Penalty Hearing in Murder Cases Explained By Vegas Lawyer
First degree murder is the most serious criminal charge which a defendant can face in Nevada. In some circumstances, a conviction for a first degree murder could actually result in the death penalty. Life in prison is also a possible penalty for defendants found guilty of first degree murder.
Because the penalties are so extreme after a first degree murder conviction, a separate penalty hearing may be required as part of the trial process.
If you are charged with first degree murder, your best option is to get an aggressive Las Vegas criminal defense lawyer on your side. Your attorney needs to have extensive experience with murder cases and should help you to explore the possibility of pleading to lesser charges or raising the most vigorous possible defense. The goal is to avoid conviction and not get to the penalty hearing.
If you have been convicted, however, you want a skilled legal professional providing you with representation during the penalty hearing. You need to understand what how the process of this hearing will unfold and how to try to secure the least serious penalty possible for a very serious crime.
LV Criminal Defense understands the process of a penalty hearing for first degree murder and we can provide invaluable assistance as you respond to charges. Give us a call as soon as you can so we can start to work on your behalf to try to save your future.
When is a Penalty Hearing for First Degree Murder Required?
Nevada law sets forth requirements for criminal trials in Chapter 175 of Title 14 of the Nevada Code. Chapter 175 deals with rules of criminal procedure in all types of trials, including those in which a defendant has been charged with or convicted of first degree murder. Within Chapter 175, there are several provisions establishing the process and protocol for a penalty hearing after a first degree murder conviction. For example:
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- N.R.S. 175.552 explains when a hearing is required after a first degree murder conviction and what the process of the hearing will involve.
- N.R.S. 175.554 sets forth special rules and requirements for death penalty cases.
- N.R.S. 175.556 explains the procedure to be followed when a jury is not able to reach a unanimous verdict.
The rules for when and how hearings are to be conducted and for instructions given to the jury can seem highly technical and full of legalese. Understanding these rules of criminal procedure, however, can make a big difference. You need to know what the process is for a penalty hearing after a first degree murder conviction so you can try to find ways to make the process work for you as well as it can. You also need to understand the legal protections which are in place, because it may be possible for you to appeal a decision that has been made if the procedural rules were not carefully followed.
LV Criminal Defense knows every detail of the Nevada criminal procedure code, including the provisions set forth which address penalty hearings for first degree murder cases.
We bring our substantive knowledge of criminal procedure rules to your case as part of our efforts to help you achieve the best possible outcome when you’ve been accused of criminal wrongdoing. If you are having a hearing or have been convicted of first degree murder, reach out to us now so we can start developing a strategy aimed at reducing the consequences of conviction.
When Is a Penalty Hearing for First Degree Murder Required?
According to N.R.S. 175.522, a penalty hearing for first degree murder is required in almost all cases in which a defendant has been found guilty of first degree murder. It is also required in cases where a defendant has been found guilty but mentally ill.
The hearing is required regardless of whether the prosecutor is seeking the death penalty and it must be conducted separately from the trial in which the jury determined the defendant’s guilt. However, if the death penalty is not being sought or is off the table because of the defendant’s mental illness, the parties can agree to waive the separate penalty hearing and allow a trial judge to impose a sentence on the defendant. The agreement has to be in writing, signed by the defendant, the prosecutor, and the defense attorney.
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When a hearing is not waived, there are specific requirements for when it takes place and who presides over it.
If a jury made the finding that the defendant was guilty, the penalty hearing has to be conducted in the same trial court and before the same jury. It has to be conducted as soon as possible.
If there was no jury because the defendant pled guilty or guilty but mentally ill, a jury has to be impaneled if the prosecutor is seeking the death penalty. A separate penalty hearing has to be conducted as soon as practical before the jury which was impaneled for purposes of the penalty hearing. If the death penalty is not being sought when a defendant pled guilty, then a penalty hearing has to be conducted as soon as possible before the judge who accepted the plea. No jury has to be impaneled under these circumstances.
What Happens During a Penalty Hearing for First Degree Murder?
When a penalty hearing takes place to determine sentencing after a first degree murder conviction, both the prosecution and defense can present evidence of mitigating and aggravating circumstances. Aggravating circumstances are things which make a defendant’s conduct seem worse, while mitigating circumstances make a defendant’s conduct seem better.
Evidence can also be presented on other matters the court deems relevant to sentencing, even if the evidence might not ordinarily be admissible during the phrase of the trial in which guilt or innocence is determined. An experienced Vegas defense lawyer can help defendants to determine how best to present evidence of mitigating circumstances which could result in a reduced sentence.
How a Las Vegas Defense Lawyer Can Help
If you’ve been arrested for first degree murder or convicted of this offense, you need to find a qualified Las Vegas criminal defense lawyer who can really fight hard to protect your future. Give LV Criminal Defense a call today to find out how our legal team can help you.