Court limits use of deadly force by private citizens
The Nevada Supreme Court has ruled there are limits on how much force private citizens can use to prevent a felony unless the person poses a threat of serious bodily injury to others.
The three-judge panel headed by Nancy Saitta made the ruling in rejecting an appeal by Patrick Newell, 61, of Las Vegas, who sprayed a man with gas and set him on fire during an argument at a gas station. Newell appealed his conviction for battery with a deadly weapon and assault on grounds he believed Theodore Bejarano was committing felony coercion against him. He argued nothing in statute requires the amount of force used in self defense be “reasonable and necessary or that the person battered pose a threat of serious bodily injury in order for deadly force to be used.”
The opinion by Saitta says that plain interpretation of the law leads to an unreasonable or absurd result because it would allow deadly force as a response to any felony, even the most non-violent.
The opinion cites a U.S. Supreme Court case that said allowing deadly force in apprehending a felon was a rule “developed at a time when felonies were only the very serious, violent or dangerous crimes.” These days, she quoted an earlier Nevada court as ruling, “the distinction between felonies and misdemeanors is minor and often arbitrary.”
The opinion says modern society wouldn’t tolerate deadly force to prevent any nonviolent felony. The opinion states that for homicide by a private person to be justifiable, “the amount of force used must be reasonable and necessary under the circumstances.”
“Furthermore, deadly force cannot be used unless the person killed poses a threat of serious bodily injury to the slayer or others. By extension, the amount of force used in a battery must also be reasonable and necessary in order to be justified,” the opinion concludes.
So, saying, the court upheld Newell’s conviction for battery with a deadly weapon and attempted assault with a deadly weapon.