The death penalty is still permitted in Nevada, although a prisoner has not been executed for a crime for around a decade. Being sentenced to death can be devastating, and those who have been convicted of first degree murder need to do everything possible to prevent themselves from experiencing this fate. This means understanding the rules and requirements for penalty hearings in death penalty cases.
LV Criminal Defense routinely represents clients accused of serious crimes, including first degree murder offenses which could potentially result in a sentence of death. We try to provide assistance to clients early in the criminal justice process after they have been accused, so we can put our legal experience to work to help give defendants the strongest possible chance to secure acquittals.
If you have already been convicted, however, we also have the experience necessary to protect you and fight for you in a penalty hearing for first degree murder. This includes in situations where the penalty hearing could potentially result in the death penalty.
When a defendant is convicted of first degree murder, the sentencing for this crime takes place in a separate penalty hearing after the guilt phase of the trial is over. If a jury found the defendant guilty, the same jury will preside over the penalty hearing. If the defendant pled guilty and there was no jury but the death penalty is being sought, a jury will be impaneled solely for the purpose of presiding over the penalty phase of the case.
During the penalty hearing, there are specific instructions which have to be given to the jury by the court. Nevada Revised Statute section 175.554 details the instructions that a jury must receive and the process for providing those instructions. According to N.R.S. 175.554, the court has to instruct the jury at the end of the penalty hearing. The court has to provide information on aggravating circumstances the prosecutor has presented in order to explain why the defendant deserves a harsh sentence. The court also has to provide details on mitigating circumstances alleged by the defendant, which means instructing the jury on some of the factors which could help to excuse the defendant’s actions or justify a lighter sentence.
When the jury has received instructions, the jury has to determine if it believes any aggravating circumstances exist and if it believes any mitigating circumstances exist. The jury can impose the death penalty if it finds there was at least one aggravating circumstance and there were not any mitigating circumstances which outweigh the aggravating circumstances.
If the jury determines that death is the appropriate sentence, the jury has to deliver this verdict in written form and the written verdict has to be signed by the jury foreman. The written verdict has to explain the aggravating circumstances the jury determined beyond a reasonable doubt existed. The written verdict also has to say there were no mitigating circumstances which outweighed the aggravating circumstances.
After the verdict, a defendant could file a motion to set aside the penalty on the grounds of mental retardation. It is possible for a defendant to file this motion if a hearing on mental retardation has not yet been conducted. The court will respond to a motion by conducting a hearing on whether mental retardation as defined by law affects the defendant. If it is determined the defendant is mentally retarded, the death sentence must be set aside and a new penalty hearing should be conducted.
LV Criminal Defense helps defendants who are facing a death sentence. We will put our legal experience to work to help you make convincing arguments about mitigating circumstances. W’ll also assist you in trying to undermine the prosecutor’s evidence suggesting an aggravating circumstance existed.
Give us a call today to find out more about how our experienced Las Vegas criminal lawyers can put our knowledge to work to try to keep you off death row.