Lethal Force Authorized to Defend Your Home in Nevada
There is an inference in Nevada that a person invading your home intends to do you harm. That harm can lawfully be repelled using lethal force.
By Zachariah B. Parry, attorney at Pickard Parry.
Approximately 6,900 burglaries occurred in Las Vegas in 2012 alone. That means about 11.82 out of 1,000 Las Vegas households are burglarized annually—nearly twice the national average. Those alarming statistics, coupled with the increasing frequency that laws regarding firearms are being debated in the news, give Nevada homeowners good reason for a refresher on Nevada’s home-defense laws.
For those familiar with Nevada’s divided politics, it will come as no surprise that Nevada’s gun laws, on the whole, fall just right of center. In fact, in a study conducted last year by Guns & Ammo Magazine, Nevada ranked as the 22nd most gun-friendly state (out of the fifty states plus Washington D.C.). The study considered open-carry laws, restrictions on modern sporting rifles, stand-your-ground laws, and the state culture of gun ownership. Unsurprisingly, the most unfriendly place in the country for gun owners is Washington D.C., where many guns are banned, magazines cannot hold more than ten rounds, and concealed and open carry are prohibited. Arizona, which does not require any permit to carry a firearm, either open or concealed, and has a liberal home-defense law, ranked number one.
Castle Defense Laws—Justified Use of Lethal Force
State legislatures, which are the governmental bodies responsible for determining a state’s gun policies, do so through the passage of gun laws—within the parameters set by the United States Constitution and the respective state’s constitution. Many states, including Nevada, have passed what are known as “stand your ground” or “castle defense” laws. These laws set forth the limits within which residents responding to a home invasion can use lethal force to defend their homes and their families and what duty, if any, they have to retreat to avoid harm to the invader.
The purpose of these laws is not only to promote safety of persons within their homes, but also to deter home invaders. Because the statute is meant to carve out a scenario when the killing of a human being is acceptable, it is very careful crafted, which means, unfortunately, “difficult for a layman to understand.” Although the statute is fairly broad, for purposes of this article, the focus will be on the rights of individuals present in their homes during a home invasion.
Nevada defines a homicide as “justified” if it is in defense of self, habitation, property, or person against someone who attempts to commit a felony by violence or surprise, or who intends and attempts to enter the habitation of another violently or in secret “for the purpose of assaulting or offering personal violence to any person … therein.” This deadly force can be used to repel invaders without first retreating as long as the defender is not the first aggressor, has a right to be at the location being defendant, and is not committing a crime at the time deadly force is used.
The law also clarifies that fear that one of the offenses might occur in insufficient justification to use deadly force. “It must appear that the circumstances were sufficient to excite the fears of a reasonable person and that the party killing really acted under the influence of those fears and not in a spirit of revenge.”
In other words, you have a right to use lethal force, without first retreating, if you are home when a home invasion occurs (or if you come home and interrupt a home invasion) as long as either (1) the home invasion constitutes a felony by violence or surprise, or (2) the person entering the habitation intends violence upon the occupants.
As written, this places an undue burden on a homeowner (or renter), who, during a home invasion, has neither the time to analyze Nevada’s felony statutes nor the information necessary to ascertain whether their particular home invader intends violence. Fortunately, there is another statute that makes the analysis easier.
Burglary in Nevada
Nevada has a broadly written burglary statute. The legislature apparently wanted to capture all possible invasions in the definition of burglary because in Nevada, a burglary occurs whenever someone enters “any house, room, apartment, tenement, shop, warehouse, store, mill, barn, stable, outhouse or other building, tent, vessel, vehicle, vehicle trailer, semitrailer or house trailer, airplane, glider, boat or railroad car” with the intent to commit a theft, assault, battery, or any other felony.
However, again, the statute requires that the entry be with intent to commit a crime. And again, the homeowner (or shopkeeper, boat occupant, or tent dweller, as it were), is not going to have the wisdom or the wherewithal to analyze the burglar’s intent prior to deciding whether deadly force for self protection would be justified. Fortunately, the burglary statute simplifies the analysis. Whenever unlawful entry occurs to any of the enumerated dwellings, vehicles, and camp structures, the occupants thereof can legally infer that the entry was done with the intent to commit a theft, assault, battery, or other felony, unless there is sufficient evidence to convince a jury that there was no criminal intent.
As a practical matter, that means that when circumstances arise where someone unlawfully enters a structure or building that you occupy, and you reasonably fear for your safety, you are justified in using lethal force to repel the invader, and if prosecuted for homicide, “the person indicted shall, upon trial, be fully acquitted and discharged.”
Zachariah B. Parry is a founding partner of the civil litigation law firm, Pickard Parry. He regularly litigates against parties with deep pockets like labor unions, racketeering enterprises and insurance companies. He has experienced success on both sides of the table, including multiple multi-million dollar judgments on behalf of plaintiffs in fraud cases and zero-dollar defense verdicts for his clients who were unjustly sued. In addition to litigating, Zach also teaches torts, contracts and Nevada practice and procedure at UNLV’s paralegal program.
Zach can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 702-910-4300, or through his firm’s website at www.pickardparry.com.
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