Understanding Felony Murder in Nevada

The criminal offense commonly called felony murder is a type of first degree murder in Nevada. The law defines felony murder as a murder that occurs during commission or attempted commission of specific crimes. Felony murder is a category A felony that carries severe potential penalties. Representation by an experienced criminal defense lawyer is essential for anyone charged with the offense.

Nevada Felony Murder Law

The applicable law is included in the first degree murder provisions of NRS 200.030(1). Subsection (b) does not actually use the term felony murder, but that provision defines an offense traditionally known as felony murder. Many states have felony murder offenses, but the laws vary widely from state to state. In Nevada, the first degree murder offense that constitutes felony murder requires commission or attempted commission of one of these specific crimes:

  • Sexual assault
  • Kidnapping
  • Arson
  • Robbery
  • Burglary
  • Home invasion
  • Sexual abuse of a child
  • Sexual molestation of a child under age 14
  • Child abuse
  • Abuse of an older or vulnerable person

Felony murder is one of five types of first degree murder specified in NRS 200.030.

A felony murder occurs when a person dies for any reason, even unintentionally or unexpectedly, during the actual or attempted commission of one of the specified offenses. The death may even be caused by another person or a natural event, like a heart attack. Under the Nevada felony murder rule, if a person not involved in the criminal activity dies, everyone involved in committing or attempting the offense can be charged with felony murder. These characteristics make the offense is substantially different from the other types of first degree murder, which require intent.

Potential penalties for a felony murder charge are significant. As a category A felony (the most serious level in Nevada), the offense carries possible penalties of a death sentence or imprisonment for life either without the possibility of parole or with the possibility of parole after a minimum of 20 years.

In NRS 200.033 and 200.035, Nevada statutes provide for both aggravating and mitigating circumstances in a first degree murder case. The statutory provisions are extremely complex and are one important reason why legal counsel is imperative for a felony murder charge.

Defenses to a Felony Murder Charge

The best defense to a felony murder charge is proving that the defendant did not commit or did not attempt to commit the underlying felony. Asserting this defense requires extensive investigation into the facts of the case and a thorough analysis of the applicable laws, including those relating to the individual offense that forms the basis for the felony murder charge.

Another potential defense is demonstrating that the death was not a consequence of the underlying offense. This defense is challenging to assert and prove, but if the facts support this conclusion, it can be a way to avoid application of the felony murder rule.

Part of the defense strategy in a felony murder charge also typically involves asserting the presence of mitigating circumstances. The statute provides that any of the following circumstances may mitigate a first degree murder charge, even if the mitigating circumstance is not sufficient to constitute a defense or reduce the degree of the offense:

  • The defendant has no significant history of prior criminal activity.
  • The defendant suffered extreme mental or emotional disturbance during commission of the crime.
  • The victim consented or was a participant in the criminal activity.
  • The defendant was an accomplice who did not commit the murder, and their role was relatively minor.
  • The defendant was under duress or domination of someone else.
  • Any other mitigating circumstance.

Since the language of the statute provides considerable latitude for the prosecutor and court to consider a wide range of potential mitigating circumstances, a criminal defense attorney leverages the mitigating facts of the case to the maximum extent possible, including during plea negotiations. In some situations, the mitigating circumstances may even provide a basis for a reduction in the degree of the offense.

Other defenses that may be available include self-defense (which is always an absolute defense to a homicide charge) or unlawful police conduct during the arrest or ensuing investigation. Available defenses in a particular case depend entirely on the facts and circumstances. A criminal defense lawyer conducts a thorough factual and legal analysis to determine the best defenses in for a charge.

Schedule a Free Consultation with a Las Vegas Criminal Defense Attorney

The severity of a felony murder charge and the complexity of the applicable laws make it crucial to have knowledgeable legal representation. If you face a felony murder charge, or any other state or federal criminal charge in Las Vegas, Henderson, and elsewhere in Clark County, criminal defense attorney Joseph Gersten is here to help. His investigative background and trial experience enable him to provide an aggressive defense for any criminal charge.

At The Gersten Law Firm, there is no charge for your initial consultation and case evaluation. Call 702.857.8777 or complete our online form to schedule an appointment.