal.

For more than 45 years the law firm of Greenman Goldberg Raby Martinez has represented clients in personal injury cases. If you are in need of legal representation after intervening in a crime, call us today for a free attorney consultation. We can be reached at 702-388-4476, or ask us to call you through our contact page.