Capital Murder Laws in Nevada
Capital murder is the most serious form of homicide that can be charged in Nevada. This violent crime is defined a first-degree murder carried out with at least one aggravating circumstance that outweigh any mitigating circumstances.
Murder can be classified into two categories: first-degree murder and second-degree murder. First-degree murder is an unlawful killing that is both willful and premeditated, meaning that it was done on purpose and thought out ahead of time. Second-degree murder is any other type of homicide that does not meet the criteria for first-degree murder.
Not all first-degree murders are capital murders, but all capital murders are first-degree murders. In order for a first-degree murder to be classified as capital murder, the jury must find that one or more aggravating factors are present and that they outweigh any mitigating factors.
If you have been charged with capital murder, or any violent crimes, it is important to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. An attorney can help you understand the charges against you and work to develop a strong defense.
What Is Capital Murder in Nevada?
The crime of capital murder is defined in Nevada Revised Statute 200.030 as the “unlawful killing of a human being” that:
- Is committed by a person who has the specific intent to kill another person;
- Is committed during the commission of, or attempt to commit, certain enumerated felonies;
- Is perpetrated against a police officer, fire fighter, or other first responder who was killed while performing his or her official duties;
- Is committed on the property of a public or private school, at a school activity, with the intent to cause death or serious bodily harm to more than one person by means of something hazardous that would affect more than one person;
- Is committed in the perpetration or attempted perpetration of an act of terrorism.
As mentioned earlier, any of these first-degree murders can become a capital murder if one or more aggravating factors are present and the jury finds that they outweigh any mitigating factors.
The following is a list of some of the most common aggravating factors that can be used to turn a first-degree murder into a capital murder:
Aggravating Circumstances in Capital Murder Cases
Even if the killing meets one of the definitions of capital murder, the death penalty may not be imposed unless the jury finds that one or more aggravating factors are present. These factors are set forth by NRS 200.033:
- The murder was committed by a person under sentence of imprisonment.
- The murder was committed by a person who, at any time before a penalty hearing is conducted for the murder pursuant to NRS 175.552, is or has been convicted of:
(a) Another murder and the provisions of subsection 12 do not otherwise apply to that other murder; or
(b) A felony involving the use or threat of violence to the person of another and the provisions of subsection 4 do not otherwise apply to that felony.
For the purposes of this subsection, a person shall be deemed to have been convicted at the time the jury verdict of guilt is rendered or upon pronouncement of guilt by a judge or judges sitting without a jury.
- The murder was committed by a person who knowingly created a great risk of death to more than one person by means of a weapon, device or course of action which would normally be hazardous to the lives of more than one person.
- The murder was committed while the person was engaged, alone or with others, in the commission of, or an attempt to commit or flight after committing or attempting to commit, any robbery, arson in the first degree, burglary, invasion of the home or kidnapping in the first degree, and the person charged:
(a) Killed or attempted to kill the person murdered; or
(b) Knew or had reason to know that life would be taken or lethal force used.
- The murder was committed to avoid or prevent a lawful arrest or to effect an escape from custody.
- The murder was committed by a person, for himself or herself or another, to receive money or any other thing of monetary value.
- The murder was committed upon a peace officer or firefighter who was killed while engaged in the performance of his or her official duty or because of an act performed in his or her official capacity, and the defendant knew or reasonably should have known that the victim was a peace officer or firefighter. For the purposes of this subsection, “peace officer” means:
(a) An employee of the Department of Corrections who does not exercise general control over offenders imprisoned within the institutions and facilities of the Department, but whose normal duties require the employee to come into contact with those offenders when carrying out the duties prescribed by the Director of the Department.
- The murder involved torture or the mutilation of the victim.
- The murder was committed upon one or more persons at random and without apparent motive.
- The murder was committed upon a person less than 14 years of age.
- The murder was committed upon a person because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, physical or mental disability, sexual orientation or gender identity or expression of that person.
- The defendant has, in the immediate proceeding, been convicted of more than one offense of murder in the first or second degree. For the purposes of this subsection, a person shall be deemed to have been convicted of a murder at the time the jury verdict of guilt is rendered or upon pronouncement of guilt by a judge or judges sitting without a jury.
- The person, alone or with others, subjected or attempted to subject the victim of the murder to nonconsensual sexual penetration immediately before, during or immediately after the commission of the murder. For the purposes of this subsection:
(a) “Nonconsensual” means against the victim’s will or under conditions in which the person knows or reasonably should know that the victim is mentally or physically incapable of resisting, consenting or understanding the nature of his or her conduct, including, but not limited to, conditions in which the person knows or reasonably should know that the victim is dead.
(b) “Sexual penetration” means cunnilingus, fellatio or any intrusion, however slight, of any part of the victim’s body or any object manipulated or inserted by a person, alone or with others, into the genital or anal openings of the body of the victim, whether or not the victim is alive. The term includes, but is not limited to, anal intercourse and sexual intercourse in what would be its ordinary meaning.
- The murder was committed on the property of a public or private school, at an activity sponsored by a public or private school or on a school bus while the bus was engaged in its official duties by a person who intended to create a great risk of death or substantial bodily harm to more than one person by means of a weapon, device or course of action that would normally be hazardous to the lives of more than one person. For the purposes of this subsection, “school bus” has the meaning ascribed to it in NRS 483.160.
- The murder was committed with the intent to commit, cause, aid, further or conceal an act of terrorism. For the purposes of this subsection, “act of terrorism” has the meaning ascribed to it in NRS 202.4415.
Mitigating Circumstances in Capital Murder Cases
In addition to finding that an aggravating factor is present, the jury must also find that any mitigating factors do not outweigh the aggravating factor or factors. These factors are set forth by NRS 200.034 and include:
- The defendant has no significant history of prior criminal activity.
- The murder was committed while the defendant was under the influence of extreme mental or emotional disturbance.
- The victim was a participant in the defendant’s criminal conduct or consented to the act.
- The defendant was an accomplice in a murder committed by another person and the defendant’s participation in the murder was relatively minor.
- The defendant acted under duress or under the domination of another person.
- The youth of the defendant at the time of the crime.
- Any other mitigating circumstance.
Do All Murder Convictions Potentially Carry the Death Penalty?
No. Only first-degree murder convictions can potentially carry the death penalty in Nevada. Second-degree murder is punishable by life in prison with the possibility of parole after 10 years, or 25 years in prison with the possibility of parole after 10 years.
What Are the Penalties for Capital Murder in Nevada?
The penalties for capital murder in Nevada are set forth in NRS 200.030. The only possible sentence for a capital murder conviction is death or life in prison without the possibility of parole.
What happens if I manage to avoid the death penalty, but have been convicted of First-Degree Murder?
If the jury convicts you of First-Degree Murder, but declines to impose the death penalty, there are 3 possible remaining penalties:
- Life in Prison in a Nevada State Prison, without the possibility of parole;
- Life in Prison in a Nevada State Prison, with the possibility of parole after a minimum of 20 years has been served; or
- A definite sentence of 50 years in a Nevada State Prison, with the possibility of parole after a minimum of 20 years has been served.
The jury will have the discretion to impose any of the three penalties based on their determination of the aggravating and mitigating factors.
How Does the Jury Decide on Its Sentence? What Is the Process for Imposing the Death Penalty in Nevada?
There are two parts to a capital murder case. First, all defendants in first-degree murder cases get a sentencing hearing. In this phase, the jury first decides on whether the person charged is responsible for a first-degree murder.
If the jury decides a first-degree murder has been committed, the jury then proceeds to the second phase of Trial, known as the “sentencing phase” or “penalty phase.”
During this hearing, the prosecution and defense will present evidence and argument as to whether aggravating factors are present and whether they outweigh any mitigating factors. The jury will then deliberate and determine whether or not to impose the death penalty.
The decision by the jury must be unanimous in order to impose the death penalty. If the jury cannot reach a unanimous decision, then the court will impose any of the penalties mentioned above.
Are There Any Defenses to a Charge of Capital Murder?
There are a number of defenses that may be raised in a capital murder case. Some of these defenses include:
- The defendant did not commit the killing;
- The defendant did not have the intent to kill; or
- The defendant was acting in self-defense.
It is important to note that these are just some of the potential defenses that may be raised in a capital murder case. An experienced criminal defense attorney will be able to assess the specific facts of your case and determine which defenses may be applicable.
How Often Do the State Prosecute Cases of Capital Murder?
The death penalty is rarely imposed in Nevada. In fact, since the death penalty was reinstated in 1977, only 12 people have been put to death in the state.
This is in part due to the fact that juries are very hesitant to impose the death penalty. In order for the death penalty to be imposed, the jury must be unanimous in their decision. This means that just one holdout can prevent the death penalty from being imposed.
Additionally, the prosecution must prove the presence of aggravating factors beyond a reasonable doubt. This is a very high burden of proof and one that is often difficult to meet.
For these reasons, it is very rare for a person to be sentenced to death in Nevada.
Charged with Murder or Other Criminal Charges?
If you have been charged with capital murder or any other type of crime in Nevada, it is important to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.
An attorney can review the specific facts of your case and help you to understand the charges against you and the potential penalties that you may be facing. Additionally, an attorney can help you to navigate the criminal justice system and ensure that your rights are protected throughout the process.
Do not wait to contact an attorney if you have been charged with a crime. The sooner you have representation, the better your chances of achieving a favorable outcome in your case.
Frequently Asked Questions About Capital Murder
Is Everyone Charged With Murder in Nevada Eligible for the Death Penalty?
No. In order for a person to be eligible for the death penalty, the prosecution must prove the presence of one or more aggravating factors and must outweigh the mitigating circumstances.
What Happens if the Jury Can’t Agree on Whether to Impose the Death Penalty?
If the jury is not unanimous in their decision, then the death penalty cannot be imposed. In this case, the court will impose imprisonment with or without the possibility of parole, depending on the circumstances.
What is the Difference Between First-Degree Murder and Capital Murder?
In Nevada, first-degree murder is defined as a killing that was premeditated or committed in the course of another felony. Capital murder is a subset of first-degree murder and includes killings that were especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel; killings of children or vulnerable adults; or killings that were committed for monetary gain.
Not all first-degree murders will be eligible for the death penalty. Only those murders that fall into the category of capital murder will be subject to this possible sentence.
What is the Difference Between Capital Murder and Manslaughter?
Manslaughter is defined as the killing of another person without premeditation or intent to kill. This can include things like killings that occur in the heat of passion or killings that are accidental.
Capital murder, on the other hand, is a first-degree murder that falls into one of the special categories that makes a person eligible for the death penalty.
Can Someone be Charged With Both Capital Murder and Manslaughter?
Yes. It is possible for a person to be charged with both capital murder and manslaughter. This can happen when the facts of the case are such that the person could be convicted of either charge.
For example, if a person intentionally kills someone in the heat of passion, they could be charged with both capital murder and manslaughter. If they are only convicted of manslaughter, then they will not be subject to the death penalty.
What Happens if Someone is Found Not Guilty of Capital Murder?
If someone is found not guilty of capital murder, then they will be set free and will not face any other charges in connection with the case.
Can the Death Penalty be imposed if the Person Charged is Under 18 Years Old?
No. The death penalty cannot be imposed on someone who is under the age of 18. The most severe punishment they could get is life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Can the Death Penalty be imposed if the Person Charged is Mentally Ill?
Yes. The death penalty can be imposed on someone who is mentally ill, but only if the mental illness did not rise to the level of legal insanity.
What Happens if the Person Charged With Capital Murder Dies Before Their Trial?
If the person charged with capital murder dies before their trial, then the charges against them will be dropped and they will never face trial.