The only crime that carries the death penalty in Nevada as a possible punishment is first-degree murder (NRS 200.030). There are five different types of homicide, in turn, that qualify as first-degree murder in Nevada:
- premeditated killing
- felony murder
- killing to avoid arrest or incarceration
- killing at a school event
- killing in perpetration of terrorism
Each of these types of first-degree murder carries the death penalty as a possible punishment only if any aggravating factors outweigh the mitigating factors. Otherwise, the court may impose either:
- life in prison without the possibility of parole,
- life in prison with the possibility of parole after 20 years, or
- a 50-year prison term with the possibility of parole after 20 years
1. Premeditated killing
The primary definition of first-degree murder is a killing that is perpetrated by means of either:
- lying in wait,
- torture, or
- any other kind of willful, deliberate and premeditated killing
Note that a person does not have to plan for a long time to kill someone in order to be convicted of premeditated killing. A split-second but conscious decision to kill someone qualifies as first-degree murder. In contrast, killing someone in a sudden heat of passion is the lesser offense of voluntary manslaughter in Nevada, which does not carry the death penalty.
2. Felony murder
Another common type of first-degree murder is "felony murder in Nevada." This comprises any killing committed in perpetration (or attempted perpetration) of either of the following felonies:
- sexual assault,
- invasion of the home,
- sexual abuse of a child,
- sexual molestation of a child under the age of 14 years,
- child abuse, or
- abuse of an older person or vulnerable person pursuant to NRS 200.5099;
It does not matter if the suspect had no intention to kill anyone before committing the underlying felony: A person can still be convicted of first-degree murder if he/she ends up killing someone in the perpetration of one of the above felony offenses.
3. Killing to avoid arrest or incarceration
The third type of first-degree murder is when someone kills in order to either:
- avoid or prevent the lawful arrest of any person by a peace officer, or
- effect the escape of any person from legal custody
In other words, first-degree murder comprises a killing done while trying to escape arrest or incarceration. A suspect can still be convicted of first-degree murder even if he/she intended to avoid arrest or escape jail, prison, or other legal custody without hurting anyone.
4. Killing at a school event
The fourth type of first-degree murder is a killing committed 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 hazardous weapon, device, or course of action:
- on the property of a public or private school, or
- at an activity sponsored by a public or private school, or
- on a school bus while the bus was engaged in its official duties
An example would be a death(s) caused by unleashing gunfire or detonating a bomb at a pep rally.
5. Killing in the perpetration of terrorism
The final type of first-degree murder is a killing committed in the perpetration or attempted perpetration of an act of terrorism.