Capital Punishment in Nevada

With the delayed execution of Nevada death row inmate Scott Dozier on November 14, the subject of the death penalty is in the headlines again. Dozier was convicted of first-degree murder with aggravating circumstances in October 2007, for the murder of Jeremiah Miller in April 2002.

As a methamphetamine dealer, Dozier agreed to sell a meth ingredient, ephedrine, to Miller for $12,000. Upon Miller’s arrival at Dozier’s hotel with a suitcase containing the money, Dozier killed Miller, then dismembered his body, stuffed the pieces into a suitcase and disposed of the body near a Las Vegas apartment complex. A maintenance worker found the remains about a year later.

Prior to Dozier’s Nevada trial in the murder of Jeremiah Miller, he was arrested and tried in Arizona for the 2001 murder and dismemberment of Jasen Green. Dozier was arrested in Phoenix for Green’s murder in June 2002. He was convicted and sentenced in 2005 to 22 years in Arizona state prison. Dozier was then tried in Nevada for the Miller murder in 2007, and received death penalty in October of that year. He has been on Nevada’s death row awaiting execution since then.

In October 2016, Dozier wrote District Judge Jennifer Togliatti, requesting an expedited execution, and waiving any further appeals in his case. In July 2017, Judge Togliatti signed an order clearing the way for his execution to take place during the week of October 16, 2017. An August 2017 hearing pushed the date back to the week of November 13.

Dozier’s execution was stayed by Judge Togliatti on November 13, due to an appeal concerning which drugs should be used in Dozier’s lethal injection. The appeal is to be heard by the Nevada Supreme Court who will decide the proper formulation for the lethal injection cocktail.

Nevada has not carried out an execution since 2006. It is one of 31 states in the U.S. to have the death penalty.

When Can Nevada Impose the Death Penalty?

NRS 200.030 through NRS 200.035 are the statutes that allow, and detail the circumstances under which, the State of Nevada may impose the death penalty. NRS 176.355 specifies what methods may be used to carry out a death penalty, and only allows for lethal injection.

Nevada law classifies murder as first and second-degree murder. First-degree murder is poisoning, lying in wait or torture, or any other willful, deliberate and premeditated killing. Second-degree murder is all other kinds of murder.

First-degree murder is classified as a Category A felony and the punishments associated with first-degree murder are: death, only if there are one or more aggravating circumstances that outweigh any mitigating circumstances; or imprisonment for: life without possibility of parole; life with possibility of parole after 20 years; or 50 years with possibility of parole after 20 years.

Second-degree murder is classified as a Category A felony, with punishments of: life with possibility of parole after 10 years; or 20 years with a possibility of parole after 10 years.

Possible aggravating circumstances in a first-degree murder are specified in the statutes as:

  • The murder was committed by a person under sentence of imprisonment;
  • Or the murder was committed by a person who has been convicted of another murder, or a felony involving use or threat of violence to another person;
  • 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 by hazardous to the lives of multiple persons;
  • The murder was committed in the course of a robbery, first-degree arson, burglary, home invasion, or first-degree kidnapping
  • The murder was committed to avoid or prevent an arrest, or to escape custody
  • The murder was committed for hire
  • The murder was committed on a peace officer or firefighter
  • The murder involved torture or mutilation
  • The murder was committed at random without apparent motive
  • The murder was committed on someone less than 14 years old
  • The murder was committed because of race, color, religion, national origin, physical or mental disability, or sexual orientation
  • The person is being convicted of either first or second-degree murder
  • The person subjected the victim to rape or attempted rape
  • The murder was committed on grounds of either a public or private school
  • The murder was committed as part of an act of terrorism

Possible mitigating circumstances in a first-degree murder are specified in the statutes as:

  • 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 defendant’s role was minor
  • The defendant acted under duress or domination of another person
  • Youth
  • Other unspecified circumstances

A sentence of death can only be imposed when one or more aggravating circumstances exist, which outweigh the possible mitigating circumstances in the case.

What is the Future of the Death Penalty in Nevada?

Since 1977, only 12 executions have been carried out in Nevada, with the last one occurring in 2006.

It remains to be seen whether the death penalty will survive in Nevada. The lethal injection cocktail needed to carry out the punishment, has become difficult to obtain, since the pharmaceutical companies which manufacture and distribute the drugs used in the cocktail have refused to provide those drugs to the state for this use. This is what has delayed the Dozier execution, as the courts grapple with what combination of drugs will not subject the murder convict to cruel and unusual punishment as specified by the U.S. Constitution.

Furthermore, the state legislature introduced Assembly Bill 237 in February 2017, which would prohibit the death penalty, and commute the sentence of those on death row to life in prison without possibility of parole. AB-237 stalled in committee, but may be taken up by future State Assemblies.

Governor Sandoval supports the death penalty, and would veto any such bill coming out of the legislature, requiring an override by the legislature to force adoption. However, future governors may have differing positions on the matter. It remains to be seen whether, or for how long, the death penalty in Nevada will continue.

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