For several years, Nevada courts heard no matters regarding the criminal neglect of patients. But the recent onslaught of medical malpractice cases involving syringe reuse has propelled this offense back into the headlines. Penalties include prison and fines, and a conviction can destroy the defendant's medical career.
An experienced Nevada criminal defense attorney may be able to negotiate charges for the criminal neglect of patients down to lesser offenses or a full dismissal. Keep reading to learn about the law, potential punishments, and possible defenses in Las Vegas.
The legal definition of "criminal neglect of patients" in Las Vegas, Nevada, prohibits "professional caretakers from failing to provide such service, care, or supervision as is reasonable and necessary to maintain the health or safety of a patient."
Specifically, a negligent act (or failure to act) qualifies as "criminal neglect of patients" in Nevada only if all of the following circumstances are true:
- The act or omission is aggravated, reckless, or gross;
- The act or omission is such a departure from what would be the conduct of an ordinarily prudent, careful person under the same circumstances that it is contrary to a proper regard for danger to human life or constitutes indifference to the resulting consequences;
- The consequences of the negligent act or omission could have reasonably been foreseen;
- The danger to human life was not the result of inattention, mistaken judgment, or misadventure, but the natural and probable result of an aggravated reckless or grossly negligent act or omission.
NRS 200.495 applies to all medical workers including physicians, nurses, and caretakers such as in nursing homes and hospitals. It does not apply to administrative or management staff unless they know of the criminal neglect and take no action to stop it.
The Las Vegas crime of criminal neglect of patients may be a very difficult charge for the D.A. to win because the law is both highly specific and extremely subjective. And the fact that it is rarely litigated in Nevada gives the D.A. little guidance as to how best to prosecute it.
The following are some strategies a Las Vegas defense lawyer may explore using to fight a Nevada charge of criminal neglect of patients:
- Patient's religion: In most cases, patients have the right to forgo medical care in lieu of treatment by spiritual means through prayer. If a defense attorney can show that the patient expressly or impliedly objected to standard medical care out of religious beliefs, no criminal neglect of the patient occurred in Nevada.
- Living will: Patients may draw up living wills to direct doctors whether or not to treat them in end-of-life situations. If a defense attorney can produce evidence that the patient had a living will or otherwise gave orders that life-sustaining treatment be withheld, charges for criminal neglect of the patient in Las Vegas cannot stand.
- Honest mistake. The law explicitly states that it does not punish "mistaken judgments." If a defense attorney can demonstrate that the caretaker's actions did not rise to the level of an "aggravated reckless or grossly negligent act or omission," the defendant committed no crime.
- Lack of evidence: The prosecution bears the burden to prove a defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt before the judge or jury can hand down a conviction for criminal neglect of patients. This is an extremely high standard. If the defense attorney can make a convincing argument that the state's evidence is unreliable, inadequate, or inaccurate, chances are good the case will result in an acquittal for the defendant.
The penalties for the Nevada offense of criminal neglect of patients depends on the severity of the patient's injuries:
If the patient died, violating NRS 200.495 is punished as a category B felony in Nevada carrying one to twenty years in Nevada State Prison. If the patient sustained substantial bodily harm in Las Vegas, it is also a category B felony in Nevada carrying a lesser sentence of:
- one to six years in Nevada State Prison, and/or
- up to $5,000 in fines
If the patient did not die nor sustain substantial bodily harm in Las Vegas, then the criminal neglect of patients is punished as a gross misdemeanor in Nevada. The sentence for a gross misdemeanor in Nevada includes:
- up to 364 days in jail, and/or
- up to $2,000 in fines
Furthermore, the Attorney General will notify the relevant licensing boards such as the Nevada State Board of Medical Examiners of the conviction. The defendant will usually have to surrender his/her medical license for a fixed period of time if not for life.
In addition, the defendant may face medical malpractice charges in civil court. Note that it is much easier for someone to be found liable for medical malpractice than to be found guilty of criminal neglect of patients in Nevada. This is in part because civil court has a much lower burden of proof than criminal court.
Arrested? There is help . . .
If you have been accused of criminal neglect of patients under NRS 200.495, contact our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys at 702-DEFENSE (702-333-3673) for a free consultation. We may be able to achieve a favorable resolution through plea bargaining. But if necessary we will take your case to trial to fight for your innocence and professional reputation.