Nevada law prohibits jail and prison inmates from possessing weapons, drugs, or phones. It is not a defense that the inmate did not knowingly possess the contraband.
Inmates found with a weapon in violation of NRS 212.185 face category B felony charges carrying one to six years in prison.
Meanwhile, inmates caught with drugs in violation of NRS 212.160 face category D felony charges, carrying one to four years in prison.
In this article, our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys discuss:
- 1. What items are Nevada prisoners prohibited from having?
- 2. What are the penalties?
- 3. What are the best defenses?
- 4. Can I get the criminal record sealed?
- 5. What items are prisoners allowed to have?
1. What items are Nevada prisoners prohibited from having?
Nevada prison and jail inmates are not allowed to possess phones, drugs, or any of the following weapons:
- Instruments or weapons of the kind commonly known as a blackjack, sling shot, billy club, sand-club, sandbag or metal knuckles;
- Explosive substances, including fixed ammunition, or any incendiary or explosive device;
- Dirks, daggers, switchblade knives or sharp instruments;
- Pistols, revolvers or other firearms;
- Facsimiles of a firearm or an explosive;
- Devices capable of propelling a projectile with sufficient force to cause bodily harm, such as a pellet gun, slingshot, blowgun, crossbow or bow and arrow; or
- Other similar weapons, instruments or devices.
Note that it is irrelevant whether the inmate possessed the contraband in a detention center or other location where they were in custody by law enforcement, such as a court, prison bus, or medical facility.1
2. What are the penalties?
2.1. Weapon possession by inmates
2.2. Drug possession by inmates
- 1 to 4 years in prison, and
- Up to $5,000 in fines (at the judge’s discretion)3
2.3. Phone possession by inmates
Under NRS 212.165, the penalty for inmates possessing a portable electronic device – such as cell phones – turns on the crime they are currently incarcerated for.
Crime that inmate is in custody for
Penalty for possessing a phone in a Nevada jail or prison
|Gross misdemeanor||Gross misdemeanor: |
|Felony||Category D felony: |
Note that judges may not grant probation or a suspended sentence for incarcerated people convicted of possessing a telecommunications device.4
3. What are the best defenses?
The district attorney may agree to dismiss charges against inmates accused of possessing contraband if the defense attorney can show that:
- The defendant was never in possession of the drugs, phone, or weapons. Perhaps someone else in the vicinity had them, and the defendant was wrongly presumed to possess them as well.
- The defendant was falsely accused. Perhaps another inmate or correctional officer in the prison system had it out for the defendant and levied false accusations at the defendant to get them into trouble.
- The defendant was authorized to possess the item. For example, inmates may possess a prescription medication that an authorized physician from the Nevada Department of Corrections prescribes to them.
Note that the state can still press charges even if the defendant did not knowingly possess the prohibited items. Arguing that someone planted the phone, drugs, or weapons on the defendant may persuade a sympathetic prosecutor to drop the case. But it is not a surefire defense.
4. Can I get the criminal record sealed?
There is always a waiting period before defendants can petition for a criminal record seal in Nevada. The length depends on the class of crime the defendant was convicted of.
Conviction for prisoners possessing contraband
Waiting period to get Nevada record seal
|Misdemeanor (NRS 212.165 violations)||One year after the case closes.|
|Gross misdemeanor (NRS 212.165 violations)||Two years after the case closes.|
|Category D felony (NRS 212.165 or NRS 212.160 violations)||Five years after the case closes.|
|Category B felony (NRS 212.185 violations)||Five years after the case closes.|
Note that defendants who have previously been convicted of an unsealable defense – such as felony DUI – are ineligible to get any other crimes sealed from their record.4 Learn more about how to seal criminal records in Nevada.
5. What items are prisoners allowed to have?
Correctional facility inmates are typically limited to having commissary items, such as stationary, snack food, and personal hygiene products. Inmates also may have a limited number of photographs and books. The specific number depends on the specific prison or county jail.
Have you or a loved one been arrested? Call our Nevada law firm for legal advice. We offer consultations in Clark County and throughout the state.
See our related articles on the Nevada crimes of furnishing telephones to prisoners (NRS 212.165), furnishing drugs, alcohol or weapons to prisoners (NRS 212.160), resisting arrest by a police officer (NRS 199.280), and escaping prison (NRS 212.090).
Arrested in California? See our article on Penal Code 4502 PC.
- Nevada Revised Statutes 212.160, 212.165, & 212.185. See also Fore v. State, (2002) 118 Nev. 330, 45 P.3d 404. See also McKenna v. State, (1982) 98 Nev. 323, 647 P.2d 865. See also Nevada Assembly Bill 420 (2017).
- NRS 212.185.
- NRS 212.160, subsection 3.
- NRS 212.165.