WILLFULLY POISONING OR ADULTERATING FOOD, WATER OR MEDICINE
As should be fairly obvious, it is a crime in Nevada to poison something that can be consumed, such as food, drinks or medicine. Convictions for poisoning carry harsh penalties.
What is the legal definition of a Poisoning?
Poisoning is governed by NRS 202.170.
NRS 202.170 – Willfully poisoning or adulterating food, water or medicine.
A person who willfully mingles poison or any other harmful substance, including, but not limited to, glass or a razor blade, in any food, drink or medicine intended or prepared for the use of a human being, and a person who willfully poisons any spring, well or reservoir of water, is guilty of a category B felony and shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for a minimum term of not less than 2 years and a maximum term of not more than 15 years, or by a fine of not more than $10,000, or by both fine and imprisonment.
Poisoning seems pretty straightforward, isn’t it basically murder or attempted murder?
Those crimes can also be charged, depending on the circumstances and outcome of the poisoning. However, poisoning does not always lead to death, nor is it always intended to lead to the victim’s death. Consequently, the definition for poisoning is far broader than murder or attempted murder. Essentially, the Nevada poisoning laws prohibit putting any harmful substance into food, drinks, or medicine intended for human use or consumption.
For example, putting saline eye drops into someone’s drink though not likely to kill the victim will likely cause incredible pain and stomach irritation. Even though death was not the goal or even likely, this would still be considered a poisoning because the substance was harmful to the victim.
Please Note: Poisoning is an intent crime, meaning that the harmful substance must have been intentionally mixed into the food, drink or medicine in order to be convicted. HOWEVER, it is not a requirement that the harmful substance was intended to harm someone. In other words, even if the harmful substance was not intended to actually harm anyone, if it was intentionally mixed into the food, drink, or medicine, it is still considered poisoning.
Given that poisoning is not always an attempted murder (as noted in the above example), it is a lesser crime than murder or attempted murder. However, murder and attempted murder can be charged in conjunction with poisoning if the intent or result of the poisoning was the death of the victim.
Is there anything else I should know?
Nevada also criminalizes the poisoning of animals, so long as the animal is not rabid or otherwise noxious (which just means that the dog is dangerous and possibly even lethal).
The penalties are harsh, particularly for the poisoning of horses, mules, or domestic cattle, because the act is seen as either malicious or a wanton disregard for others, given that the animal belongs to someone else. Moreover, poisoning is not generally a painless way death or sickness for the animal, so the punishment reflects the pain and suffering of the animal. The harsher penalty for horses, mules, and domestic cattle stems from the fact that those particular animals are often used as part of someone’s livelihood and as such, poisoning the animals does more than just hurt the animal(s), it damages the animal’s owner’s ability to survive.
What are the possible penalties?
The possible penalties for poisoning depend on what specific poisoning law is being charged.
The poisoning of animals (other than horses, mules, or domestic cattle) is a gross misdemeanor in Nevada and carries a possible sentence of:
- Up to 364 days in jail; and/or
- Possible fines up to $2,000.
The poisoning of horses, mules, or domestic cattle is a category C felony in Nevada and carries with it:
- Between 1 and 5 years in prison;
- Possible fines up to $10,000; and
- Possible restitution to replace the animal.
Violations of NRS 202.170 are charged as category B felonies. Convictions carry a possible sentence of:
- Between 2 and 15 years in a Nevada State Prison; and/or
- Possible fines up to $10,000.
If you are being charged with attempted murder by means of poison, then you will be facing charges for a category A felony in Nevada and will be facing:
- Life in a Nevada State Prison with the possibility of parole after 5 years; or
- 15 years in Nevada State Prison with the possibility of parole after 5 years.
If you are being charged with murder by poison, then you will also be facing charges for a category A felony. However, the possible penalties are more severe, and include:
- Capital punishment; or
- Life in a Nevada State Prison without the possibility for parole; or
- Life in a Nevada State Prison with the possibility for parole after 20 years; or
- 50 years in a Nevada State Prison with the possibility for parole after 20 years.
Are there any Defenses?
Yes, of course there are. Some of the possible defenses include:
- No Intent – This is a tricky defense because it requires that there was no intent to poison the food, drink, water source or medicine. However, intent, in this regard, means that you had knowledge that the added ingredient is, in fact poisonous. In other words, if you put peanuts into food for your friend, and you had no reason to know that they were allergic to peanuts, then you had no intent. On the other hand, dumping an old pesticide into a nearby lake would be considered intentional because you had knowledge that the pesticide’s poisonous effects when it was dumped into a water supply. This applies even if the water supply is only used for swimming. Even though you may have had no intent to poison anyone or anything, you had the intent to dump a poisonous substance into a water supply, and could therefore be charged with poisoning food, drink, water source or medicine. If the prosecution cannot show that you had the intent to dump substance that you knew to be poisonous or harmful, then the charges against you should be dropped or dismissed.
- No Harmful Substance – It should go without saying that if the substance that is added to a food, drink, water source or medicine is not harmful, then no poisoning occurred. If you can show that the substance was not harmful, or was in such a small amount as to not be harmful, then the charges against you should be dropped or dismissed.
- Lack of Evidence – As with any crime, the prosecution bears the burden of proving every element of the crime “beyond a reasonable doubt.” If there is not enough evidence to uphold this high level of proof, then the charges should be dropped or dismissed.
What should I do if I’ve been charged with Poisoning?
As with any crime, it is very important that you speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible so that you can discuss the specific circumstances as well as any defenses that may apply to your case.