Drive By Shootings and Federal Laws in Nevada

Man brandishing a weapon in Nevada

Drive by shootings, especially those that involve drugs have draconian punishments on the Federal level.  Punishments vary but at the low end can simply be fines but more likely will cause the convicted defendant to spend years (even decades) in prison.

Below, you will find information regarding the Federal Crime of conducting a drive by shooting in the state of Nevada.  Not all drive by shootings are the same so in the info below we will explain what that is.  We will also expand further on possible punishments and how our law firm will help defend you in the case you are ever accused of a drive by shooting in Nevada.

Drive By Shooting Defined

The Federal Law for a ‘drive by shooting’ is met when all of the following characteristics are met:

  • Was grave risk to a human caused by the shooting? Or, did the shooting kill someone?
  • The shooting was conducted in furtherance (defined as: “the advancement of a plan or interest”) or involved with a major drug offensive (ie: to escape detection).
  • The defendant accused of the shooting conducted his/her actions with the intent to harm, maim, harass, injure or intimidate.
  • The defendant accused of the shooting fired the weapon from a vehicle into a group of at least two persons.

The shooting must be related to a major drug offense for it to fall under Federal law. For example:

Although using marijuana for recreational purposes is legal in Nevada, one cannot smoke it while driving.  If Joe is smoking marijuana in his parked car in Las Vegas and sees a Las Vegas Metropolitan Police officer approaching his vehicle, Joe will likely be cited for a ticket.  If Joe begins to drive off and shoots at the officer and eventually gets caught and convicted, the charge would be for attempted murder and not for a drive by shooting.   The reason that the ‘drive by shooting’ charge would not be included is because consuming marijuana is not a major drug offense in the state of Nevada.  In any case, once caught and arrested, Joe would most likely be booked and incarcerated in the Clark County Detention Center (CCDC). 

NRS 202.287 is the Nevada Revised Statute for drive-by-shootings

Much like all laws, the state law is different than the Federal law.  As discussed above, the Federal law for drive-by-shootings must involve a major drug charge.  In Nevada, a drive-by-shooting is can be claimed for merely discharging a firearm from an automobile.

In the state of Nevada, it doesn’t matter if drugs were involved or how many people were in the group that was fired upon.  Remember from above, that Federal law is a group of two more people. For a drive-by-shooting to be considered in Nevada, the only requirement is that the suspect shoots the firearm with a negative intent to include “maliciously” (defined as “in a manner characterized by malice or ill will; with intent to do harm”) or “wantonly” (defined as “in a deliberate or unprovoked way”).

In summary, It is much easier to be accused of a drive-by-shooting in Nevada than it is on the Federal level.

Types of Defense Against a Drive-By-Shooting Charge

As previously discussed, the Federal definition of a drive by shooting is extremely narrow, has very specific conditions that must be met and is therefore difficult to prosecute.  Having such a narrow scope on the Federal level benefits the defendant because the prosecution must prove that all conditions are met which can be difficult to do.

If you find yourself being charged for a drive-by-shooting in Nevada Federal Court, your possible defenses would include the following:

  • Intent to Harm or Harass – The prosecution needs to prove that the person being charged fired the gun with intent to harass, injure, intimidate or maim in order to be found guilty of the accusation. The law was not written to punish those that caused a killing done by an errant bullet or an accidental shooting (those actions would be filed under other charges but not a drive by shooting). So,
  • if the actions of the defendant were accidental (stray bullet) then the Federal Law for a drive by shooting would not be invoked.
  • Was a Life Threatened – In order for the Federal Law to take hold, it must be proven that the defendant conducted a shooting that caused “grave risk” to another human being. A good defense attorney will show examples that demonstrate that the actions of the accused did not threaten anyone’s life.  If that is proven than the charges would be dropped.
  • Involved Major Drug Offense – For Federal Law to take effect for a drive by, a major drug offense must be involved with the shooting. A law firm will work to show that a major drug offense was not occurring during the time of the shooting.  By proving that, the Federal drive by shooting charges would be dropped however the defendant could still be charged with other crimes (for example, “attempted murder”).
  • Insufficient Evident – The majority of drive by shootings occur under the cover of night and happen very fast. Because of these factors, it is often difficult for law enforcement to find reliable witnesses and compile ample evidence.  The prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant conducted the shooting.   In many cases, the defense attorney’s can discredit the prosecution enough to get the case dropped.


One major factor in determining the penalty for a drive-by-shooting is whether or not there were any victims and if so, how many victims were involved.  If it is determined that a “grave risk” to human life occurred but no one was actually murdered, the maximum sentence in the state of Nevada is:

  • Prison sentence of twenty five years in Federal prison and a fine

Capital punishment could incur if there was a death due to the drive by shooting.  Capital punishment could include the death penalty or life behind bars in Federal prison.  The death penalty would only occur if the court deemed that the murder was done in the first degree.  2nd degree murder would not invoke the death penalty.  1st degree murder involves planning and in many cases a drive-by-shooting falls under that charge.

If you are ever charged with a drive-by-shooting, be prepared to be charged for other crimes as well.  Aside from automobile charges, there would also most likely be charges for illegal possession and use of a firearm as well as various drug charges.

State Law Penalties in Nevada (NRS 202.287)

Depending on where the drive by shooting occurred would help in determining the punishment in the case you are convicted.  For example, with a good attorney, the charge could be dropped to a misdemeanor if the car utilized in the shooting was not within an area designated by the city or county ordinance as a populated area for the purpose of the prohibition of discharging firearms.  If the crime was deemed a misdemeanor, potential punishments could include up to six months in the CCDC (or equivalent facilities outside of Las Vegas) and/or fines up to $1,000.

If the automobile used in the shooting was in a populated area designated by the city or county as one where discharging of firearms is prohibited then the charge would be a Category B Felony.  Punishments for a Category B Felony of this type include: two to fifteen years in Nevada State Prison with fines totaling up to $5,000.

If there is a Federal case in Nevada, your court appearance and trial would occur in the Bruce R. Thompson Federal Courthouse in Reno or if in Las Vegas, it would be held at the Lloyd D. George Federal Courthouse.

If the drive-by-shooting is not Federal, than the state hearing would be heard in various courthouses in Nevada depending on where the alleged crime occurred.

Why Should You Hire Our Las Vegas Criminal Defense Attorneys?

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Hiring a lawyer who understands and has the knowledge of law and how court systems function is very essential if you have been charged with a crime. A criminal defense lawyer will apply their legal skills and years of courtroom experience to the specifics of your case. Every case is different and requires a different approach.

Navigating the criminal justice system without a lawyer is not a good idea and can be very confusing, frustrating and risky.

An experienced criminal defense attorney is connected to others within the legal system, so your case won’t be the attorney’s first experience in court.

Our defense attorneys know the procedures, the courtroom personnel, the judges, the jury selection process and the loopholes.

When you don’t have an attorney representing you, there are a number of things that could go wrong.

Our attorneys

  • Will aggressively put in all efforts to get the penalties lowered.
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