If you are convicted of first-degree murder in Nevada, you face the possibility of the death penalty. Nevada is one of 31 states (as of 2015) that allow the imposition of capital punishment, and uses lethal injection as its sole method of execution.
Death Sentences Are More Likely to be Imposed Than Carried Out
The death penalty was reinstated in Nevada in 1977. Since that time:
- 153 people have been sentenced to death in Nevada
- Only 12 people have been executed, with the last execution carried out in 2006
80 men are currently sitting on Nevada's death row. The journey from the imposition of a death sentence to an actual execution is a long and often unending one (16 men have died on Nevada's death row since 1977). Appeals and other legal efforts to fight the sentence, and, as is currently the case, the lack of a facility to carry out executions in the state, means that while a death sentence is a very real possibility for someone convicted of first-degree murder, actually being executed is not.
First-degree murder is the only offense that carries the possibility of a death sentence in Nevada, though it is up to a jury to determine whether the death penalty will be imposed in a specific case. If the jury cannot reach a unanimous conclusion to apply the death penalty, it will not be imposed.
“Aggravating Circumstances” Need to Be Present for a Nevada Death Sentence
Even if a defendant is convicted of first-degree murder (or pleads guilty), a death sentence will only be considered by a jury if one or more “aggravating circumstances” were involved in the murder and there were no “mitigating circumstances” that carry more weight,
Aggravating circumstances that can lead to a death sentence under Nevada law include:
- the murder was especially heinous, atrocious, cruel or depraved (or involved torture)
- the murder was a felony-murder
- the defendant knowingly created a grave risk of death to others in addition to the victim
- the defendant committed or attempted to commit more than one murder at the same time
- the murder was a “murder for hire”
- the murder was committed to avoid or prevent arrest, to effect an escape, or to conceal the commission of a crime
- the defendant had no apparent motive
- the defendant has been convicted of, or committed, a prior murder, a felony involving violence, or another serious felony
- the defendant was in jail, has escaped, is on probation
- the victim was less than 14 years-old
- the victim was a police officer or fireman
- the murder was committed because of the victim's race, color, religion, national origin, physical or mental disability or sexual orientation
- the murder was committed at a school or on a school bus
- sexual assault was involved immediately before, during or immediately after the commission of the murder.
- the murder was an act of terrorism
“Mitigating circumstances” that could preclude the death penalty include such things as:
- lack of a criminal record
- acting under duress
- an abusive or underprivileged childhood
- positive community involvement
Additionally, the death penalty will not be imposed in Nevada on minors and those with severe mental impairment.
There are no more serious offenses than those that carry the possibility of a death sentence, and retaining an experienced Nevada criminal defense lawyer is crucial if you are facing such a charge. Please give call us to discuss your matter.