Criminal Defense

What Is Justifiable Homicide?

Are you being charged with murder? It may have been justifiable homicide (NRS 200.120). Read on to get a good understanding of what that means.

In the eyes of many, the commission of homicide for any reason is an unforgivable act. These people will hold that anyone who has killed another individual is always deserving of punishment. Are they right, or are they wrong? Is there ever a legal excuse for taking another life?

In criminal law, the answer to that question is sometimes yes. There are various situations in which the law views homicide as justifiable or legally excusable. If you are facing murder or homicide charges, it is vital to understand exactly which situations meet these specifications.

Justifiable Homicide in Cases of Self-Defense

Until very recently, legal tradition has held that only two types of situation would justify the use of deadly force. These would involve the fear of imminent death or the conviction that you are in danger of suffering serious bodily injury. In more recent times, however, several states have extended this right to people who firmly believed that the use of violent force was the only means available of protecting their property.

In this type of case, it is necessary to prove that you had good reason to conclude that your life or property was in danger or that deadly force was the only means available for preventing a greater harm. However, in the great majority of situations, the law still requires that you use only as much force as is necessary to scare off an intruder or protect your life or property.

In many states, the law also insists that you have a duty to retreat if possible before you act with intent to kill. That means that before resorting to deadly force, you must have made an honest effort to escape the danger. Nevertheless, some states, Nevada included, will render this necessity null and void if at the time of the encounter:

  • You were not the initial aggressor.
  • You had a legal right to be at that location.
  • You were not engaged in any sort of criminal activity.

Stand Your Ground Law

Not all states insist that you try to flee the scene. Some, Nevada included, adhere to the so-called stand-your-ground or line-in-the-sand provisions that free you of the duty to retreat in cases where your life is at stake. Others go even further, allowing you to use deadly force in defense of your property with no expectation whatever that you first attempt to run for shelter.

In contrast to the above provisions, the well-named castle doctrine allows the use of deadly force only if the threat to your life or property occurs within the interior boundaries of your residence, your motor vehicle or your place of business. In most cases, the castle doctrine will also release you from any duty to retreat.

The Defense of Necessity

Sometimes a person will turn to deadly force not as a means of self-defense but as the only possible way of defending against a greater harm. When the causing the death of one or more other individuals appears to be the only possible means of preventing a greater disaster, the doctrine of homicide by necessity may come into play. For example, in the state of Nevada, a person may escape criminal liability if he or she had good reason to believe that deadly force was the only available course of protecting another person from death or serious harm. This is particularly true if the action were taken to protect a family member.

Justifiable Homicide as a Means of Stopping a Crime

Whether it takes place at the hands of law enforcement or an ordinary citizen, it is sometimes justifiable to kill a felon in the hopes of preventing or disrupting an armed robbery, rape, murder, manslaughter or similarly violent crime. However, the person who takes the life of the miscreant must have done so in the honest belief that there was no other possible way of staving off or stopping the crime in its tracks. Furthermore, a homicide committed after the fact as a means of revenge or retribution will not qualify as justifiable.

When this type of homicide takes place at the hands of law enforcement, its treatment can be somewhat different. Despite frequent protests on the part of victims’ families, the law often considers these homicides to be justifiable when they occur out of necessity during an attempt to:

  • Apprehend or recapture a felon.
  • Suppress a riot or preserve the peace.
  • Stop a crime.
  • Make an arrest.
  • Protect someone’s life.

If you have been forced to use deadly force against another person in what you believe to have been an excusable or unavoidable situation, contact Weiner Law Group immediately at 702-202-0500. Our attorneys will show how the current state laws apply to your situation and determine whether justifiable homicide may serve as a defense in your case.