Nevada Laws for "Poisoning Food, Drinks, Water, or Medicine"
(NRS 202.170)
Explained by Las Vegas Criminal Defense Attorneys

It is a crime in Nevada to deliberately poison food, drinks or medicine intended for human consumption. Penalties include fines and up to several years in prison.

This page summarizes the Nevada crime of willfully poisoning food, drinks, medicine or water sources. Scroll down to learn about this law's definition, how our Las Vegas defense attorneys defend against criminal charges, and possible penalties upon conviction.



Under NRS 202.170, it is a crime in Nevada to willfully mingle any harmful substance with food, drinks, or medicine intended for human use. Examples of "harmful substances" include poison, glass, or razor blades. It is also a crime in Nevada to willfully poison any spring, well, or water reservoir.

Note that a person is not criminally liable for violating NRS 202.170 if he/she did not mean to contaminate the food, drinks, water, or medicine. Boulder City criminal defense attorney Michael Becker gives an example:

Example: Ned is a busboy in Las Vegas refilling water glasses for restaurant customers. Unbeknownst to him, the falling ice from the water pitcher causes the rim of the glass to chip and shards of glass to fall into the water. If the customer complains, Ned may be initially booked by the Las Vegas police at the Clark County Detention Center for mingling glass-a harmful substance-with the customer's water. But he should not be convicted because he had no intention of mixing the drinking water with glass.

Now things would be different if Ned in the above example realized that his actions were causing glass to fall into the drinking water: In such a case, he probably would be found criminally liable for mingling a hazardous substance with water because he did nothing to stop it or to fix it.

Murder or Attempted Murder by Poisoning

Predictably, NRS 202.170 is a less serious crime in Nevada than intentionally killing ... or trying to kill ... another person by poisoning. Laughlin criminal defense attorney Neil Shouse illustrates the distinction between homicide and NRS 202.170:

Example: Jo, a disgruntled employee, attends his company retreat on Lake Mead. Out of revenge, he puts arsenic in his boss's martini glass. Then he disposes of the rest in the lake. The boss then nearly dies on the boat and the Henderson Police arrive at the scene. If Jo is caught, he would be booked at the Henderson Detention Center on two charges: attempted murder for intentionally poisoning his boss's glass with the intent for him to die, and poisoning a water source for putting poison in the lake.

The maximum penalties for murder or attempted murder by poisoning include
life in prison or possibly death. Learn more in our articles on the Nevada crime of murder and the Nevada crime of attempted murder by poison.

Poisoning Animals

Note that Nevada has a separate law for people who unjustifiably poison animals (other than noxious animals such as a rabid dog). It makes no difference whether the defendant owns the animal, and the punishment depends on the type of animal poisoned. Learn more about the Nevada crime of poisoning animals.



Various strategies exist to fight charges for the Nevada crime of poisoning food, drinks or water. Depending on the facts of the case, the defense attorney may try to use the following defenses:

  • The defendant had no intent. If the defendant poisoned the food, drinks, water source or medicine by innocent accident, then he/she committed no crime. If the court finds that the defendant had no criminal intent, then the case should be dismissed.
  • There was no harmful substance. NRS 202.170 is vague as to what comprises a "harmful" substance. If the defense attorney can show that any substance the defendant may have used does not qualify as harmful or is in too small a quantity to be harmful, then criminal liability should not attach.
  • There is not enough evidence. As with any criminal case, the prosecution in poisoning cases has the burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty. As long as the prosecution fails to convince the court that the evidence incriminates the defendant, he/she should be exonerated of the charge.


Violating NRS 202.170 is a category B felony in Nevada. The punishment includes:

Attempt to Kill by Poisoning

Attempted murder by means of poison is a category A felony in Nevada carrying a sentence of:

  • life in Nevada State Prison with the possibility of parole after 5 years, OR
  • 15 years in Nevada State Prison with the possibility of parole after 5 years

Murder by poison

Murder by means of poison is a category A felony in Nevada. The punishment includes:

  • capital punishment in Nevada, OR
  • Life in Nevada State Prison with no parole, OR
  • Life in Nevada State Prison with the possibility of parole after 20 years, OR
  • 50 years in Nevada State Prison with the possibility of parole after 20 years

Note that the court may not impose death unless the jury finds aggravating circumstances in the case that outweigh all the mitigating circumstances. Aggravating circumstances are facts that make the defendant seem more blameworthy (such as if he tortured the victims). In contrast, mitigating factors make the defendant seem less blameworthy (such as if the defendant had an abusive childhood).


Poisoning animals

Poisoning horses, mules or domestic cattle is a category C felony in Nevada carrying 1 to 5 years in prison and maybe a $10,000 fine. The judge may also impose restitution in Nevada.

Otherwise, poisoning animals is a gross misdemeanor in Nevada carrying up to 364 days in jail and/or up to $2,000 in fines. The judge may also impose restitution in Nevada.

Arrested for poisoning in Nevada? Call an attorney ....

If you or a loved one is facing charges for "poisoning food, water, drinks, or medicine" in Nevada, contact our Las Vegas criminal defense lawyers at 702-DEFENSE (702-333-3673) to discuss your options for free. We may be able to win a reduction or dismissal of your charges so your record stays clean.

We represent clients throughout Nevada, including Las Vegas, Henderson, Washoe County, Reno, Carson City, Laughlin, Mesquite, Bunkerville, Moapa, Elko, Pahrump, Searchlight and Tonopah.


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