Nevada is one of the 37 states which permit capital punishment, also called the "death penalty." It's the harshest punishment in Las Vegas criminal law, and it can be imposed only in certain first-degree murder cases.
Our Las Vegas criminal defense attorney Michael Becker has been defending against homicide charges for nearly two decades. He's been very successful in negotiating favorable resolutions including dismissals in two first-degree murder cases. Keep reading to learn more about Las Vegas death penalty law.
What is the death penalty in
Las Vegas, NV?
Like it sounds, capital punishment is where a convicted defendant is put to death as punishment. The death penalty in Nevada may be imposed only in certain first-degree murder cases in.
First-degree murder is a deliberate and premeditated killing. It also comprises homicides committed in the commission of certain felonies such as rape, robbery, burglary or kidnapping. Read more about this crime in our articles on Nevada murder law and Nevada felony murder law.
When does a jury decide to impose the death sentence in Las Vegas, NV?
If a jury returns a guilty verdict in a Nevada first-degree murder trial, the case moves into the sentencing phase. The sentencing hearing usually occurs several weeks after the trial ends. This is to give defense counsel time to gather witnesses and craft a case against the death penalty.
A Nevada sentencing hearing is similar to a trial, but the only thing at issue is which punishment to impose. In first-degree murder cases, the jury decides between imposing one of the following sentences:
- Death, or
- Life in Nevada State Prison without the possibility of parole, or
- Life in prison with the possibility of parole after twenty years, or
- Fifty years in prison with the possibility of parole after twenty years
Are all first-degree murder cases punishable by death in Las Vegas, NV?
No. The jury may impose death only if they find that there is at least one aggravating circumstance, and that any mitigating circumstances do not outweigh the aggravating circumstance(s). . .
Aggravating circumstances in Nevada first-degree murder cases can be any of the following:
- The defendant was currently under a sentence of imprisonment.
- The defendant has previously been convicted of another murder or a violent felony
- The defendant knowingly created a risk of death to other people
- The defendant committed the murder in the commission of robbery, first degree arson, burglary, invasion of the home, or first-degree kidnapping AND the defendant deliberately meant to kill or knew that lethal force was being used
- The defendant committed the murder to prevent an arrest or to escape custody
- The defendant committed the murder in exchange for money (or something of monetary value)
- The victim was a peace officer or firefighter engaged in their official duties, and the defendant knew (or should have known) this
- The defendant tortured or mutilated the victim
- The defendant killed more than one person at random
- The victim was less than fourteen years old
- The murder was a hate-crime based on race, religion, national origin, disability, or sexual orientation
- The defendant raped or attempted to rape the victim
- The murder took place on school property or at a school activity, and the defendant intended to create a great risk of death or harm to more than one person
- The murder was an act of terrorism
In contrast, mitigating circumstances in Las Vegas first-degree murder cases are much more open-ended. They can be any fact or testimony that makes the defendant seem less deserving of the death penalty. Some examples are:
- The defendant had no significant criminal history
- The defendant committed the murder under extreme mental or emotional disturbance
- The defendant acted under duress or domination of another person
- The victim consented to or participated in the act that led to his/her death
- The murder was committed by a person other than the defendant, and the defendant was an accomplice who played a minor role
- The defendant was young at the time of the murder
- The defendant had an abusive and/or underprivileged childhood
- The defendant had done many positive things for the community
It's typical for friends and family of the defendant to testify at the sentencing hearing or write letters to the judge about the defendant's virtues and asking for leniency.
How long is it before a death row inmate is executed in Las Vegas, NV?
It varies, but it usually takes several years and sometimes decades. This is because there are so many different court procedures that happen first.
How do you fight a death sentence in
Las Vegas, NV?
Fighting a capital punishment sentence is a very lengthy and complex process in Nevada. It may include such procedures as motions for a new trial, appealing to the Nevada Supreme Court and U.S. Supreme Court, filing a petition of habeas corpus, and requesting clemency from the Nevada Board of Pardons. To learn more talk to an attorney about your case.
Is anyone exempt from the death penalty in
Las Vegas, Nevada?
Yes. The state may not execute:
- people who were under eighteen years old at the time of the murder, and
- people who are mentally retarded
What method is used to carry out the death penalty in Nevada?
Lethal injection is currently the sole method of execution.
The lethal injection process begins when the inmate is strapped to a gurney and receives an IV. The first substance injected is sodium thiopental to make the inmate unconscious. The second substance is pancuronium, which paralyzes the diaphragm. The final injection of potassium chloride causes cardiac arrest.
Where is lethal injection carried out in Nevada?
Call 702-DEFENSE for help . . .
If after reading this you'd like to speak with our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys for free about your case, call 702-DEFENSE (333-3673). We may be able to negotiate your charges down to lesser offenses or a full dismissal. And if you wish we're always ready to go to trial in your defense.
For more information go to our articles on: Appealing to the Nevada Supreme Court; Michael Becker; Nevada murder law; and Nevada felony murder law.
For information about California death penalty laws, go to our article on California death penalty laws.