Public Nuisance offenses can be difficult to understand, largely because they involve conduct where the victim is the public as a whole. The laws discussing public nuisance are complex and lengthy. It is important to understand them all, though, because convictions for creating or contributing to a public nuisance can include hefty fines and even jail time.
What laws regulate Public Nuisance?
The laws relating to Public Nuisance are governed by NRS 202.450 to 202.480.
NRS 202.450 – Definition.
- A public nuisance is a crime against the order and economy of the State.
- Every place:
- Wherein any gambling, bookmaking or pool selling is conducted without a license as provided by law, or wherein any swindling game or device, or bucket shop, or any agency therefor is conducted, or any article, apparatus or device useful therefor is kept;
- Wherein any fighting between animals or birds is conducted;
- Wherein any dog races are conducted as a gaming activity;
- Wherein any intoxicating liquors are kept for unlawful use, sale or distribution;
- Wherein a controlled substance, immediate precursor or controlled substance analog is unlawfully sold, served, stored, kept, manufactured, used or given away;
- That is regularly and continuously used by the members of a criminal gang to engage in, or facilitate the commission of, crimes by the criminal gang; or
- Where vagrants resort,
- is a public nuisance.
- Every act unlawfully done and every omission to perform a duty, which act or omission:
- Annoys, injures, or endangers the safety, health, comfort or repose of any considerable number of persons;
- Offends public decency;
- Unlawfully interferes with, befouls, obstructs or tends to obstruct, or renders dangerous for passage, a lake, navigable river, bay, stream, canal, ditch, millrace or basin, or a public park, square, street, alley, bridge, causeway or highway; or
- In any way renders a considerable number of persons insecure in life or the use of property,
- Is a public nuisance.
- A building or place which was used for the purpose of unlawfully manufacturing a controlled substance, immediate precursor or controlled substance analog is a public nuisance if the building or place has not been deemed safe for habitation by the board of health and:
- The owner of the building or place allows the building or place to be used for any purpose before all materials or substances involving the controlled substance, immediate precursor or controlled substance analog have been removed from or remediated on the building or place by an entity certified or licensed to do so; or
- The owner of the building or place fails to have all materials or substances involving the controlled substance, immediate precursor or controlled substance analog removed from or remediated on the building r place by an entity certified or licensed to do so within 180 days after the building or place is no longer used for the purpose of unlawfully manufacturing a controlled substance, immediate precursor or controlled substance analog.
- Agricultural activity conducted on farmland consistent with good agricultural practice and established before surrounding nonagricultural activities is not a public nuisance unless it has a substantial adverse effect on the public health or safety. It is presumed that an agricultural activity which does not violate a federal, state or local law, ordinance or regulation constitutes good agricultural practice.
- A shooting range is not a public nuisance with respect to any noise attributable to the shooting range if the shooting range is in compliance with the provisions of all applicable statutes, ordinances and regulations concerning noise:
- As those provisions existed on October 1, 1997, for a shooting range that begins operation on or before October 1, 1997; or
- As those provisions exist on the date that the shooting range begins operation, for a shooting range in operation after October 1, 1997.
- A shooting range is not subject to any state or local law related to the control of noise that is adopted or amended after the date set forth in paragraph (a) or (b), as applicable, and does not constitute a nuisance for failure to comply with any such law.
- As used in this section:
- “Board of health” has the meaning ascribed to it in NRS 439.4797.
- “Controlled substance analog” has the meaning ascribed to it in NRS 453.043.
- “Criminal gang” has the meaning ascribed to it in NRS 193.168.
- “Immediate precursor” has the meaning ascribed to it in NRS 453.086.
- “Shooting range” has the meaning ascribed to it in NRS 40.140.
NRS 202.460 – Unequal damage.
An act which affects a considerable number of persons in any of the ways specified in NRS 202.450 is not less a public nuisance because the extend of the damage is unequal.
NRS 202.470 – Maintaining or permitting nuisance: penalty.
Every person who:
- Shall commit or maintain a public nuisance, for which no special punishment is prescribed; or
- Shall willfully omit or refuse to perform any legal duty relating to the removal of such nuisance; or
- Shall let, or permit to be used, any building or boat, or portion thereof, knowing that it is intended to be, or is being used, for committing or maintaining any such nuisance,
- Shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.
NRS 202.480 – Abatement of nuisance; civil penalty.
- Any court or magistrate before whom there may be pending any proceeding for a violation of NRS 202.470 shall, in addition to any fine or other punishment which it may impose for such a violation, order:
- The defendant to abate the nuisance. The abatement must begin within 3 days after the court or magistrate enters the order to abate and must be completed within the time period specified by the court or magistrate. The responsible agent shall supervise the abatement and report to the court or magistrate regarding whether the abatement was successfully completed within the time period specified by the court or magistrate.
- The defendant to pay a civil penalty of not less than $500 but not more than $5,000. If ordered by the court or magistrate, the penalty may be paid in installments. The responsible agency may attempt to collect a civil penalty or installment that is in default in any manner provided by law for the enforcement of a judgment.
- If a defendant is ordered to abate a nuisance pursuant to subsection 1 and fails to abate the nuisance within the time period specified by the court or magistrate, the responsible agency may assume responsibility and abate the nuisance, at the expense of the defendant. If the responsible agency abates the nuisance, the responsible party shall report to the court or magistrate upon the successful completion of the abatement.
- Any civil penalty collected pursuant to subsection 1 must be deposited with the treasurer of the responsible agency in an account used solely to pay costs associated with any abatement ordered by a court or magistrate.
- As used in this section, “responsible agency” means any agency” means agency, officer, bureau, board, commission, department, division or any other unit of government of the State or a local government that is designated by a court or magistrate as the party responsible for carrying out any action pursuant to this section.
What the heck is a “public nuisance”?
Understanding the laws relating to public nuisance can be difficult to understand for most people because they do not involve an individual victim, but rather are crimes where the “victim” is the entire community. In other words, the crime is against the “public” at-large, rather than against an individual person.
How can someone commit a crime against the public?
A “public nuisance” is essentially any conduct that negatively affects the peace, order, economy, safety, comfort, health, convenience, welfare and even the public morals of the surrounding community.
The most difficult part about understanding public nuisance laws is the broadness of the law. As implied in the first bullet-point above, it is possible that your actions are ‘legal,’ but your conduct is still a public nuisance because of the result of those actions is the infringement on the health, welfare, comfort, or convenience.
Some of the general ways that legal conduct can lead to “public nuisance” charges include:
- Causing interference with any the ability for the public to utilize any public area such as a road, body of water, or park. Any such interference would be a ‘public nuisance’ because it impeded on the convenience of anyone trying to use the public place;
- Endangering the safety, security, health, or comfort of a large group of people;
- Offending the common morals, or decency of the public.
Some common examples include:
- A corporation or manufacturer causing the pollution of a stream or other body of water;
- Any building where a ‘legal’ activity is conducted illegally, such as gambling, the storage and sale of alcohol, or prostitution;
- Similarly, any farm or shooting range that is not operating in compliance with the laws of the State;
- Animal fighting or dog races being conducted for the purpose of gambling;
- Allowing someone to use your property with the knowledge that the property will be used for the purposes of creating or maintaining a public nuisance;
- Any property that is a common gathering point or hang out for known criminal gangs or homeless or other vagrants;
- Failing to remove any public nuisance once aware of its existence.
PLEASE NOTE: The crime of “public nuisance” does not require that the public or any individual persons suffer any actual damages, only that the conduct could cause the complained of harm or inconvenience.
What are the possible penalties?
Regardless of whether you are being charged with creating a public nuisance, maintaining a public nuisance, or allowing your property to be used for the purposes of a creating or maintaining a public nuisance, public nuisances are charged as a misdemeanor in Nevada, which carries with it the following possible penalties:
- Up to 6 months in jail; and/or
- Possible fines up to $1,000;
- A possible civil penalty between $500 and $5,000;
- The Court may also require that the defendant remove the nuisance. If the nuisance is not removed within 3 days of such an order, then the nuisance can be forcibly removed by the appropriate government agency, at the defendant’s expense.
Are there any Defenses?
Yes, of course there are. As already noted above, the laws pertaining to public nuisance are incredibly broad in their scope, and as such, are very difficult to define. Laws that are difficult to define always allow for the ability to argue against the vagueness of the statute. Some of the possible defenses include:
- No Knowledge – Public Nuisance requires that the defendant was aware of the conduct that constituted the crime. Obviously, if the defendant was the person conducting the activity, the knowledge is clear. However, if you or your attorney can show that the ‘public nuisance’ was taking place on your property and you were unaware that it was occurring, or that there was anyone on the property, then the charges against you should be dropped or dismissed.
- No Nuisance – Since the statute is vague as to what constitutes a nuisance, convincing a jury that your conduct was, in fact, a nuisance can be difficult. If you or your attorney can show that your conduct would not have led to an imposition on the health, welfare, comfort, or convenience of the public, then there was no ‘nuisance’ and the charges against you should be dropped or dismissed.
- Lack of Evidence – As with any crime, the prosecution bears the burden of proving every element of the crime “beyond a reasonable doubt.” If there is not enough evidence to uphold this high level of proof, then the charges should be dropped or dismissed.
What should I do if I’ve been charged with public nuisance?
As with any crime, it is very important that you speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible so that you can discuss the specific circumstances as well as any defenses that may apply to your case.