Nevada is one of 27 states that permit capital punishment. However, the state has not actually carried out an execution since April 26, 2006. A sentence of death is reserved for individuals convicted of murder involving aggravating circumstances.
Specifically, Nevada courts may impose the death penalty only first-degree murder cases where:
- there is at least one aggravating circumstance, and
- the aggravated circumstances are not outweighed by any mitigating factors.
The one form of capital punishment Nevada allows is lethal injection.
It typically takes years if not decades for a death row inmate to be executed. People prosecuted for capital murder may be able to get acquitted at trial or have their charge reduced through a plea bargain.
In this article, our Las Vegas death penalty attorneys answer frequently-asked-questions about when, where, how and why capital punishment occurs in Nevada. Click on a topic to jump to that section:
- 1. Does Nevada have the death penalty?
- 2. When does someone get sentenced to death in Nevada?
- 3. Who gets the death penalty?
- 4. How long does someone stay on death row?
- 5. How do I fight a death sentence?
- 6. Who is exempt from the death penalty?
- 7. How is the death penalty done in Nevada?
- 8. Where is the death penalty done in Nevada?
- 9. When was the last lethal injection in Nevada?
1. Does Nevada have the death penalty?
Yes. Like it sounds, capital punishment is where a convicted defendant is put to death as punishment for the crime. The death penalty in Nevada may be imposed only in certain first-degree murder cases…
First-degree murder is a deliberate and premeditated killing. Under Nevada’s felony murder rule, first-degree murder also comprises homicides committed in the commission of certain felonies such as rape, robbery, burglary or kidnapping.
On April 13, 2021, the Nevada Assembly passed AB395 to abolish the death penalty. But the bill failed to advance in the state senate.
Also see our article on murder by drugs (NRS 453.333).1
2. When does someone get sentenced to death in Nevada?
If a jury returns a guilty verdict in a Nevada first-degree murder trial, the case moves into the sentencing phase. The sentencing hearing usually occurs several weeks after the trial ends. This is to give defense counsel time to gather witnesses and craft a case against the death penalty.
A Nevada sentencing hearing is similar to a trial, but the only thing at issue is which punishment to impose. In first-degree murder cases, the jury decides between imposing one of the following sentences:
- Death, or
- Life in Nevada State Prison without the possibility of parole, or
- Life in prison with the possibility of parole after twenty (20) years, or
- Fifty (50) years in prison with the possibility of parole after twenty (20) years2
3. Who gets the death penalty?
A Nevada jury may hand down the death sentence to a defendant convicted of first-degree murder only if:
- the jury finds there is at least one (1) aggravating circumstance, and
- the jury finds that any mitigating circumstances do not outweigh the aggravating circumstance(s)
3.1. Aggravating circumstances
Aggravating circumstances in Nevada first-degree murder cases can be any of the following:
- The defendant was currently under a sentence of imprisonment.
- The defendant has previously been convicted of another murder or a violent felony.
- The defendant knowingly created a risk of death to other people.
- The defendant committed the murder in the commission of robbery, first-degree arson, burglary, invasion of the home, or first-degree kidnapping AND the defendant deliberately meant to kill or knew that lethal force was being used.
- The defendant committed the murder to prevent an arrest or to escape custody.
- The defendant committed the murder in exchange for money (or something of monetary value).
- The victim was a peace officer or firefighter engaged in their official duties, and the defendant knew (or should have known) this.
- The defendant tortured or mutilated the victim.
- The defendant killed more than one person at random.
- The victim was less than fourteen (14) years old.
- The murder was a hate crime based on race, religion, national origin, disability, gender identity or expression, or sexual orientation.
- The defendant raped or attempted to rape the victim.
- The murder took place on school property or at a school activity, and the defendant intended to create a great risk of death or harm to more than one person.
- The murder was an act of terrorism.3
3.2. Mitigating circumstances
In contrast, mitigating circumstances in Nevada first-degree murder cases are much more open-ended. They can be any fact or testimony that makes the defendant seem less deserving of the death penalty. Some examples are:
- The defendant had no significant criminal history.
- The defendant committed the murder under extreme mental or emotional disturbance.
- The defendant acted under duress or domination of another person.
- The victim consented to or participated in the act that led to his/her death.
- The murder was committed by a person other than the defendant, and the defendant was an accomplice who played a minor role.
- The defendant was young at the time of the murder.
- The defendant had an abusive and/or underprivileged childhood.
- The defendant had done many positive things for the community.
It is typical for friends and family of the defendant to testify at the sentencing hearing or write letters to the judge about the defendant’s virtues and asking for leniency.4
4. How long does someone stay on death row?
It varies, but it usually takes several years and sometimes decades. This is because there are so many different court procedures that happen first. Learn more in the next question.
5. How do I fight a death sentence?
Fighting a capital punishment sentence is a very lengthy and complex process in Nevada. It may include such procedures as motions for a new trial, appealing to the Nevada Supreme Court and U.S. Supreme Court, filing a petition of habeas corpus, and requesting clemency from the Nevada Board of Pardons.
Note that just because a person is charged with murder does not mean he/she will be convicted. It may be possible to win an acquittal at trial or to persuade the prosecutor to reduce the charges.
6. Who is exempt from the death penalty?
Nevada may not execute:
- people who were under eighteen (18) years old at the time of the murder,5 and
- people who are mentally retarded6
7. How is the death penalty done in Nevada?
Lethal injection is currently the sole method of execution.7
The lethal injection process begins when the inmate is strapped to a gurney and receives an IV. The first substance injected is an anesthetic to make the inmate unconscious. The second substance is paralytic, which paralyzes the diaphragm. The final injection of potassium chloride causes cardiac arrest.8
Now and for the foreseeable future, no capital punishments are being performed in Nevada because the makers of the drug Alvogen and Sandoz Inc. are objecting to their anesthetic and paralytic products being used for execution.9
8. Where is the death penalty done in Nevada?
Nevada’s one execution chamber is located at Ely State Prison. Death Row is located there as well.10
9. When was the last lethal injection?
The last time a death-row inmate was executed in Nevada was April 26, 2006. His name was Daryl Linnie Mack. He had been convicted of strangling Betty Jane May to death in 1988. DNA evidence tied him to her rape and murder.11
Call a Nevada criminal defense attorney…
If you would like to speak with our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys about your case. We may be able to negotiate your charges down to lesser offenses or a full dismissal. And if you wish we are always ready to go to trial in your defense.
In California? Go to our article on California death penalty laws.
In Colorado? Go to our article on Colorado death penalty laws.
- NRS 200.030. Michelle Rindels, Tabitha Mueller, Nevada Assembly votes to abolish death penalty in historic move; bill’s future uncertain in Senate, Nevada Independent (April 13, 2021). Joyce Lupiani, Bill to repeal death penalty in Nevada appears to be dead, ABC KTNV-13 (May 14, 2021). See also Thomas v. State (2022) 1138 Nev. Advance Opinion 37.
- NRS 200.033.
- NRS 200.035; see Coldwell v. State, (1996) 112 Nev. 807, 919 P.2d 403. Barlow v. State (2022) 138 Nev. Advance Opinion 25 (“when a jury cannot reach a unanimous decision as to the weighing of aggravating and mitigating circumstances, the jury cannot impose a death sentence but must consider the other sentences that may be imposed.“)
- NRS 176.025.
- NRS 200.030; Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002).
- NRS 176.355; see also David Ferrara, “Future of executions in Nevada remains in question“, Las Vegas Review-Journal (December 27, 2019).
- Nevada pursues death chamber, controversial drug by Sandra Chereb, Las Vegas Review-Journal (July 13, 2015).
- David Montero, Nevada execution halted after drug company sues to stop it, L.A. Times (July 11, 2018).
- Will Nevada death chamber be a million-dollar boondoggle? by Darcy Spears, KTNV-13 ABC (March 30, 2017).
- Mack v. State, (2003) 119 Nev. 421, 75 P.3d 803; Nevada judge halts execution of convicted killer after drug company files suit, NBC News (July 11, 2018). Rio Yamat, Judge: Nevada can’t yet consider death sentence commutations, AP (December 19, 2022).