Nevada "Looting" Laws
(Explained by Las Vegas Criminal Defense Attorneys)

"Looting" is a Nevada theft crime that occurs when people steal during riots, natural disasters, or other emergency situations. Depending on the circumstances, the most common criminal charges alleged looters face are:

Defenses

Typical defenses to Nevada looting charges are:

  • Necessity - looting was the necessary or reasonable thing to do under the circumstances, or
  • Misidentification - the police mistakenly arrested the defendant in the chaos of the looting scene

Penalties

Penalties for looting in Nevada depend on which theft crime(s) the defendant was convicted of. For petty theft, the penalties can be as low as a fine. Otherwise, the sentence can include several years in Nevada State Prison. And if the defendant had a deadly weapon during the looting, the judge may impose a harsher term.

On this page our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys discuss the Nevada crime of looting. Keep reading to learn the law, common defenses, and possible penalties.

"Looting" in Nevada Law

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Looting can be prosecuted as either larceny or burglary in Nevada.

Looting is stealing. In practice, looting typically occurs when a group of people goes on a stealing spree at a store or group of stores under the cover of night when no employees are present. But looting can also happen during the day at a residence by just one person. Looting is usually spurred by an emergency situation, such as:

  • a protest that that spun out of control,
  • riots,
  • man-made disasters, such as fires or explosions, or
  • natural disasters such as flash floods, thunderstorms, fires, or earthquakes

Sometimes looters loot as part of a protest. Other times, looters loot because the police are currently preoccupied with the emergency situation, and they believe they can steal without getting caught. Either way, looting is never legal.

Nevada does not have a specific statute prohibiting looting.1 Rather, alleged looters are prosecuted for one or more of the following four theft crimes:

  1. Petit larceny: Stealing less than $650 worth of property.
  2. Grand Larceny: Stealing $650 or more worth of property.
  3. Burglary: Entering a building or car with the intent to steal whether or not the person succeeds in taking anything.
  4. Auto-theft: Stealing a car or other vehicle.

Looting-related crimes in Nevada

Depending on the case, alleged looters in Nevada may face additional charges for various crimes that often occur during riots or similar situations.2 These include:

Defenses to Looting in Nevada

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Necessity and mis-identification are defenses to looting in Nevada.

The same defense strategies that can be used in other theft cases such as shoplifting also apply to looting. The two most common defenses include:

  • The defendant had no intent to steal ... perhaps the defendant took the property by accident or simply forgot to pay.
  • The "stolen" property actually belonged to the defendant, and the police mistakenly believed that the defendant took someone else's property.

But the frenzied conditions that give rise to looting also make room for to two other defenses that may prove effective. These include "necessity" and "misidentification":

1) Necessity

The legal defense of "necessity" comes into play when there is an emergency situation that can only be remedied by stealing.3 North Las Vegas criminal defense attorney Michael Becker illustrates this concept:

Example: A thunderstorm overtakes Las Vegas, causing power outages and fallen trees on roadways. Hannah's child falls down and sustains a deep cut. Hannah calls 911, but the road closures make it impossible for an ambulance to come or for Hannah to drive to the hospital. She knocks on her neighbors' doors, but the few who answer do not have medical supplies. So she goes down the street and breaks into a CVS to get bottled bandages and other medical supplies. After the storm, the Las Vegas Metro Police watch CVS's surveillance video and see Hannah breaking in. They then arrest her and book her at the Clark County Detention Center.

Hannah's defense attorney contacts the prosecutor and explains that the legal defense of "necessity" excuses Hannah's behavior. Hannah exhausted every lawful possibility before resorting to shoplifting. Furthermore, that Hannah took only medical supplies and nothing else shows that she was only trying to treat the medical emergency and not any other, unnecessary purpose. Under these extenuating circumstances, a prosecutor would be hard-pressed to convince a jury to convict since any reasonable person in Hannah's position would do the same thing. Chances are good that the theft charges would be dropped.

2) Misidentification

Looting often accompanies chaotic protests or riots where it is nearly impossible for law enforcement to keep track of what everyone in the crowd is doing. Consequently, innocent bystanders often get rounded up and arrested just for being at the wrong place at the wrong time. North Las Vegas criminal defense attorney Neil Shouse gives an example:

Example: There is a demonstration in Henderson on Veteran's Day. Suddenly the protest turns violent with many people breaking into various storefronts and looting. In an effort to quell the unrest, the Henderson police arrest dozens of people including Michael, who did nothing wrong. Later Michael's defense attorney finds surveillance video which shows that Michael never partook in any illegal activity. Upon seeing the video, the prosecutor realizes the police misidentified Michael as a perpetrator and drops the theft charges.

Penalties for Looting in Nevada

The punishment for looting always includes restitution in Nevada for the property stolen payable to the victim.4 The amount of fines and length of incarceration (if any) depend on which specific theft charges the defendant is convicted of:

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Looting penalties in Nevada depend upon the amount of property taken.

Petit larceny

Petty larceny as looting (less than $650 in goods) is a misdemeanor in Nevada. The sentence carries:

  • up to 6 months in jail, and/or
  • up to $1,000 in fines

Note that judges rarely impose jail for a first-time offense. Often a prosecutor may agree to dismiss the charge if the defendant takes a petit larceny education class and pays a fine and/or does community service.

Grand larceny

Grand larceny as looting is a category C felony in Nevada when the stolen property has a value of $650 to less than $3,500. The sentence carries:

  • 1 to 5 years in prison, and
  • maybe up to $10,000

Grand larceny as looting is a category B felony in Nevada when the stolen property has a value of $3,500 or higher. The sentence carries:

  • 1 to 10 years in prison, and
  • maybe up to $10,000

Note that the Nevada crime of shoplifting is prosecuted as either petit larceny or grand larceny depending on the worth of the stolen property..

Burglary

Burglary as looting is a category B felony in Nevada. If the defendant does not have a deadly weapon or gun, the sentence carries:

  • 1 to 10 years in prison, and
  • maybe up to $10,000 in fines

But if the defendant does have a deadly weapon or gun during the burglary, the sentence carries:

  • 2 to 15 years in prison, and
  • maybe up to $10,000 in fines

Auto-theft

Looting by stealing a car worth less than $3,500 is a category C felony in Nevada. The sentence carries:

  • 1 to 5 years in prison, and
  • maybe up to $10,000 in fines

Looting by stealing a car worth at least $3,500 is a category B felony. The sentence carries:

  • 1 to 10 years in prison, and
  • maybe up to $10,000 in fines

Arrested? Call us for help...

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Call us at 702-DEFENSE (702-333-3673).

If you are facing charges related to "looting" in Nevada, call our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys @ 702-DEFENSE (702-333-3673) for a FREE consultation. We may be able to get the charges reduced or dismissed completely without a trial.

For information on California "Looting" Laws | Penal Code 463 PC, see our article on California "Looting" Laws | Penal Code 463 PC.


Legal References:

1NRS 205.240 Petit larceny; penalty.

1. Except as otherwise provided in NRS 205.220, 205.226, 205.228, 475.105 and 501.3765, a person commits petit larceny if the person:

(a) Intentionally steals, takes and carries away, leads away or drives away:

(1) Personal goods or property, with a value of less than $660, owned by another person;

(2) Bedding, furniture or other property, with a value of less than $650, which the person, as a lodger, is to use in or with his or her lodging and which is owned by another person; or

(3) Real property, with a value of less than $650, that the person has converted into personal property by severing it from real property owned by another person.

(b) Intentionally steals, takes and carries away, leads away, drives away or entices away one or more domesticated animals or domesticated birds, with an aggregate value of less than $650, owned by another person.

2. Unless a greater penalty is provided pursuant to NRS 205.267, a person who commits petit larceny is guilty of a misdemeanor. In addition to any other penalty, the court shall order the person to pay restitution.

NRS 205.220

NRS 205.222

NRS 205.060 Burglary: Definition; penalties; venue; exception.

1. Except as otherwise provided in subsection 5, a person who, by day or night, 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 grand or petit larceny, assault or battery on any person or any felony, or to obtain money or property by false pretenses, is guilty of burglary.

2. Except as otherwise provided in this section, a person convicted of burglary is guilty of a category B felony and shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for a minimum term of not less than 1 year and a maximum term of not more than 10 years, and may be further punished by a fine of not more than $10,000. A person who is convicted of burglary and who has previously been convicted of burglary or another crime involving the forcible entry or invasion of a dwelling must not be released on probation or granted a suspension of sentence.

3. Whenever a burglary is committed on a vessel, vehicle, vehicle trailer, semitrailer, house trailer, airplane, glider, boat or railroad car, in motion or in rest, in this State, and it cannot with reasonable certainty be ascertained in what county the crime was committed, the offender may be arrested and tried in any county through which the vessel, vehicle, vehicle trailer, semitrailer, house trailer, airplane, glider, boat or railroad car traveled during the time the burglary was committed.

4. A person convicted of burglary who has in his or her possession or gains possession of any firearm or deadly weapon at any time during the commission of the crime, at any time before leaving the structure or upon leaving the structure, is guilty of a category B felony and shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for a minimum term of not less than 2 years and a maximum term of not more than 15 years, and may be further punished by a fine of not more than $10,000.

5. The crime of burglary does not include the act of entering a commercial establishment during business hours with the intent to commit petit larceny unless the person has previously been convicted:

(a) Two or more times for committing petit larceny within the immediately preceding 7 years; or

(b) Of a felony.

NRS 205.228

2NRS 205.005 “Set fire to” defined.

Any person shall be deemed to have “set fire to” a building, structure or any property mentioned in NRS 205.010 to 205.030, inclusive, whenever any part thereof or anything therein shall be scorched, charred or burned.

NRS 205.010 First degree.

A person who willfully and maliciously sets fire to or burns or causes to be burned, or who aids, counsels or procures the burning of any:

1. Dwelling house or other structure or mobile home, whether occupied or vacant; or

2. Personal property which is occupied by one or more persons,

--> whether the property of the person or of another, is guilty of arson in the first degree which is a category B felony and shall be punished by imprisonment for a minimum term of not less than 2 years and a maximum term of not more than 15 years, and may be further punished by a fine of not more than $15,000.

NRS 205.015 Second degree.

A person who willfully and maliciously sets fire to or burns or causes to be burned, or who aids, counsels or procures the burning of any abandoned building or structure, whether the property of the person or of another, is guilty of arson in the second degree which is a category B felony and shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for a minimum term of not less than 1 year and a maximum term of not more than 10 years, and may be further punished by a fine of not more than $10,000.

NRS 205.020 Third degree.

A person who willfully and maliciously sets fire to or burns or causes to be burned, or who aids, counsels or procures the burning of:

1. Any unoccupied personal property of another which has the value of $25 or more;

2. Any unoccupied personal property owned by him or her in which another person has a legal interest; or

3. Any timber, forest, shrubbery, crops, grass, vegetation or other flammable material not his or her own,

--> is guilty of arson in the third degree which is a category D felony and shall be punished as provided in NRS 193.130.

NRS 205.025 Fourth degree.

1. A person who willfully and maliciously attempts to set fire to or attempts to burn or to aid, counsel or procure the burning of any of the buildings or property mentioned in NRS 205.010, 205.015 and 205.020, or who commits any act preliminary thereto or in furtherance thereof, is guilty of arson in the fourth degree which is a category D felony and shall be punished as provided in NRS 193.130, and may be further punished by a fine of not more than $5,000.

2. In any prosecution under this section the placing or distributing of any inflammable, explosive or combustible material or substance, or any device in any building or property mentioned in NRS 205.010, 205.015 and 205.020, in an arrangement or preparation eventually to set fire to or burn the building or property, or to procure the setting fire to or burning of the building or property, is prima facie evidence of a willful attempt to burn or set on fire the property.

NRS 206.310 Injury to other property.

1. Every person who shall willfully or maliciously destroy or injure any real or personal property of another, for the destruction or injury of which no special punishment is otherwise specially prescribed, shall be guilty of a public offense proportionate to the value of the property affected or the loss resulting from such offense.

2. It is not a defense that the person engaging in the conduct prohibited by subsection 1 holds a leasehold interest in the real property that was destroyed or injured.

NRS 200.380 Definition; penalty.

1. Robbery is the unlawful taking of personal property from the person of another, or in the person's presence, against his or her will, by means of force or violence or fear of injury, immediate or future, to his or her person or property, or the person or property of a member of his or her family, or of anyone in his or her company at the time of the robbery. A taking is by means of force or fear if force or fear is used to:

(a) Obtain or retain possession of the property;

(b) Prevent or overcome resistance to the taking; or

(c) Facilitate escape.

--> The degree of force used is immaterial if it is used to compel acquiescence to the taking of or escaping with the property. A taking constitutes robbery whenever it appears that, although the taking was fully completed without the knowledge of the person from whom taken, such knowledge was prevented by the use of force or fear.

2. A person who commits robbery is guilty of a category B felony and shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for a minimum term of not less than 2 years and a maximum term of not more than 15 years.

NRS 205.067

3 Hoagland v. State, 240 P.3d 1043, 1046 (2010) ([N]ecessity is a common law defense).

4See footnote 1.

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