Federal "Murder" Laws (18 U.S.C. § 1111)
Explained by Nevada Criminal Defense Attorneys

The most serious crime in federal law is murder.  The punishment includes a possible life sentence or even capital punishment.

In this article, our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys explain the federal law of "murder" in Nevada.  Scroll down for the definition of murder, common defenses, and typical penalties a conviction carries.


The legal definition of "murder" under federal law in Nevada is the "unlawful killing of a human being with malice aforethought."  it is the most egregious class of homicide and carries the harshest penalties.  Similar to Nevada, federal law divides murder into first and second degrees:

First-degree murder

First-degree murder comprises the following types of killing under federal law:

  • murder perpetrated by poison, lying in wait, or any other kind of willful, deliberate, malicious, and premeditated killing

  • murder committed in the perpetration of, or attempt to perpetrate, any arson, escape, murder, kidnapping, treason, espionage, sabotage, aggravated sexual abuse or sexual abuse, child abuse, burglary, or robbery

  • murder perpetrated as part of a pattern or practice of assault or torture against a child or children

  • murder perpetrated from a premeditated design unlawfully and maliciously to effect the death of any human being other than him who is killed

In short, first degree murder is largely comprised of two types of homicide:  1) premeditated killing, and 2) killing committed in the perpetration of a serious crime, which is commonly called "felony murder." Searchlight NV criminal defense attorney Michael Becker gives an example of felony murder:

Example: Tom breaks into a federal courthouse to kidnap a witness.  In the fray, the witness struggles against Tom, whose gun accidentally goes off and kills the witness.  If caught, Tom could be booked at the Clark County Detention Center on federal first degree murder charges.

it is irrelevant that Tom had no intention to kill or even hurt the witness.  All that matters is that in the course of kidnapping the witness, Tom caused his death.  Felony murder does not require an intent to kill.

Second-degree murder

Second-degree murder is any kind of murder that is not considered first degree.  This encompasses an extremely reckless killing where the person may not have intended to cause death but should have known that death was the likely result. Goodsprings NV criminal defense attorney Neil Shouse provides an illustration:

Example: Jess and Cal are camping in a federal park in northern Nevada and playing Russian Roulette with a pistol. Eventually, one of Jess's trigger pulls kills Cal. If Jess is caught, the U.S. Marshals Service may book him at the Washoe County Detention Center on federal second degree murder charges.

Note that Jess may still be convicted of murder even though he meant no harm towards Cal. Nevada Federal Court will presume that Jess should have known that playing Russian Roulette would probably result in a fatality.  Therefore the court would hold Jess criminally liable.

Federal law v. Nevada law

The murder laws in Nevada and in the federal government are very alike and have similar definitions, defenses and penalties.  Read more about the Nevada crime of murder.


The best defenses for a federal murder allegation wholly depend on the unique circumstances of the case.  Some strategies which may be effective in one case may be completely irrelevant in another.  Below are some of the more common defenses to federal murder charges:

  • Self-defense: Federal law permits a person to kill someone else if they reasonably believe their life or someone else's life is being immediately threatened.  If the defense attorney can show that the defendant acted in reasonable self-defense in Nevada, then he/she should not be convicted of murder.

  • Insufficient evidence: A key defense in any federal criminal case is that the U.S. Attorney's Office lacks enough evidence to prove the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, which is an extremely high standard.  As long as the defense attorney can demonstrate through investigation, litigation and cross-examination that the prosecution's case is too weak to sustain a murder conviction, then charges should not stand.

  • Police misconduct: Thorough police investigations accompany most murder cases due to the seriousness of the charges.  If the cops may have overstepped their bounds and performed an unconstitutional search, the defense attorney can ask the court to disregard any evidence found from that search by filing a Nevada motion to suppress evidence.  If the court grants the motion, then the prosecution may choose to drop the charges for inadequate proof.

A Nevada federal defense attorney's central goal is to try to get a murder charge dismissed altogether.  However, the next best solution is to negotiate a charge reduction to something less severe such as the federal crime of manslaughter, which carries a maximum penalty of ten years in prison.

Img murder gavel


The punishment for a federal murder conviction in Nevada depends on the degree.  A first-degree murder conviction carries up to a life sentence in Federal Prison or the death penalty.  And a second-degree murder conviction carries up to a life sentence.

An attempted murder conviction carries a sentence of up to twenty years in federal prison and/or a fine.  And a conspiracy to commit murder carries a sentence of up to a life sentence.  (18 U.S.C. § 1113 & 18 U.S.C. § 1117)

Nevada state murder penalties

A person who is convicted of first-degree murder in Nevada faces either:

A person who is convicted of second-degree murder in Nevada faces either:

  • Life in prison with possible parole after ten years

  • twenty-five years in prison with possible parole after ten years

Note that only the Lloyd D. George Federal Courthouse in Las Vegas and the Bruce R. Thompson Federal Courthouse in Reno hear federal murder cases in Nevada.

Charged?  Call us . . . .

If you have been arrested on federal "murder" charges in Nevada, dial our Nevada federal criminal defense attorneys at 702-DEFENSE (702-333-3673) for a meeting free of charge in our Las Vegas offices or over the telephone.  we will put all our time, resources and expertise into fighting for the most favorable resolution possible.

See our article on the federal crime of using guns to carry out drug trafficking or violent crimes.














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