Nevada "Heroin" Laws
Explained by Las Vegas Criminal Defense Lawyers


Definition

Heroin is a schedule I drug that is illegal in Nevada and throughout the U.S. Nevada law prohibits everything from possession for personal use and possession with intent to sell to selling or making and trafficking heroin (any act involving at least 4 grams of heroin).

Merely being under the influence of narcotics such as heroin heroin is a crime in Nevada, even if the police do not find any heroin in the defendant's possession.

Penalties

Most heroin offenses are prosecuted as felonies in Nevada. It may be possible to plea bargain the charges down to a dismissal or misdemeanor. Otherwise, courts may impose the following sentences:

Nevada Heroin offense Penalties for a first-time offense

Possession for personal use

category E felony:

A first offense is usually probationable. Otherwise, the judge may impose:

Possession with the intent to sell it

category D felony:

  • 1 – 4 years in prison, and
  • up to $5,000 (at judge's discretion)

Selling, transporting, importing, dispensing, giving away, trading, administering, or manufacturing

category B felony:

  • 1 – 6 years in prison, and
  • up to $20,000

The penalties for trafficking depend on the amount of heroin involved. For instance, trafficking 4 grams to less than 14 grams is a category B felony, carrying:

  • 1 – 6 years in prison, and
  • up to $50,000

Defenses

There are several ways to fight heroin crimes depending on the individual facts of the case. Common defenses include demonstrating that:

  • The defendant did not know the heroin was there,
  • The police entrapped the defendant, and/or
  • The police committed an unlawful search and seizure

In this article, our Las Vegas criminal defense lawyers discuss:

Man shooting up heroin
Possessing, selling, and trafficking heroin is prosecuted as a felony in Nevada.

1. What is heroin, and is it illegal?

Heroin is a schedule I narcotic and is typically injected intravenously.1 Common names include dragon, dope, big H, black tar, and smack.

Heroin is prohibited throughout the U.S. Therefore, it is illegal to do any of the following acts with heroin in Nevada:

  • possess for personal use ("simple possession"),2
  • possess with the intention to sell ("possession for sale"),3
  • sell,
  • manufacture,
  • dispense,
  • give away,
  • administer,
  • exchange,
  • barter,
  • import, or
  • transport4
Person shooting up heroin in arm
Nevada prohibits possessing, selling, and trafficking heroin in Nevada.

Note that the crime of trafficking comprises any of the above acts that involve at least four (4) grams of heroin.5 Therefore, possessing four (4) grams of heroin for personal consumption would be prosecuted as trafficking in Nevada even though the defendant had no intention of selling it.

2. What are the penalties for Nevada heroin crimes?

The punishment depends on the specific charge. Possessing heroin for personal use carries the laxest penalties, while trafficking carries the harshest.

Note that the penalties for possession, possession for sale, and selling grow harsher with each successive offense. In contrast, the penalties for trafficking depend on the amount of heroin involved:

Nevada Heroin offense Penalties

Possession for personal use

(NRS 453.336)

1st or 2nd offense

category E felony:

  • 1 – 4 years in prison, and
  • up to $5,000 (at judge's discretion)

Note that judges typically grant probation in lieu of prison for a first-time offense.

3rd or 4th offense

category D felony:

  • 1 – 4 years in prison, and
  • up to $20,000 (at judge's discretion)

Possession with the intent to sell

(NRS 453.337)

1st offense

category D felony:

  • 1 – 4 years in prison, and
  • up to $5,000 (at judge's discretion)

2nd offense

category C felony:

  • 1 – 5 years in prison, and
  • up to $10,000 (at judge's discretion)

3rd offense

category B felony:

  • 3 – 15 years in prison, and
  • up to $20,000 (at judge's discretion)

Selling, transporting, importing, dispensing, giving away, trading, administering, or manufacturing

 (NRS 453.321)

1st offense

category B felony:

  • 1 – 6 years in prison, and
  • up to $20,000

2nd offense

category B felony:

  • 2 – 10 years in prison, and
  • up to $20,000

3rd offense

category B felony:

  • 3 – 15 years in prison, and
  • up to $20,000

Trafficking

(NRS 453.3385)

4 grams to less than 14 grams

category B felony:

  • 1 – 6 years in prison, and
  • up to $50,000

14 grams to less than 28 grams

category B felony:

  • 2 – 15 years in prison, and
  • up to $100,000

28 grams or more

category A felony:

  • 25 years or life in prison (with the possibility of parole after 10 years), and
  • up to $500,000

Note that being under the influence of heroin is against Nevada law as well, even if there is none of the drug in the vicinity. Being under the influence of a controlled substance in Nevada is a category E felony carrying:

  • 1 – 4 years in prison, and
  • up to $5,000 (at judge's discretion)

Note that judges typically grant probation in lieu of prison for a first-time offense.6

3. What are defenses to Nevada heroin offenses?

heroin needle against pink background
A defense to heroin offenses is that the defendant did not know the heroin was there.

The best way to fight drug charges turns on the charge and facts of the case. Common strategies include:

  • The defendant did not know the heroin was there,
  • The police entrapped the defendant, and/or
  • The police committed an unlawful search and seizure

3.1. No knowledge of the heroin

If a defendant genuinely had no idea that there was heroin in his/her possession, then he/she committed no offense.7 Laughlin criminal defense attorney Michael Becker describes how a defendant may be falsely accused:

Example: Ian gives his friend Jacob a drive to the movies. Without Ian's knowledge, Jacob leaves a bag of heroin under his passenger seat. The next day during a traffic stop for speeding, the officer sees the heroin and arrests Ian for possessing drugs. But since Ian had no knowledge the heroin was there, he committed no crime.

As long as the prosecutor in the above example cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Ian knew the heroin was there, the case should be dropped.

3.2. Entrapment

Police are legally allowed to deceive criminal suspects such as by going undercover. But police are not allowed to "entrap" suspects into committing a crime that they are otherwise not inclined to commit.8 Henderson criminal defense attorney Adam Solinger gives an example of police entrapment:

Example: In North Las Vegas, an undercover police officer observes Jeremy shooting up heroin. The officer approaches Jeremy and offers to purchase the remainder of his heroin. Jeremy refuses and leaves. The officer then threatens to report to the police if Jeremy does not sell him the heroin. Jeremy sells him the heroin, and the officer arrests him for selling drugs. In this case, Jeremy should not be convicted of selling drugs because the undercover officer entrapped him with threats. Jeremy's initial refusal to sell the drugs indicates that Jeremy would never have sold the undercover officer the heroin but for the threats. And because the officer had never seen Jeremy sell drugs before, the D.A. has no proof that Jeremy was inclined to sell drugs.

Person shooting up heroin in arm
Police entrapment is a defense to Nevada heroin crimes.

Had Jeremy in the above example agreed to sell the undercover officer heroin from the beginning, Jeremy probably would not be able to mount a winning entrapment offense. But because Jeremy exhibited no inclination towards being a drug dealer, prosecutors should not charge him with anything more serious than possession.

3.3. Unlawful search and seizure

The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution puts strict limits on when and how police may conduct searches and seizures. If the police overstepped their bounds, however, the defense attorney can ask the court to disregard all the evidence "tainted" from the illegal search. North Las Vegas criminal defense attorney Neil Shouse provides an illustration:

Example: Officer Jeffries gets a tip that Owen sells heroin. That day Officer Jeffries breaks into Owen's house, where he finds several grams of heroin. After Owen gets arrested for selling heroin, Owen's attorney files with the court a "motion to suppress" the heroin as evidence. The defense attorney's argument is that Officer Jeffries failed to get a search warrant, and he had no legal justification to forgo getting a search warrant. The judge agrees and excludes the heroin from evidence. This exclusion weakens the state's case so much that the D.A. dismisses the charges completely.

In the above example, Officer Jeffries' unconstitutional conduct was the key to Owen winning his case. Sometimes the defendant's conduct is less important than the police's misconduct in mounting an effective defense.

4. Can I get my Nevada heroin charge reduced or dismissed?

Prosecutors are often willing to reduce or dismiss criminal charges in order to avoid trial. Prosecutors are most generous to first-time drug possession offenders: In many cases, the state will grant probation and dismiss the case in exchange for the defendant taking a drug education class or doing Drug Court, an intensive rehabilitation program.

Another common scenario is for the D.A. to reduce a felony drug charge to a "catch-all" misdemeanor drug charge abbreviated ITS (short for "drugs which may not be introduced into interstate commerce"). ITS carries:

Person heating heroin with a spoon
It may be possible to get a heroin possession charge reduced or dismissed.
  • up to 6 months in jail, and/or
  • up to $1,000 in fines

With many ITS plea deals, the defendant does no jail and simply pays a fine and takes a drug education class.9

5. Can I go to trial on my Nevada heroin case?

Yes. Most drug cases settle with a plea bargain where the original charge is reduced or possibly dismissed. But defendants always have the option to take their case to trial.

Defendants charged with a heroin crime have the option to demand a jury trial or a bench trial (where the judge delivers the verdict). Jury trials are usually preferable because judges may be more jaded and difficult to persuade than randomly selected citizens.

6. When can a Nevada heroin case be sealed?

If a Nevada heroin charge gets dismissed (meaning there is no conviction), then a criminal record seal is available right away.10

If a Nevada heroin charge gets reduced to the misdemeanor drug offense of ITS (discussed above in question 4), the defendant may petition the court for a record seal only one (1) year after the case ends.11

Otherwise, the wait time to commence the record seal process depends on the specific heroin offense the defendant was convicted of:

Nevada heroin offense Record seal wait time

category E felony:

  • 1st or 2nd offense of simple possession, or
  • being under the influence

2 years after the case closes

category D felony:

  • 3rd or 4th offense of simple possession
  • 1st offense of possession for sale

5 years after the case closes

category C felony:

  • 2nd offense of possession for sale

5 years after the case closes

category B felony:

  • 3rd offense of possession for sale
  • selling, transporting, or manufacturing
  • trafficking less than 28 grams

5 years after the case closes

category A felony:

  • trafficking at least 28 grams

10 years after the case closes12

7. Will I get deported for a heroin crime?

Heroin on a spoon
Heroin crimes are deportable offenses.

Yes. Legal aliens who have been convicted of any drug crime involving heroin may be deported from the U.S. Note that simply admitting to having a drug addiction or being a drug dealer can subject a non-citizen to removal from the U.S. even if he/she was never convicted.13

Therefore, immigrants who have been charged with any controlled substance offense should hire an experienced immigration and criminal defense attorney immediately. The attorney might able to persuade the D.A. to drop the charge or else reduce it to a non-deportable offense. Learn more about the criminal defense of immigrants in Nevada.

8. Related drug offenses

8.1. Ecstasy

Like heroin, ecstasy (a.k.a. MDMA) is a schedule I narcotic and carries the same penalties. Learn more about Nevada ecstasy laws.

8.2. GHB and Rohypnol

When lawfully prescribed, GHB is a schedule III narcotic, and Rohypnol is a schedule IV narcotic. But GHB and Rohypnol are treated as schedule I narcotics like heroin when they are illegally possessed or sold.

Note that simple possession of GHB and Rohypnol carries a maximum of six (6)-year sentence, whereas simple possession of most schedule I narcotics carries a maximum of four (4)-year sentence.

Learn more about Nevada GHB and Rohypnol laws.

8.3. Meth

Methamphetamine is a schedule II narcotic. Drug offenses involving meth are punished identically to heroin except for trafficking. Learn more about Nevada methamphetamine laws.

8.4. OxyContin and Vicodin

The painkillers OxyContin and Vicodin are schedule II narcotics. Drug offenses involving these painkillers are punished identically to heroin except for trafficking. Learn more about Nevada OxyContin and Vicodin laws.

8.5. Cocaine

Cocaine is a schedule II narcotic. Drug offenses involving cocaine are punished identically to heroin except for trafficking. Learn more about Nevada cocaine laws.

8.6. PCP

PCP (phencyclidine) is a schedule II narcotic. Drug offenses involving this hallucinogen are punished identically to heroin except for trafficking. Learn more about Nevada PCP laws.

8.7. Ketamine

Ketamine is a schedule III narcotic. Possession charges are prosecuted identically to heroin. But the judge may order probation for a first offense of possessing ketamine for sale or of selling ketamine. And there is no such thing as ketamine trafficking crimes. Learn more about Nevada ketamine laws.

8.8. Codeine

Codeine is a schedule II narcotic. Drug offenses involving this opioid are punished identically to heroin except for trafficking. Learn more about Nevada codeine laws.

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Call a Nevada criminal defense attorney...

If you have been arrested for a heroin-related crime in Nevada, call 702-DEFENSE (702-333-3673). Our Las Vegas criminal defense lawyers will discuss your case with you for free. When all is said and done we may be able to get your charges reduced or thrown out.

Arrested in California? Go to our information page on California heroin laws.

Arrested in Colorado? Go to our information page on Colorado heroin laws.


Legal References:

  1. Drug Enforcement Administration.
  2. NRS 453.336.
  3. NRS 453.337.
  4. NRS 453.321.
  5. NRS 453.3395.
  6. NRS 453.411.
  7. Sanders v. State, 110 Nev. 434, 874 P.2d 1239 (1994)("In order to establish that the crime of possession of a controlled substance has been committed, the state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused had dominion and control of a controlled substance and knowledge of the presence of the controlled substance and of its illegal nature.").
  8. Sheriff, Humboldt County v. Gleave, 104 Nev. 496, 761 P.2d 416 (1988)("[T]his court held that "[e]ntrapment as a matter of law exists where the uncontroverted evidence shows (1) that the state furnished an opportunity for criminal conduct (2) to a person without the requisite criminal intent.").
  9. NRS 454.351.
  10. NRS 179.255.
  11. NRS 179.245.
  12. Id.
  13. 8 U.S.C. 1227(a)(2)(B).

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