Nevada’s felony murder rule allows people to face first-degree murder charges if they commit certain felonies that result in someone’s death – even if they had no intent to kill. Qualifying crimes include burglary, robbery, kidnapping, arson, rape, child sex crimes, and abuse of children, the elderly, or the disabled. A category A felony, felony murder carries a 50-year sentence, life in prison, or the death penalty.
In this article, our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys discuss the following frequently-asked-questions:
- 1. What is felony murder in Nevada?
- 2. What are the penalties under NRS 200.030?
- 3. How can you fight the charges?
- 4. Is felony murder deportable?
- 5. Can the criminal record be sealed?
- 6. Related offenses
1. What is felony murder in Nevada?
The legal definition of felony murder in Nevada is killing someone in perpetration of – or while attempting to commit – either of the following dangerous felony offenses:
- sexual assault (NRS 200.366)
- kidnapping (NRS 200.310)
- arson (NRS 205.010 – .025)
- robbery (NRS 200.380)
- burglary (NRS 205.060)
- invasion of the home (NRS 205.067)
- sexual abuse of a child
- sexual molestation of a child under the age of 14 years (NRS 201.030)
- child abuse (NRS 200.508) or
- abuse of a vulnerable person (NRS 200.5099), which comprises physically or mentally disabled people1
- abuse of an older person (NRS 200.5099), which comprises people 60 years old or older2
Felony murder is a type of first degree murder, which is the most serious class of homicides in Nevada. But unlike other first-degree murder cases, felony murder requires no specific intent to kill. 3 In fact, a person can be convicted of felony murder even if the killing was an accident or unexpected:
Example: Bruno is burglarizing a Henderson apartment. Suddenly the tenant wakes up, sees Bruno, panics, and has a stroke. It does not matter that Bruno did not kill the tenant with his own hands. Nor does it matter that Bruno never wanted the tenant to be hurt, and that Bruno did not kill the tenant in furtherance of the burglary. That the tenant’s stroke was connected to the burglary elevates the death to first-degree murder in Nevada. 4
2. What are the penalties under NRS 200.030?
Felony murder is a category A felony in Nevada, carrying either:
- the death penalty,
- life in Nevada State Prison without the possibility of parole,
- life in prison with the possibility of parole after 20 years, or
- 50 years in prison with the possibility of parole after 20 years 5
The judge will impose an additional one to twenty years if either:
- the defendant had a deadly weapon, 6 or
- the victim was at least 60 years old or a disabled person. 7
3. How can you fight the charges?
The strongest defense to Nevada felony murder charges is that the defendant did not commit – or attempt to commit – the underlying felony. If the defendant had nothing to do with the felony, then he/she could not have criminal liability for the killing either.
For example, perhaps the defendant was falsely accused by someone motivated to get him or her into trouble. Or perhaps the defendant was misidentified out of a line-up. Or perhaps the defendant was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and the police wrongly assumed the defendant was involved.
In these cases, the criminal defense attorney would accumulate all the evidence possible to raise a reasonable doubt about the defendant’s guilt. Examples include:
- DNA evidence
- eyewitness testimony
- GPS data from the defendant’s cell phone
Alternatively, a partial defense to felony murder charges is that the defendant may have committed the felony – but the taking of a human life was completely unrelated.
Example: Jim commits suicide in his Las Vegas house by shooting himself. A day later, a burglar breaks into Jim’s house to steal a laptop. A police officer sees the break-in and arrests the burglar. The burglar is initially charged with felony murder for killing Jim in the commission of a felony (burglary).
But then the burglar’s defense attorney hires forensic experts who show that Jim died before the burglar ever stepped into the house, and that the cause of death was a self-inflicted gunshot. At that point, the district attorney may reduce the felony murder charge down to burglary because the burglar had no culpability for Jim’s death.
In these cases, the defendant could still get convicted for the underlying felony but not for the death.
Other potential defenses to felony murder charges are that the defendant acted in self-defense (in some cases), or that the evidence incriminating the defendant was found through an unlawful police search.
4. Is felony murder deportable?
Yes. Immigrants with any first degree murder conviction face deportation from the United States should they ever be released from prison. 8
5. Can the criminal record be sealed?
Nevada felony murder convictions can be sealed from the defendant’s record 10 years after the case closes. 9 However, the case never closes for defendants serving life sentences.
Note that if the charge gets dismissed, then the defendant can pursue a record seal immediately. 10 Learn how to seal criminal records in Nevada.
6. Related offenses
6.1. Second-degree murder
Second degree murder is an unintended killing caused by extremely reckless behavior. An example may be dropping a rock off of a balcony, and it kills someone below. The person may not have intended for anyone below to die – but it is extremely likely that someone would. A category A felony in Nevada, 2nd-degree murder carries
- Life in prison with the possibility of parole after 10 years, or
- 25 years in prison with the possibility of parole after 10 years 11
6.2. Voluntary manslaughter
Voluntary manslaughter (NRS 200.050) comprises heat of passion killings. The defendant intentionally killed the victim, but the killing was not premeditated because the defendant acted immediately. An example may be a bully saying something particularly hateful, and without thinking the bullying victim stabs the bully. A category B felony in Nevada, voluntary manslaughter carries:
- 1 to 10 years in prison, and
- up to a $10,000 fine (at the judge’s discretion) 12
6.3. Involuntary manslaughter
Involuntary manslaughter (NRS 200.070) is when a person unintentionally kills another while committing either an unlawful act or a negligent act. An example may be handling a loaded gun while trying to text on a cell phone, and the gun accidentally goes off and kills someone. A category D felony in Nevada, involuntary manslaughter carries:
- 1 to 4 years in prison, and
- up to $5,000 in fines (at the judge’s discretion) 13
Our criminal justice attorneys practice in state and U.S. district courts in Clark County and throughout Nevada.
In California? Learn about California’s felony murder rule.
In Colorado? Learn about Colorado’s felony murder rule.
- NRS 200.5092.
- NRS 200.030. See also NRS 200.010 (murder is defined as the unlawful killing of a human being with malice aforethought).
- See State v. Contreras, (Nevada Supreme Court, 2002) 118 Nev. 332, 46 P.3d 661, 118 Nev. Adv. Rep. 34 (Under the felony murder doctrine, it is inappropriate to apply the merger doctrine to felony murder when the underlying felony is burglary regardless of the intent of the burglary.). See also People v. Sarun Chun, (California Supreme Court, 2009) 45 Cal.4th 1172, 91 Cal.Rptr.3d 106, 203 P.3d 425, 434. Other states that also have a crim murder statute or common law-based “proximate cause linkage test” between the death and the commission of the predicate felony include Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, D.C., Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington, and West Virginia. The Model Penal code does not include felony murder.
- NRS 200.030; see also McConnell v. State, (2005) 121 Nev. 25, 107 P.3d 1287, 121 Nev. Adv. Rep. 5.
- NRS 193.165. Therefore, a fatal armed robbery carries a harsher punishment than a fatal unarmed robbery because it involves the use of a deadly weapon in the commission of the crime.
- NRS 193.167.
- 8 USC 1101.
- NRS 179.245.
- NRS 179.255.
- NRS 200.030. Nevada has no such thing as second degree felony murder.
- NRS 200.050. In short, voluntary manslaughter is intentional killing but without premeditation.
- Nev. Rev. Stat 200.070.