Nevada "Self-defense" Laws
Explained by Las Vegas Criminal Defense Attorneys

It is legal in Nevada to batter, injure or even kill another person in self-defense. People may act in self-defense only when they have a reasonable belief of immediate harm and inflict no more force than necessary.

Self-defense is a common strategy in Nevada to fight such charges as battery, battery domestic violence, and murder. And the same laws that govern self-defense also apply to the defense of others.

Nevada's castle doctrine permits people in their homes and vehicles to kill violent intruders. And non-aggressors in Nevada have no duty to retreat from a conflict.

In this article, our Las Vegas criminal defense lawyers answer frequently-asked-questions about how self-defense can get a defendant's criminal charges dismissed in Nevada. Click on a topic to jump to that section:

Self 20defense
Self-defense is an affirmative defense in Nevada. This means the D.A. has the burden to prove the defendant did not act in self-defense.

1. When is self-defense legal in Nevada?

Hurting someone in self-defense is legal in Nevada under the following circumstance:

  • The non-aggressor in the situation reasonably believes he/she is facing immediate bodily harm, and
  • The non-aggressor uses no more physical force than necessary to protect him/herself from the aggressor.1

In short, self-defense has to be reasonable to be lawful. Henderson criminal defense attorney Michael Becker illustrates the concepts of "immediate bodily harm" and "necessary physical force" with three scenarios:

Example 1: 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.

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. Now the scenario changes slightly:

Example 2: 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.

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 would only care about whether his belief was reasonable. This is the final scenario:

Example 3: 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.
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Self-defense is not legal in Nevada if the threat is not immediate.

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 due to Tom's verbal threat and subsequent punch. Furthermore, John retaliated using only as much force as necessary to stop him.

Predictably, self-defense cases are very fact-specific. Nevada courts look closely at the details of exactly what happened when in order to decide whether the defendant acted reasonably.

2. What crimes can I defend myself against in Nevada?

Self-defense can work as a legal defense to any violent crime, such as battery and murder. Other examples are battery domestic violence, resisting arrest, robbery, rape, and attempted murder.

In sum, self-defense in Nevada is a legal defense that excuses otherwise violent behavior. As long as the non-aggressor is reasonably trying to protect him/herself, he/she should not be penalized for hurting or even mortally wounding the aggressor.

3. What is imperfect self-defense in Nevada?

An imperfect self-defense is when a person honestly but unreasonably believes he/she was acting in self-defense.2 Courts do not recognize imperfect self-defense as a valid defense in criminal cases. North Las Vegas criminal defense attorney Neil Shouse provides an illustration:

Example: Miriam's neighbor stops her in the driveway and threatens to beat her up if her dog goes on his lawn again. Shaken up, Miriam punches him and runs away.
Self defense
Self-defense is not legal in Nevada if it is not reasonable.

In this case, Miriam may have honestly believed that her safety was in danger. But she acted in imperfect self-defense because she was in no immediate harm. Therefore, Miriam would probably face criminal charges for battery for punching her neighbor.

4. Can I kill in self-defense in Nevada?

Yes, under certain narrow circumstances. A justifiable homicide in Nevada occurs when all the following conditions are met:

  • The danger was urgent and pressing;
  • The non-aggressor faced death or major bodily harm;[3]
  • A reasonable person in the non-aggressor's position would also fear for his/her life and safety; and
  • The non-aggressor was not merely acting out of revenge.4

In other words, killing in self-defense is lawful only when the person faces an immediate threat of being killed or seriously injured him/herself. A "bare fear" of being hurt is insufficient to justify killing in self-defense.

5. Can I defend someone else in Nevada?

Yes. Nevada law draws no distinction between acting in defense of oneself and acting in defense of another.5

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In certain circumstances Nevada permits killing home intruders.

6. Can I kill someone if they come into my home?

Under Nevada's "castle doctrine," it is justifiable to kill an intruder of an occupied home if the intruder clearly intends to be violent. Note that the castle doctrine also applies to occupied vehicles.6

7. Is there a duty to retreat in Nevada?

No. As long as the person did not provoke or invite the conflict, he/she has no duty to retreat. In other words, non-aggressors may legally stand their ground even if they have the opportunity to retreat.7

8. How do I prove self-defense in Nevada?

Self-defense is an "affirmative defense" in Nevada This means that if the defendant claims he/she acted in lawful self-defense, then the state has the burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant did not act in lawful self-defense.8

Evidence that frequently comes into play in self-defense cases include eye-witnesses, medical testimony, and video surveillance footage. As long as the prosecution fails to prove that the defendant did not act in lawful self-defense, the charges against the defendant should be dropped.

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Call our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys at 702-DEFENSE for a FREE consultation.

Call a Nevada criminal defense attorney...

If you would like to discuss your case with our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys for free, call 702-DEFENSE (702-333-3673). We 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.


Legal References:

  1. NRS 200.120; Davis v. State, 130 Nev. Adv. Op. 16 (2014) ("Death does not have to be the result for self-defense to be applicable.").
  2. Hill v. State, 98 Nev. 295, 297 (1982). (Imperfect-self defense will not reduce a charge of murder down to manslaughter.).
  3. NRS 200.200.
  4. NRS 200.130.
  5. Batson v. State, 113 Nev. 669, 673 (1997).
  6. NRS 200.120.
  7. State v. Helm, 66 Nev. 286 (1990); Culverson v. State, 106 Nev. 484, 489 (1990).
  8. Barone v. State, 109 Nev. 778, 780 (1993).

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