1. What is the legal definition of destroying evidence in Nevada?
NRS 199.220 is the Nevada law that prohibits purposely destroying evidence. Specifically, it is a crime to destroy evidence with the intent either to 1) Conceal a felony; 2) Protect a felon; 3) Obstruct the law; or 4) Prevent the production of the evidence.
Example: Melanie steals a computer from her Henderson office. Then she remembers there is a video camera in the lobby. So then she hacks into her company's security account and deletes the video of her carrying out the computer. Here, Melanie could face NRS 199.220 charges for both theft and destroying the evidence of her stealing the computer.
Nevada has broad definitions of "destroy" and "evidence." As the statute states, it is illegal to:
willfully destroy, alter, erase, obliterate or conceal any book, paper, record, writing, instrument or thing[.]
Therefore, merely hiding or modifying evidence without destroying it qualifies as an NRS 199.220 violation. And "evidence" can be anything - physical or digital - that is relevant to a legal action.
2. What are the penalties under NRS 199.220?
Intentionally destroying evidence is a gross misdemeanor. The maximum sentence in Nevada is:
- 364 days in the Clark County Detention Center (or another county jail), and/or
- $2,000 in fines
The D.A. may be willing to plea bargain the charge down to a misdemeanor. This maximum sentence is:
- 6 months in jail, and/or
- $1,000 in fines
3. What are common defenses?
The best strategy for fighting Nevada allegations of destroying evidence depends on the circumstances of the case. Three typical defenses include:
- The police performed an illegal search in the case: Police may not get a search warrant without probable cause to believe a crime had been committed. If the police may have acted without probable cause, the defense attorney can file a motion to suppress. This asks the court to disregard any evidence uncovered as a result of the illegal search. If the court grants the motion, then the defendant's case will be significantly strengthened. And the prosecution may be forced to dismiss the charge.
- The evidence was not relevant to the case: A defendant cannot violate NRS 199.220 by destroying objects or writings that have no connection to the commission of a felony or a legal proceeding. A defense attorney would try to show the court that the trashed materials had no bearing to felonious conduct or a civil or criminal case. If successful, the charge should be dropped.
- The defendant did not act with criminal intent: Accidentally throwing out evidence is no crime. It is also no crime to intentionally throw out items the defendant had no idea were related to a case. At trial the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant meant to conceal a felony or to obstruct justice. Otherwise, criminal charges should not be allowed to stand:
Example: Tom steals a gold watch in Las Vegas. Then he takes it to a jeweler to resize it and have his name engraved on it. Here, the jeweler is committing no crime by altering the watch. This is because the engraver has no idea it was stolen.
4. What are the immigration consequences?
The law is not clear. Therefore, non-citizens charged with destroying evidence should contact an attorney. The attorney can help determine whether the charge is deportable. And if so, the attorney can try to persuade the D.A. to lessen or drop the charge.
5. Can the criminal record be sealed?
A conviction for destroying evidence can be sealed two (2) years after the case closes. But if the case gets dismissed, there is no waiting period. The defendant is free to petition for a record seal immediately.
Once a criminal record gets sealed, past convictions and arrests no longer show up on background checks. And defendants can legally say under oath or in job interviews that they do not have a criminal record. (There are some exceptions. But getting a record seal is well worth the money and effort.)
Arrested? Call us...
Facing a criminal charge in Nevada? Call our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys. We can usually get charges reduced or dismissed with no trial. But if necessary, we are prepared to take your case to a jury and fight for a full acquittal.
Call us at 702-DEFENSE (702-333-3673). Or fill out the form on this page. Consultations are free.
Also see our article on dissuading a witness from testifying (NRS 199.230).
In California? See our article on destroying or concealing evidence (135 PC).
In Colorado? See our article on tampering with physical evidence (18-8-610 CRS).