NRS 201.180 is the Nevada law that prohibits incest, defined as intermarriage or fornication between relatives closer than second cousins. As a category A felony, incest carries two years to life of prison time with the possibility of parole, plus a possible $10,000 fine. But defendants may get probation if their psychosexual evaluations show they do not represent a high risk of reoffending.
NRS 201.180 states:
Persons being within the degree of consanguinity within which marriages are declared by law to be incestuous and void who intermarry with each other or who commit fornication or adultery with each other shall be punished for a category A felony by imprisonment in the state prison for a minimum term of not less than 2 years and a maximum term of life with the possibility of parole, and may be further punished by a fine of not more than $10,000.
In this article, our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys discuss:
- 1. What is incest in Nevada?
- 2. What are the penalties under NRS 201.180?
- 3. How can an attorney help?
- 4. Can the record be sealed?
1. How does Nevada law define incest?
The legal definition of the crime of incest in Nevada is when two relatives who are closer than second cousins (or cousins by half-blood) get married, have sexual intercourse or commit adultery. The purpose of incest laws is to discourage inbreeding, which leads to a greater chance of birth defects.1
The Nevada sex crime of incest is different from the crime of sexual assault / rape (NRS 200.366). Incest is illegal even if the two people involved are consenting adults. In contrast, rape by definition involves having non-consensual sex.2
It is possible for someone to be charged with both rape and incest for the same sexual act. For instance, a father who has sex with his adult daughter against her will commits both rape (because she did not agree to the sex) and incest (because they were too closely related). But had the daughter agreed to the sex, then both the father and daughter may face criminal prosecution for incest.3
2. What are the penalties under NRS 201.180?
Incest is a category A felony in Nevada, which is the most serious class of crimes.4 The court can grant probation if the defendant’s psychosexual evaluation show he/she does not represent a high risk to reoffending.5 Otherwise, the potential punishment for incest is:
- 2 years to life in Nevada State Prison, and
- a fine of up to $10,000 (at the court’s discretion)6
In addition, a conviction carries lifetime supervision under NRS176.0931 and sex offender registration. Depending on the case, it may be possible to get out of lifetime supervision early.7
When determining the final sentence, a Nevada judge will likely consider the following factors:
- how closely related the two parties are,
- whether the parties are both adults (over 18 years of age), both children, or one of each, and
- whether the marriage and/or sexual intercourse was consensual.
For example, adult first cousins once removed who had consensual intercourse would probably receive a lax sentence because it is arguably a victimless crime where neither party got hurt. In contrast, an adult male who rapes his minor sister would surely receive a harsher prison term because it involved an underage victim who was forced to have sex against her will.
3. How can an attorney help?
Nevada incest law is very technical and prohibits a narrow range of behaviors. Therefore, it may be possible to get an incest charge dismissed if the defense lawyer can show that the defendant’s situation falls outside the realm of prohibited acts. The following are three possible defenses:
- No fornication. Nevada incest law prohibits closely related people from fornicating. Arguably, fornication refers only to sexual intercourse between a man and woman and not to any other acts of sexual penetration or sexual conduct. If the prosecutor cannot prove that the defendant engaged in sexual intercourse specifically, then the criminal charge could be dropped.
- No marriage. Nevada incest law also prohibits closely related people from getting married. If the defense attorney can show that the defendants held themselves out as man and wife but did not legally get married, then the prosecution’s case is significantly weakened.
- No relations. It is common for people who are close to refer to themselves as cousins, siblings or other blood relatives when they are in fact not. Or perhaps one of the parties in an incest case was actually adopted or born to someone outside of the family. If the defense attorney can show that the defendant is not in fact blood-related to the other party or that he/she is distant family (such as second cousins or more), then the case should be dismissed.
Other potential defenses involve law enforcement agency misconduct, such as coercing a confession or performing an unlawful search.
4. Can the record be sealed?
Nevada incest convictions can never be sealed. That is why it is so important for defendants to hire experienced counsel to try to get the charge reduced or dropped. Dismissed charges can be sealed immediately.8
See our related sex offense articles on bigamy (NRS 201.160), lewdness with a minor (NRS 201.230), statutory sexual seduction (NRS 200.368), pandering, solicitation (NRS 201.354), open and gross lewdness (NRS 201.210), indecent exposure (NRS 201.220), and child sexual abuse / sexual exploitation.
Arrested in California? See our article Penal Code 285 PC.
- Nevada Revised Statute 201.180 (under the chapter Crimes Against Public Decency and Good Morals).
- Douglas v. State, (2014) 130 Nev. 285, 327 P.3d 492, 130 Nev. Adv. Rep. 31. Sena v. State (2022) 138 Nev. Advance Opinion 34 (“we conclude the unit of prosecution is per victim, not per instance“).
- NRS 201.180.
- NRS 176A.110.
- NRS 201.180.
- NRS179D.097 subsection 1(i); NRS 176.0931.
- NRS 179.245; NRS 179.255; see also Finley v. City of Henderson (In re Finley), (Nevada Supreme Court, 2019) 457 P.3d 263, 135 Nev. Adv. Rep. 63.