In this section, our attorneys explain Nevada’s criminal laws and legal concepts, A to Z
Under Nevada’s Castle Doctrine, people have the right to use force, including sometimes deadly force, to protect an occupied home or occupied vehicle from a seemingly dangerous intruder. There is no duty to retreat before acting in lawful self-defense, even if there are easy means of escape.
Nevada’s Castle Doctrine does not apply to unoccupied homes or vehicles. People who see someone breaking into an empty home or car do not have the legal right to kill the intruder, even if it is their home or car. Instead, they should contact the police right away.
The Castle Doctrine is a legal principle allowing people to resort to the use of deadly force against intruders of a currently occupied home or vehicle. Victims do not have to wait for the intruder to throw the first punch, aim a gun, or even make a verbal threat. Instead, victims can proactively kill the intruder if they reasonably believe the intruder intends to commit violence.1
Nevada’s Castle Doctrine applies to any occupied habitation or vehicle, such as:
Note that the home or vehicle must be currently occupied by at least one person. And the person who kills the intruder does not have to be the owner or renter of the home or vehicle. For example, a house guest has just as much of a right to kill an intruder as a homeowner.2
Yes. People charged with murder (NRS 200.030) for killing an intruder in Nevada should be acquitted as long as the home or vehicle was occupied, and the defendant reasonably believed the intruder presented a threat.3
Example: Tom walks back to his apartment building after getting drunk at a Las Vegas bar. He lives in Apartment 1A, but he tries to get into apartment 1B next door because he is too intoxicated to realize it is the wrong apartment.
Meanwhile, John is in bed in apartment 1B when he hears someone trying to break in his front door. So John takes out his pistol and shoots through the door, killing Tom. In this case, John is not guilty of murder under Nevada state law. Instead, Tom’s death was a justifiable homicide under the Castle Doctrine because John reasonably believed Tom was a burglar with violent intentions.
Had John in the above example been walking down the street when he saw Tom trying to break into his empty apartment, the Castle Doctrine would not allow John to kill Tom. This is because unoccupied dwellings and vehicles are not protected under the Castle Doctrine. Instead, John should take cover and call law enforcement to report the attempted burglary.
No. Under Nevada’s Castle Doctrine, there is no duty to retreat from an occupied home or habitation before using lethal force on an intruder. This is true even if there are windows or doors the victim could have easily escaped through to avoid confrontation.4
Under Nevada’s Castle Doctrine, people can kill an intruder of an occupied home or dwelling as long as they reasonably believe the intruder has violent intentions. But people do not have to fear that they will be killed or seriously hurt. Just the fear of being mildly assaulted is sufficient for people to kill an intruder.
But in scenarios not involving an intruder of an occupied home or vehicle, the bar for killing in self-defense is higher. For lethal self-defense (or defense of others) to be justified outside of the Castle Doctrine, the following four conditions must be true:
So when there is no intruder of an occupied home or vehicle involved, killing in self-defense is lawful only when the person faces an immediate threat of being killed or seriously injured him/herself. When an aggressor does not pose a serious threat, the non-aggressor should use no more force than necessary to deflect the threat.
Example: Mary commits domestic violence by slapping her boyfriend for looking at another girl. Her boyfriend could lawfully push her away or potentially hit her back in an effort to stop the fight. But under Nevada law, the boyfriend would not be justified in killing Mary in self-defense because she clearly did not mean to kill or seriously hurt him.
Under Nevada’s Castle Doctrine, people may stand their ground and kill an intruder of an inhabited home or vehicle. They do not have to flee and avoid confrontation even if there are easy means of escape. But in other contexts, people may “stand their ground” with the use of deadly force only if the following four conditions are true:
Therefore, the bar for standing one’s ground and killing in self-defense is higher when the scenario involves no one intruding into an inhabited home or vehicle.
Example: George and Fred break into a store after hours to steal some merchandise. George and Fred then get into an argument, and George pulls out his gun on Fred. Here, Fred reasonably fears for his life. But despite this imminent threat, Fred may not “stand his ground” and fight back because he is already breaking the law by being inside the store and burglarizing it. If Fred shoots and kills George, he could not claim it was a justifiable homicide. And he would likely face murder charges even though George was the original aggressor.
Learn more about “stand your ground” laws in Nevada.
Castle Doctrine law is an English common law principle, though it has its roots as far back as the ancient Romans. The term Castle Doctrine comes from the old saying that, “an Englishman’s home is his castle.” And like a castle, one’s home – no matter how small or modest – can be protected by intruders to the death.7
NRS 200.120 “Justifiable homicide” defined; no duty to retreat under certain circumstances.
1. Justifiable homicide is the killing of a human being in necessary self-defense, or in defense of an occupied habitation, an occupied motor vehicle or a person, against one who manifestly intends or endeavors to commit a crime of violence, or against any person or persons who manifestly intend and endeavor, in a violent, riotous, tumultuous or surreptitious manner, to enter the occupied habitation or occupied motor vehicle, of another for the purpose of assaulting or offering personal violence to any person dwelling or being therein.
2. A person is not required to retreat before using deadly force as provided in subsection 1 if the person:
(a) Is not the original aggressor;
(b) Has a right to be present at the location where deadly force is used; and
(c) Is not actively engaged in conduct in furtherance of criminal activity at the time deadly force is used.
3. As used in this section:
(a) “Crime of violence” means any felony for which there is a substantial risk that force or violence may be used against the person or property of another in the commission of the felony.
(b) “Motor vehicle” means every vehicle which is self-propelled.
A former Los Angeles prosecutor, attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT). He has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Dr Phil, Court TV, The Today Show and Court TV. Mr Shouse has been recognized by the National Trial Lawyers as one of the Top 100 Criminal and Top 100 Civil Attorneys.
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