University of Nevada, Las Vegas

A. S. Halsted letter to W. H. Comstock, July 15, 1922

July 15, 1922. Mr. Comstock: I enclose copy of letter of Governor Boyle, of Nevada, addressed to L. B. Fowler, Attorney General, asking for a ruling as to the right of a railroad company to employ armed guards in the protection of its property, and the reply of the Attorney General thereto. You will note that the Attorney General rules that it is lawful for persons employed to watch or guard property "to wear arms, concealed or otherwise, so long as they remain on property or premises of those employing them and are actually discharging such functions". While this is undoubtedly the law, it is important to understand the limitations surrounding the use of force in protecting property. General[ly] speaking the rule is that the owner of property has a right to use such force as is necessary to resist a forcible trespass, but there is a distinction made in the cases between a situation where a man is a mere trespasser and where he is himself using threats, force or violence. In the case of a mere trespasser, he should be warned and invited to leave, and if he refuses, it is lawful to forcibly eject him, using, however, only such force as is necessary to accomplish this purpose. If he attacks the person ejecting him, the latter may defend himself and meet force with force. But in case of one actually threatening to do injury to the person or property and apparently attempting to commit a felony, force may be met with force. The use of a deadly weapon is only justified in extreme cases where the guard is himself attacked, and it is necessary to use such deadly weapon to defend himself. Quoting from one of the decisions: "A mere trespass upon the premises of another * * * will not justify the owner of the premises in either shooting or wounding the trespasser, unless the trespass be accompanied by acts that amount to an assault upon the person of the owner such as would warrant him in exercising the right of self defense to protect his person. * * * And when this right of self defense exists, his act will be excusable or justifiable as the circumstances may appear - not on account of the trespass alone, but because of the attack upon the person." I would suggest that those in charge of our guards should carefully impress upon the latter the duties and responsibilities of their position. A. S. Halsted. General Solicitor. H-G
A. S. Halsted letter to W. H. Comstock, July 15, 1922
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Halsted advises on legal interpretations of use of force in guarding railroad property.
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