Crossing state lines to commit domestic violence is a serious federal crime in Nevada. Even minor incidents may result in years in prison.
In this article, our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys explain the federal crime of “interstate domestic violence” in Nevada. Keep reading for more about what comprises domestic violence, effective defenses, and common punishments.
Under federal law in Nevada, the legal definition of “domestic violence” is limited to the following two scenarios:
- A person travels to or from Nevada with the intent to kill, injure, harass, or intimidate a spouse, intimate partner, or dating partner. Then, in the course of such travel, that person commits or attempts to commit a crime of violence against the victim; OR
- A person who causes a spouse, intimate partner, or dating partner to travel to or from Nevada by force, coercion, duress, or fraud. Then, in the course of such travel, that person commits or attempts to commit a crime of violence against the victim.
Therefore, the federal crime of “interstate domestic violence” has four key elements that the prosecution would have to prove before the defendant can be convicted in Nevada:
- Either the defendant crosses state lines, or the defendant forces the victim to cross state lines, for the purpose of committing domestic violence; AND
- The defendant and victim are either spouses, dating, or have a sexual relationship; AND
- The defendant intends to kill, injure, harass or intimidate the victim; AND
- The defendant commits, or attempts to commit, a violent crime against the victim
Criminal defense attorney Michael Becker gives an example of interstate domestic violence under federal law:
Example: Calvin lives in California and Nelly lives in Nevada. They have a long distance relationship and get into a fight over the phone. Calvin fumes at her, “I’m going to break your neck,” and promptly takes the next flight to Las Vegas. Calvin kicks in her door to her Henderson home and screams that he is going to kill her. Nelly calls 911, who sends the police just as Calvin lifts his fist to punch her. The cops would then book Calvin at the Henderson NV Detention Center for interstate domestic violence.
Here, federal law applies because 1) Calvin flew into Nevada with the intent to harm Nelly, 2) Calvin and Nelly were dating, 3) Calvin meant to harm Nelly, and 4) Calvin attempted to harm Nelly by getting ready to punch her. Note that it does not matter that Nelly emerged unharmed . . . the fact Calvin attempted to punch her would be sufficient to warrant prosecution.
Federal v. State law (NRS 500.485)
The first major difference between federal and Nevada domestic violence law is the name: In Nevada, the legal term is “battery domestic violence.” In Nevada, battery domestic violence may occur not only between romantic partners but also between family members or roommates. Finally, it is not necessary that either the defendant or the victim cross state lines.
The main similarity between Nevada law and federal law regarding domestic violence is the intent requirement: In both cases, the defendant needs to intend to harm the victim in order to be guilty of domestic violence.
Note that all federal domestic violence cases in Nevada are litigated in either the Lloyd D. George Federal Courthouse in Las Vegas, or the Bruce R. Thompson Federal Courthouse in Reno. Contrarily, state law cases are handled in local county courthouses in Nevada.
Various defenses exist to fight allegations of interstate domestic violence in Nevada. Continue reading to learn about the four most common strategies that may prevent the U.S. Attorney’s Office from proving domestic violence beyond a reasonable doubt:
- Accident. A person may be convicted of interstate domestic violence only if he/she intentionally harmed the victim. If the defense attorney can demonstrate that the victim’s injury resulted from an honest accident and that the defendant did not deliberately mean to harm the victim, then the defendant is not criminally liable.
- Self-defense. Nevada self-defense law permits anyone to fight back against aggressors with reasonable, proportional force. If the defense attorney can show that the “victim” began the fight and that the defendant was merely defending him/herself against injury, then the case should be dropped.
- False allegations. Sometimes a person is so angry that he/she will invent a domestic violence incident and lie to the police about it. Occasionally the “victim” will even give him/herself self-inflicted injuries to perpetuate the lie. Courts are very aware of these tactics, and defense lawyers can often reveal false allegations through forensic evidence and expert testimony.
- No interstate travel. Nevada Federal Court has no jurisdiction to handle a domestic violence matter unless it involved the defendant crossing state lines, or the defendant moving the victim across state lines. As long as the prosecution cannot prove that interstate travel occurred for the purpose of causing domestic violence, then the case should be dismissed. However, the defendant may still face criminal charges in a state court in Nevada.
The punishment for violating federal domestic violence law in Nevada increases with the victim’s injuries:
- If the victim does not sustain any serious bodily injuries, the defendant faces up to five (5) years in federal prison and perhaps a fine.
- If the victim sustains serious bodily injury, or if the defendant used a dangerous weapon, the defendant faces up to ten (10) years in federal prison.
- If the defendant sustains a permanent disfigurement or life-threatening bodily injury, the defendant faces up to twenty (h50) years in federal prison.
- If the defendant dies from the abuse, the defendant faces up to a life sentence in federal prison.
Note that these same penalties apply whether or not the defendant was violating a protective order.
Also note that if the defendant sexually abused the victim, then the defendant would face federal penalties for sexual abuse, which may include up to a life sentence. And if the defendant stalked the victim in violation of a restraining order, the defendant faces at least one (1) year in federal prison.
Nevada state law penalties (NRS 500.485)
Nevada state law provides varying penalties for battery domestic violence depending on the following factors:
- whether the victim sustained substantial bodily injury
- whether the defendant used a deadly weapon
- whether the defendant strangled the victim
- whether the defendant has previous domestic abuse convictions.
If the incident is minor, the court may even suspend a jail sentence and try to rehabilitate the defendant with counseling. For more information on sentence ranges, read our article on battery domestic violence.
Charged? Call us . . . .
If you have been arrested in Nevada for the federal crime of “interstate domestic violence,” contact our Nevada federal criminal defense attorneys for a consultation. We might get the case dropped or the charges reduced. Otherwise, we will take your case to trial in pursuit of an acquittal of the charges.