NRS 200.120 - Justifiable Homicide in Nevada

Updated

NRS 200.120 is Nevada's stand your ground law. Killing in self-defense is justifiable homicide as long as the killer:

  1. Is not the original aggressor,
  2. Has a right to be in the place where deadly force is used, and
  3. Is not engaging in criminal activity

Example:

James and Tom start arguing in a Las Vegas bar. Suddenly James points a gun at Tom. Tom said he does not want any trouble. James responds by cocking the gun. Tom pulls out his own gun and shoots James dead. Tom had no duty to retreat before killing in self-defense because: 1) James was the original aggressor by pulling a gun; 2) Tom had the right to be at the bar; and 3) Tom was doing nothing illegal at the bar.

NRS 200.120 is also Nevada's castle doctrine law. Killing an intruder may be justifiable homicide if it is done in defense of:

  • An occupied home, or
  • An occupied motor vehicle

Example:

Helen is woken up at night by the sound of someone breaking her window in her Henderson home. Helen then sees a masked and armed stranger crawl through the window. Helen takes her gun and shoots the intruder dead. Helen did nothing illegal. This is because Nevada's castle doctrine allows people to defend their occupied home against intruders clearly intending to do harm.

In short, homicide is no crime in Nevada if done under the terms of stand your ground and the castle doctrine. Depending on the case, NRS 200.120 may be an effective defense against charges of murder (NRS 200.030) or voluntary manslaughter (NRS 200.050).

Below our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys discuss:

Woman holding a gun to a burglar.
Nevada is both a "castle doctrine" and "stand your ground" state.

1. When is killing in self-defense legal in Nevada?

In general, homicide is lawful when it appears:

  1. The danger is "urgent and pressing", and
  2. Killing is necessary to save the person's life or prevent great bodily harm

Nevada law also permits people to kill in defense of others, not only themselves.1

As discussed below in sections 4 and 5, the castle doctrine permits people to kill home and vehicle intruders under certain circumstances.

2. Is Nevada a "stand your ground" state?

Yes, under specific conditions. People may stand their ground and kill in self-defense if the following three criteria are met:

  1. They did not start the fight,
  2. They were not trespassing, and
  3. They were not otherwise breaking the law2

Therefore, the person killing in self-defense must be in a blameless position in order to stand his/her ground.

Example: Pat and Rudy are burglarizing an empty home in Henderson, where they find a stash of cash. Pat then points his gun to Rudy and says he does not want to share the loot. Instantly, Rudy grabs the gun and shoots Pat.

Here, Rudy had a duty to retreat before fighting back. Since he was breaking the law at the time by committing burglary, he waived the "stand your ground" privilege. If Rudy gets charged with murder, he might not be able to claim self-defense.

And as discussed below in sections 4 and 5, people usually do not have to retreat from their homes or cars before killing intruders.

3. Is there a duty to retreat before killing in self-defense?

Nevada is a stand your ground state. This means there is no duty to retreat before killing in self-defense if the killer:

  1. Was not the one who started the fight,
  2. Was allowed to be in the location where the lethal blow occurred, and
  3. Was not committing a crime at the time3

In other words, "stand your ground" is a privilege only law-abiding people may use:

Example: Larry is walking down the street when a homeless man jumps on him and starts attacking him. Larry pulls out his pocketknife and stabs the man to death. Here, Larry had no duty to retreat because: 1) Larry did not start the fight; 2) Larry had the right to be on the street; and 3) Larry was doing nothing illegal at the time. Therefore, Larry should not face homicide charges.

And as discussed below, people usually do not have to retreat from their homes or cars before killing intruders.

4. Is Nevada a "castle doctrine" state?

Yes. This means when an intruder breaks into an occupied home or automobile, it is generally justifiable homicide for a person to kill the intruder. There is no duty to retreat under NRS 200.120, even if there is an open door or window to escape through.

Note that the home or vehicle must have at least one person in it for NRS 200.120 to apply:4

Example: Joan is walking home when she sees a stranger breaking into her sedan. There is no one inside at the time. Joan immediately takes out her gun and shoots the stranger dead. Here, the castle doctrine does not protect Joan. Since the car was unoccupied, Joan was not justified in killing the intruder. She could face murder or manslaughter charges.

In the above example, Joan could have legally killed the intruder if her child or someone else was in the vehicle at the time.

5. Can people kill home intruders?

Yes, Nevada's castle doctrine justifies killing home intruders if:

  1. There is at least one person in the home, and
  2. It appears the intruder may be violent

So if it is clear the intruder means no harm, a person could face homicide charges for killing him/her:5

Example: Jeremy is in his study when he hears footsteps in his kitchen. He grabs his gun and peeks down the hall. It is his neighbor's young son stealing cookies off the counter. In this case, Jeremy would not be justified in shooting the boy dead. The boy was not acting menacingly enough to make any act of self-defense necessary.

As discussed above, people in their homes and cars usually have "no duty to retreat" before killing a dangerous intruder.

6. How do homicide defendants prove self-defense?

Self-defense is an affirmative defense. This means that murder or manslaughter defendants have the initial burden to present evidence that the killing was done in self-defense.

As long as there is some evidence backing up the defendant's claims, the prosecution then has the burden to prove that the use of deadly force was unreasonable and unnecessary.6

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Legal References

  1. NRS 200.120; NRS 200.130; NRS 200.190; NRS 200.160; NRS 200.150; NRS 200.200; Kelso v. State, 95 Nev. 37, 588 P.2d 1035 (1979); Hill v. State, 98 Nev. 295, 647 P.2d 370 (1982); Davis v. State, 321 P.3d 867, 130 Nev. Adv. Rep. 16 (2014).
  2. NRS 200.120.
  3. NRS 200.120; Culverson v. State, 106 Nev. 484, 797 P.2d 238 (1990).
  4. NRS 200.120.
  5. NRS 200.120.
  6. State v. Weddell, 117 Nev. 651, 27 P.3d 450 (2001); St. Pierre v. State, 96 Nev. 887, 620 P.2d 1240 (1980); also see NRS 200.170.

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