NRS 171.126 - How to make a citizen's arrest in Nevada

NRS 171.126 is the Nevada law which authorizes citizen's arrests. Private people who have no law enforcement authority are allowed to place criminal suspects under arrest if:

Private people who place suspects under arrest may use no more force than reasonably necessary to detain the suspects. And deadly force is never allowed during citizen's arrests unless the private person is acting in self-defense in Nevada.

Civilians who execute an illegal citizen's arrest face criminal prosecution themselves depending on the circumstances of the case. Possible penalties include incarceration, fines, and Nevada victim restitution payments to the person who was unlawfully arrested.

In this article, our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys discuss how to make citizen's arrests in Nevada under NRS 171.126:

man in suit with superman suit underneath
Police officers are not the only people with the authority to arrest people. Ordinary private citizens have that authority as well.

1. Legal definition of a citizen's arrest in Nevada

A citizen's arrest is when a person who is not a member of law enforcement places a criminal suspect under arrest. Typically, the private citizen orders the suspect to freeze and may have to physically restrain the suspect until the police can arrive to take over.1

2. When private people may make arrests in Nevada

NRS 171.126 provides three situations where private citizens may place a criminal suspect under arrest:

  1. The suspect committed any crime in the person's presence (in other words, the person witnessed the suspect breaking the law);
  2. The suspect committed a felony crime, even if the person did not witness it; or
  3. A felony has been committed, and the person has reasonable cause to believe the suspect committed it

In short, the only situation where people may not make citizen's arrests is if the suspect allegedly committed a misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor outside of the person's presence.   

Note that warrants are not required for private people to make an arrest in Nevada. Also note that citizen's arrests may occur at any time, day or night; there are no periods when citizen's arrests are off-limits.2

3. Use of force in citizen's arrests in Nevada

suited man with gun
Deadly force during a citizen's arrest in Nevada is usually not allowed.

When private people perform a citizen's arrest on a criminal suspect, they may use no more force than reasonably necessary under the circumstances.

For example, if a suspect surrenders and does not resist, the private person should not then beat up the suspect; instead, the private person should just remain with the suspect until the police arrive.

The only time private people may use deadly force on an arrestee is in lawful self-defense or defense of others. So unless the suspect poses a threat of serious bodily injury to anyone, the person doing the arresting has no legal justification to kill the suspect no matter what crime he/she may have committed.3

4. Shopkeeper's privilege in Nevada

Nevada law permits storekeepers to take suspected thieves into custody and detain them on the premises in a reasonable manner and for a reasonable length of time until the police can arrive. Some merchants opt to release suspects without calling the authorities as long as the suspects turn over the stolen goods.4

Storekeepers will not be held civilly or criminally liable for reasonably detaining a suspected shoplifter as long as they have the following notice conspicuously displayed in the store in boldface type:

Any merchant or his or her agent who has reason to believe that merchandise has been wrongfully taken by a person may detain such person on the premises of the merchant for the purpose of recovering the property or notifying a peace officer. An adult or the parents or legal guardian of a minor, who steals merchandise is civilly liable for its value and additional damages. NRS 597.850, 597.860 and 597.870.

5. Penalties for unlawful citizen's arrests in Nevada

People who subject other people to unlawful citizen's arrests may face various criminal charges depending on the circumstances of the arrest. The following are common offenses people commit when they illegally take others into custody.

5.1. False imprisonment

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False imprisonment can be a gross misdemeanor or a felony depending on whether a deadly weapon was involved.

The Nevada crime of false imprisonment (NRS 200.460) occurs when a person illegally deprives another person of their freedom of movement. Holding someone down during an illegal citizen's arrest could qualify as false imprisonment. 

Committing false imprisonment with use of a deadly weapon is a category B felony in Nevada, carrying one to six years in Nevada State Prison. Otherwise, false imprisonment is a gross misdemeanor, carrying:

  • Up to 364 days in jail, and/or
  • Up to $2,000 in fines

5.2. Assault with a deadly weapon

The Nevada crime of assault with a deadly weapon (NRS 200.471(2)(b)) occurs when a person uses a gun or other dangerous object to place another person in reasonable fear of immediate bodily harm. Pointing a pistol at someone during an illegal citizen's arrest could qualify as assault with a deadly weapon.

Assault with a deadly weapon is prosecuted as a category B felony, carrying:

  • 1 - 6 years in prison, and/or
  • up to $5,000 in fines

5.3. Impersonation of an officer

Like it sounds, the Nevada crime of impersonation of a public officer (NRS 199.430) occurs when someone defrauds another by passing him/herself off as a public officer (which includes police officers). In 2012, a person was arrested in Las Vegas for an illegal citizen's arrest for falsely claiming to the suspect that he was a police officer.5

Impersonating a police officer is a gross misdemeanor, carrying:

  • Up to 364 days in jail, and/or
  • Up to $2,000 in fines

In addition, the defendant may have to pay victim restitution in Nevada to victims who sustained damages from the false impersonation.

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Accused of making an illegal citizen's arrest in Nevada? Call our Las Vegas criminal defense lawyers at 702-DEFENSE (702-333-3673) for a FREE consultation. We will do everything we can to get the charges reduced or dismissed so your record stays clean. In most cases, we can achieve a favorable resolution without a trial.

In California? See our article about California citizen's arrests laws | Penal Code 837 PC.


Legal References

  1. NRS 171.126  Arrest by private person.  A private person may arrest another:

          1.  For a public offense committed or attempted in the person's presence.

          2.  When the person arrested has committed a felony, although not in the person's presence.

          3.  When a felony has been in fact committed, and the private person has reasonable cause for believing the person arrested to have committed it.
  2. Id.
  3. State v. Weddell, 117 Nev. 651, 27 P.3d 450 (2001).(Lexis: "In securing or attempting an arrest under NRS 171.126, a private person may only use the amount of force that is reasonable and necessary under the circumstances; the use of deadly force is, as a matter of law, unreasonable, unless the arrestee poses a threat of serious bodily injury to the private arrestor or others.")
  4. NRS 597.850  Shoplifting: Merchant may request person on premises to keep merchandise in full view; detention of suspect; immunity of merchant from liability; display of notice.

          1.  As used in this section and in NRS 597.860 and 597.870:

          (a) “Merchandise” means any personal property, capable of manual delivery, displayed, held or offered for sale by a merchant.

          (b) “Merchant” means an owner or operator, and the agent, consignee, employee, lessee, or officer of an owner or operator, of any merchant's premises.

          (c) “Premises” means any establishment or part thereof wherein merchandise is displayed, held or offered for sale.

          2.  Any merchant may request any person on the merchant's premises to place or keep in full view any merchandise the person may have removed, or which the merchant has reason to believe the person may have removed, from its place of display or elsewhere, whether for examination, purchase or for any other purpose. No merchant is criminally or civilly liable on account of having made such a request.

          3.  Any merchant who has reason to believe that merchandise has been wrongfully taken by a person and that the merchant can recover the merchandise by taking the person into custody and detaining the person may, for the purpose of attempting to effect such recovery or for the purpose of informing a peace officer of the circumstances of such detention, take the person into custody and detain the person, on the premises, in a reasonable manner and for a reasonable length of time. A merchant is presumed to have reason to believe that merchandise has been wrongfully taken by a person and that the merchant can recover the merchandise by taking the person into custody and detaining the person if the merchant observed the person concealing merchandise while on the premises. Such taking into custody and detention by a merchant does not render the merchant criminally or civilly liable for false arrest, false imprisonment, slander or unlawful detention unless the taking into custody and detention are unreasonable under all the circumstances.

          4.  No merchant is entitled to the immunity from liability provided for in this section unless there is displayed in a conspicuous place on the merchant's premises a notice in boldface type clearly legible and in substantially the following form:

           Any merchant or his or her agent who has reason to believe that merchandise has been wrongfully taken by a person may detain such person on the premises of the merchant for the purpose of recovering the property or notifying a peace officer. An adult or the parents or legal guardian of a minor, who steals merchandise is civilly liable for its value and additional damages. NRS 597.850, 597.860 and 597.870.
  5. Francis McCabe, "Making citizen's arrest may backfire in Nevada', Las Vegas Review-Journal (March 31, 2013).

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