It is legal in Nevada to batter, injure or even kill another person in self-defense. However, self-defense is lawful only when you reasonably believe you are facing immediate harm and you inflict no more force than is necessary to protect yourself.
Our Las Vegas criminal defense lawyers have been very successful in fighting violent crimes charges by claiming self-defense. Scroll down to learn more about self-defense laws in Nevada and how we can help your case.
What is self-defense in Las Vegas, NV?
Self-defense is a legal defense in Nevada that excuses violent behavior that otherwise would be criminal. As long as you are reasonably trying to protect yourself, the law recognizes that you should not be penalized for hurting or even mortally wounding someone else.
How do courts determine whether an act of violence qualifies as self-defense in Las Vegas, NV?
Self-defense is justified in the following circumstance:
- The defendant reasonably believes he/she is facing immediate bodily harm, and
- The defendant uses no more physical force than necessary to protect him/herself.
In order to explain the concepts of "immediate bodily harm" and "necessary physical force," let us look at some examples:
Example: Tom tells John to leave his Henderson home, but John refuses. Tom then puts John in a headlock and leads him out of the house. While trapped in the headlock, John reaches for his knife and stabs Tom in the chest. Tom survives, but the police arrest John for attempted murder with a deadly weapon in Henderson.
Here, odds are John would not win on self-defense grounds. Even though Tom was the aggressor by putting John in the headlock, the court would probably find that John overreacted with unnecessary physical force. If John had merely bit or punched Tom to get out of the headlock, John would have a much better case for self-defense in Henderson. Now let us change this example slightly:
Example: Tom puts John in a headlock and leads him out of Tom's house. Once outside, Tom lets John go and walks back inside the house. John then turns around, goes back in the house and punches Tom. The police arrest John for battery in Henderson.
Here, John would not have a viable self-defense claim either. Since Tom had let John go, John was no longer in any immediate physical danger. It does not matter if John honestly believed that he was acting in self-defense . . . the courts care only about whether his belief was reasonable. let us take one final example:
Example: Tom yells at John, "Look out! I am gonna kick your ass!" and punches him. John punches back harder, causing Tom to fall back and pass out. The police arrest John for battery in Henderson.
Here, John's battery charges probably would be dismissed on self-defense grounds. Even if Tom never intended to punch John more than once, John reasonably believed he faced immediate physical harm in the form of Tom's punch and verbal threat. Furthermore, John retaliated using only as much force as necessary to stop him.
As you can see, self-defense cases are very fact-specific. Nevada courts look very closely at the details of exactly what happened when in order to decide whether the defendant acted reasonably.
For what crimes can self-defense be used as a defense in Las Vegas, NV?
Self-defense is a legal defense to any violent crime such as:
- the Nevada offense of battery,
- the Nevada offense of battery domestic violence,
- the Nevada offense of resisting arrest,
- the Nevada offense of robbery,
- the Nevada offense of rape,
- the Nevada offense of attempted murder, or
- the Nevada offense of murder.
What is "imperfect self-defense" in Las Vegas, NV?
An imperfect self-defense is an honest but unreasonable belief that you were acting in self-defense. Courts do not recognize it as a defense against crimes.
Can you kill in self-defense in Las Vegas, NV?
Yes, under certain narrow circumstances. Nevada actually has a separate law governing self-defense in homicide cases -- known as "justifiable homicide" in Nevada. Under NRS 200.200, "if a person kills in self-defense, it must appear that:
- The danger was so urgent and pressing that, in order to save the person's own life, or to prevent the person from receiving great bodily harm, the killing of the other was absolutely necessary; and
- The person killed was the assailant, or that the slayer had really, and in good faith, endeavored to decline any further struggle before the mortal blow was given."
However, as explained in NRS 200.130, a bare fear of being a victim of a violent offense is not be sufficient to justify the killing. It must appear that:
- The circumstances were sufficient to excite the fears of a reasonable person, and
- The party killing really acted under the influence of those fears and not in a spirit of revenge.
In other words, self-defense is a complete defense to homicide in Las Vegas if it is "absolutely necessary" to safeguard yourself. Note that imperfect-self defense will not reduce a charge of murder down to manslaughter. (Hill v. State, 647 P.2d 370 (Nev. 1982))
Can I defend someone other than myself in Las Vegas, NV?
Yes. The same rules that apply to self-defense and justifiable homicide in Nevada apply to defending others. You have to reasonably believe that another person is facing serious injury or death in order to escape criminal liability.
If someone enters my home, can I kill him in self-defense in Las Vegas, NV?
In certain circumstances. If someone enters your home with the obvious intent to commit a felony (such as burglary) or to physically hurt someone in the house, it is justifiable to kill the intruder. (NRS 200.12)
Is there a "duty to retreat" in Las Vegas, NV?
Usually no. As long as you did not provoke or invite the conflict, you have no duty to retreat from a life-threatening conflict. Legally you may stand your ground and kill the aggressor. (State v. Helm, 209 P.2d 187 (1990))
Do I have to prove I acted in self-defense in order to win my murder trial in Las Vegas, NV?
Self-defense is an "affirmative defense." This means that if you claim you acted in lawful self-defense, then the state has the burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you did not. But your attorney would still present evidence to demonstrate that you had reasonable apprehension of bodily harm.
Accused of a crime in Nevada? We can help . . . .
If after reading this article you would like to discuss your case with us for free, call 702-DEFENSE (702-333-3673). Our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys may be able to get your charges reduced or dismissed so your record stays clean.
For information on California self-defense laws, go to our article on California self defense laws.