Drive-by shootings carry harsh penalties in Nevada even if no one gets hurt. Defendants may also face additional charges such as attempted murder, murder, firearm offenses, or gang crimes, depending on the case. But our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys may be able to get all charges lessened or dropped.
Like it sounds, shooting a gun from a car is when a person maliciously or wantonly discharges a firearm from a vehicle. Firing a gun from a car is illegal whether the shooter is in, on, or below the car.
Common defenses to charges drive-by shootings include:
- The shooting was lawful, such as acting in accordance with Nevada hunting laws;
- The shooter was not acting maliciously or wantonly; or
- The shooting was justified as self-defense
It is not a defense if the car was not moving during the shooting, or that the bullet(s) caused no injuries or damage.
If the shooting occurred in a populated area as defined by state law, the D.A. prosecutes drive-by shootings as a category B felony, carrying:
- 2 – 15 years in Nevada State Prison; and/or
- Up to $5,000 in fines
Otherwise, drive-by shootings are a misdemeanor, carrying:
- up to 6 months in jail; and/or
- up to $1,000 in fines
Note that defendants in drive-by shooting cases in Nevada often face additional charges such as attempted murder, which can carry up to 20 years in prison or longer.
Scroll down for more information about the crime of drive-by shootings.
Definition of drive-by shootings
The legal definition of a drive-by shooting in Nevada is when someone who is in, on or under a vehicle maliciously or wantonly discharges (or maliciously or wantonly causes to be discharged) a firearm within or from the vehicle.1 Note that NRS 202.287 applies to cars, trucks, trailers designed for use with a motor vehicle, monorails, buses, trollies, and motorcycles.
The most important element of the Nevada offense of drive-by shootings is that the shooter acted maliciously or wantonly. A classic example is a gang member driving by a rival gang’s turf and shooting at them as part of an initiation. But it is not considered a violation of NRS 202.287 if the person shoots the gun in just a negligent or accidental way.
Example: Diabetic Hillary is driving down Las Vegas Blvd. when she gets an attack. While frantically rummaging through her purse for medication, she accidentally causes her pistol to go off. An officer from the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police sees the gunshot and books Hillary at the Clark County Detention Center for a drive-by shooting. But if Hillary’s attorney can explain that she did not wantonly or maliciously fire the gun, charges for NRS 202.287 should be dropped.
Note that drive-by shooting allegations frequently involve other crimes as well, such as homicide, wrongful firearm possession, gang involvement, and destruction of property. The prosecution has the burden to prove guilt for each individual offense beyond a reasonable doubt. So it may be possible for a defendant to be found guilty of one but not others.
Drive-by shootings is a federal offense as well as a Nevada state offense. However, the federal definition of drive-by shootings is more narrow:
- The defendant must fire the gun from a vehicle into a group of two or more people; and
- The defendant must have the intent to intimidate, injure, harass or maim; and
- The shooting must be done in furtherance of or to escape detection of a major drug crime; and
- The shooting must cause grave risk to human life or kill someone.
Defenses to drive-by shooting charges
Drive-by shooting cases are extremely fact-specific. Where, when, and how the incident occurred will determine the most effective defenses in fighting charges. Common defense strategies include the following:
- The shooting was lawful. There are some situations where drive-by shootings are perfectly legal in Nevada. Examples include hunters (as long as they are abiding by NRS 503.010(2)) or police officers while performing official duties. In some cases, there may also be licensed shooting ranges where practicing shooting from a vehicle is lawful.
- The shooting was not malicious nor wanton: A person violates NRS 202.287 only if he/she shoots the gun wantonly or willfully. Therefore, charges should be dropped if the prosecutor can show that the defendant shot the gun just negligently or accidentally. (Predictably, even a negligent or accidental shooting may invite prosecution for other offenses such as reckless endangerment.)
- The shooting was done in self-defense. Firing a gun from a car is not a crime as long as the shooter reasonably believed he/she or someone else was facing imminent death or serious injury. So if the defense attorney can demonstrate that the defendant was acting in lawful self-defense, the case should be dismissed.
Example: Mike is driving through a rough neighborhood in North Las Vegas. Suddenly a gang member appears and points a gun at Mike. Mike reaches for his gun and shoots the gang member. In this case, Mike should not face charges for drive-by shooting because Mike reasonably believed the gang member was about to kill or substantially injure him.
Note that it is not a defense to drive-by shooting charges if the incident caused no property damage or personal injury. Nor does it matter if the car was at rest when the bullet flew.
Penalties for a drive-by shooting
The penalties for drive-by shootings in Nevada depend on where the shooting occurs. If the gun is fired in an area designated by city or county ordinance as a populated area for the purpose of prohibiting the discharge of weapons, then the drive-by shooting is a category B felony. The sentence includes:
- 2 – 15 years in prison; and/or
- Up to $5,000 in fines
Otherwise, if the gun is fired in an area not designated by city or county ordinance as a populated area for the purpose of prohibiting the discharge of weapons, then the drive-by shooting is a misdemeanor Nevada. The punishment includes:
- up to 6 months in jail; and/or
- up to $1,000 in fines
Drive-by shooting charges are often accompanied by related allegations such as murder, attempted murder, and firearm crimes. Homicide can carry life in prison or possibly the death penalty.
Arrested for a drive-by shooting in Nevada? Call an attorney…
Are you facing charges for a “drive-by shooting”? Our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys are here to help. Call us for a consultation. We may be able to convince the D.A. to lower or dismiss the charges so you keep your firearms.
Also see our article on discharging a firearm in public.
For information about California drive-by shooting laws, see our article about California drive-by shooting laws.
1 NRS 202.287 Discharging firearm within or from structure or vehicle; penalties.
1. A person who is in, on or under a structure or vehicle and who maliciously or wantonly discharges or maliciously or wantonly causes to be discharged a firearm within or from the structure or vehicle:
(a) If the structure or vehicle is not within an area designated by city or county ordinance as a populated area for the purpose of prohibiting the discharge of weapons, is guilty of a misdemeanor.
(b) If the structure or vehicle is within an area designated by city or county ordinance as a populated area for the purpose of prohibiting the discharge of weapons, is guilty of a category B felony and shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for a minimum term of not less than 2 years and a maximum term of not more than 15 years, or by a fine of not more than $5,000, or by both fine and imprisonment.
2. If a firearm is discharged within or out of any vehicle that is in motion or at rest and it cannot with reasonable certainty be ascertained in what county the crime was committed, the offender may be arrested and tried in any county through which the vehicle may have run on the trip during which the firearm was discharged.
3. The provisions of this section do not apply to:
(a) A person who lawfully shoots at a game mammal or game bird pursuant to subsection 2 of NRS 503.010.
(b) A peace officer while engaged in the performance of his or her official duties.
(c) A person who discharges a firearm in a lawful manner and in the course of a lawful business, event or activity.
4. As used in this section:
(a) “Structure” means any temporary or permanent structure, including, but not limited to, any tent, house, room, apartment, tenement, shop, warehouse, store, mill, barn, stable, outhouse or other building.
(b) “Vehicle” means any motor vehicle or trailer designed for use with a motor vehicle, whether or not it is self-propelled, operated on rails or propelled by electric power obtained from overhead wires.