Under NRS 200.070, Nevada law defines involuntary manslaughter as unintentionally killing another person in the commission of either an unlawful act (such as hunting without a license) or a negligent act. A conviction is a Category D felony that carries 1 to 4 years in Nevada State Prison and up to $5000.00 in fines.
Involuntary manslaughter is a less serious offense than second-degree murder. Second-degree murder is also an unintentional killing. But it is done with such extreme recklessness that the person should have known that death would result: The classic example is playing Russian Roulette.
As a category D felony in Nevada, violating NRS 200.070 carries:
- 1- 4 years in Nevada State Prison, and
- up to a $5,000 fine (at the judge’s discretion)
This sentence is far less harsh than second-degree murder, which carries a possible life sentence. Note that the death penalty is never a punishment for involuntary manslaughter.
Depending on the case, effective defense arguments for fighting NRS 200.070 charges include:
- Accident, and/or
- False accusations
People charged with violating NRS 200.070 are advised to hire counsel to try to get the case dismissed or reduced to a lesser offense. Otherwise, a conviction must stay on their record for at least 10 years before the court will grant a criminal record seal. And non-citizens adjudicated guilty of it may be deported from the U.S.
In this article, our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys discuss:
- 1. How does Nevada law define involuntary manslaughter?
- 2. What is the sentence for involuntary manslaughter in Nevada?
- 3. What are the best defenses to the charge?
- 4. Can the record of conviction be sealed?
- 5. Will a conviction lead to deportation?
- 6. Related offenses
1. How does Nevada law define involuntary manslaughter?
Involuntary manslaughter occurs when a person unintentionally kills another person while committing either:
- an unlawful act, or
- a lawful but negligent act1
Examples of scenarios that would probably be prosecuted as involuntary manslaughter in Nevada include:
- Handling a loaded gun that goes off unexpectedly and kills someone
- A hunter shooting at some rustling in the bushes that turns out to be a person instead of an animal, and the victim dies
- A parent keeping cocaine in a medicine cabinet, and a child finding the cocaine and dying because of ingesting it
Of all Nevada’s homicide crimes, involuntary manslaughter carries the lowest penalties (other than vehicular manslaughter). This is because the defendant had no intention to cause anyone’s death or even to risk anyone’s death.2 Instead, the fatality occurred due to the defendant’s carelessness.
|Nevada homicide crimes||Differences from Involuntary Manslaughter|
|Second-degree murder (NRS 200.030)||2nd-degree murder is also an unpremeditated killing. But the death results from the defendant’s reckless — and not merely negligent — actions. Furthermore, the defendant should have known that death would result from his/her reckless actions.|
An example of 2nd-degree murder is throwing a heavy object off a roof when there is a crowd below.
|Felony-murder (NRS 200.030)3||Felony murder can also be an unpremeditated killing. But the killing occurred during the commission of a much more serious crime that may give rise to involuntary manslaughter charges.|
People face felony murder charges if someone dies while the defendant was committing either:
|Voluntary Manslaughter (NRS 200.050)||Voluntary manslaughter is when someone kills “in the heat of passion” after having been provoked. So the killing is technically intentional even though the person is in an irrational emotional state.|
|Federal Involuntary Manslaughter (18 U.S. Code § 1112)||Federal law is very similar to Nevada law. The main difference is that the federal penalty carries up to 8 years in prison, which is twice as harsh as Nevada’s penalty.|
Note that there is no such thing as the crime of “attempted involuntary manslaughter.” This is because, logically, people cannot “attempt” to commit an involuntary act.4
2. What is the sentence for involuntary manslaughter in Nevada?
As a category D felony, violating NRS 200.070 carries the following punishment:5
|Involuntary Manslaughter penalties||Range of sentence|
|Nevada State Prison||1 – 4 years|
|fines||up to $5,000 (at the judge’s discretion)|
Depending on the case, it may be possible for a defense attorney to plea bargain a murder charge down to an NRS 200.070 violation. This way, the defendant faces a maximum sentence of only four years instead of life in prison or death. And violating NRS 200.070 carries much less of a social stigma than murder.
3. What are the best defenses to the charge?
Common strategies that may prove effective in getting NRS 200.070 charges reduced or dismissed include showing that:
- The defendant was acting in lawful self-defense,
- The incident was an accident, and/or
- The defendant was falsely accused
3.1. Self-defense or defense of others
People are allowed under Nevada law to fight back — even to the death — so long as:
- they reasonably believe they or others are facing immediate death or serious bodily harm, and
- they use no more force than reasonably necessary to defend themselves or others6
Henderson criminal defense attorney Michael Becker provides an example of how claiming self-defense can get an NRS 200.070 charge dropped in Nevada:
Example: David and Darren begin arguing. Suddenly David pulls out a knife and rushes towards Darren. While Darren wrests the knife away, it pierces David’s neck and he dies. Darren gets charged with violating NRS 200.070 for negligently handling the knife. But if Darren’s attorney can show that Darren was acting in self-defense, the charge should be dropped.
3.2. The incident was an accident
All involuntary manslaughter cases seem like accidents since the defendant did not mean to cause the death. But legally, death is considered an accident only if the defendant was not:
- breaking the law, and
- acting in a negligent way
In short, the defendant must be legally blameless in order for NRS 200.070 charges to be dropped on the basis of an accident.7
Example: Naomi keeps the powerful painkiller Lortab in her medicine cabinet. Her 16-year-old daughter Tammy searches through the medicine cabinet for Tylenol, which she mistakes for Lortab. Tammy takes too many Lortab pills thinking they are only Tylenol, and dies. Naomi gets arrested for violating NRS 200.070 for keeping the Lortab accessible to her daughter. But when the defense attorney shows that Naomi was not breaking the law because she had a lawful prescription — and that Naomi was not negligent because Tammy was old enough to distinguish between pills — the prosecution dismisses the charge. Instead, the D.A. calls the daughter’s death a tragic accident.
3.3. False accusations
Sometimes people who had nothing to do with a homicide find themselves facing criminal charges. Some reasons for this may include:
- The police make a rash decision about whom to arrest, and the D.A. simply accepts the police report as an “open and shut” case.
- An enemy of the defendant falsely accuses him/her out of anger or vengeance.
- The real perpetrator of the death wants to escape liability by accusing the defendant.
In any event, the defense attorney’s job is to conduct a thorough investigation and gather all available evidence such as video and eyewitnesses in an effort to vindicate the accused. As long as the prosecution has insufficient evidence to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, the charges should be dismissed.
4. Can the record of conviction be sealed?
It should be possible to seal a conviction for violating NRS 200.070 ten (10) years after the case ends.8 A case is considered over once the defendant has finished his/her sentence (including probation).
Note there is no waiting period to get a record seal if the charge gets dismissed.9 But the record seal process itself may take a few months.
5. Will a conviction lead to deportation?
Probably, because several courts have found that involuntary manslaughter is an aggravated felony.10 Therefore, non-citizens who have been charged with violating NRS 200.070 should retain an experienced attorney right away to try to get the charge lessened to a non-deportable offense.
Learn more about the criminal defense of immigrants in Nevada.
6. Related offenses
|Nevada homicide offenses||Definition|
|Attempted Murder (NRS 200.030)||Like it sounds, attempted murder is trying to kill someone but failing.|
|Capital Murder (NRS 200.033)||The state can impose the death penalty when a person is convicted of first-degree murder, and there is at least one aggravating circumstance that outweighs any mitigating ones|
|Vehicular Manslaughter (NRS 484B.657)||A driver whose negligence causes another’s death faces vehicular manslaughter charges.|
|Vehicular Homicide (NRS 484C.130)||A person who has at least 3 prior DUI convictions commits vehicular homicide if he/she then causes another person’s death in a subsequent DUI.|
|Feticide (NRS 200.210)||Killing an unborn child qualifies as manslaughter outside of a licensed abortion clinic.|
|Death by drugs (N.R.S. 453.333)||Illegally giving drugs to someone is murder if the drugs cause the person’s death.|
Call a Nevada criminal defense attorney…
If you are facing manslaughter charges in Nevada, call our Las Vegas criminal defense lawyers right away for a free consultation to discuss your options.
Arrested in California? Go to our article on California Involuntary Manslaughter law.
Arrested in Colorado? Go to our article on Colorado Manslaughter law.
- NRS 200.070 “Involuntary manslaughter” defined. 1. Except under the circumstances provided in NRS 484B.550 and 484B.653, involuntary manslaughter is the killing of a human being, without any intent to do so, in the commission of an unlawful act, or a lawful act which probably might produce such a consequence in an unlawful manner, but where the involuntary killing occurs in the commission of an unlawful act, which, in its consequences, naturally tends to destroy the life of a human being, or is committed in the prosecution of a felonious intent, the offense is murder. 2. [violating NRS 200.070] does not include vehicular manslaughter as described in NRS 484B.657; Bielling v. Sheriff, Clark County, 89 Nev. 112, 508 P.2d 546(1984)(” In order to properly charge appellant with the offense of [violating NRS 200.070], the information must specify the acts of criminal negligence upon which the state is relying to try to obtain a conviction.”).
- Hancock v. State, 80 Nev. 581, 397 P.2d 181 (1964) (“The crime of manslaughter does not require the specific intent to kill[.]”).
- State v. Gray, 19 Nev. 212, 8 P. 456 (1885) (involuntary killing which happens in the commission of an unlawful act is murder--felony murder”); Sheriff, Clark County v. Willoughby, 97 Nev. 90, 624 P.2d 498 (1981)(the unintentional killing occurred during an attempted escape from police after the commission of battery with the use of a deadly weapon is felony murder).
- Bailey v. State, 100 Nev. 562, 688 P.2d 320 (1984) (“[Violating NRS 200.070] is by definition an unintentional killing…The crime of attempt, however, requires that the accused formulate the intent to commit the crime attempted; absent proof of the element of intent, a conviction for attempt cannot stand…the crime of “attempted involuntary manslaughter” is logically impossible.”).
- NRS 200.090 Punishment for involuntary manslaughter. A person convicted of [violating NRS 200.070] manslaughter is guilty of a category D felony and shall be punished as provided in NRS 193.130.
- NRS 200.200; see also Parsons v. State, 329 P.2d 1070 (1958)(When a defendant is charged with murder and claims self-defense, it is proper to instruct the jury on the lesser included offense of involuntary manslaughter).
- NRS 200.070.
- NRS 179.245.
- NRS 179.255.
- See, e.g., Park v. INS, 252 F.3d 1018 (9th Cir. June 5, 2001); INA § 101(a)(43)(F), 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(43)(F)).