Nebraska Assault Laws and Penalties

The basics of Nebraska's assault crimes, definitions, penalties, and defenses.

By , Attorney · Mitchell Hamline School of Law
Updated January 25, 2024

Nebraska's assault crimes start as Class II misdemeanors but become serious felonies as the level or threat of harm increases. Harsher penalties apply when a defendant targets a victim in a protected class. Read on to learn what acts constitute misdemeanor versus felony assault and how these acts are punished in Nebraska.

To learn about the state's domestic assault laws, check out our article on Nebraska Domestic Violence Laws.

Understanding Nebraska's Assault Laws and Definitions

A person commits an assault in Nebraska by causing bodily injuries to another or by threatening another in a menacing manner. The law divides these crimes into degrees depending on the seriousness of the injuries, whether a dangerous instrument was used, and who the victim was.

Here are some definitions to aid in distinguishing the different degrees of assault.

Bodily injuries can be any physical pain, illness, or impairment of a physical condition, such as pain from being struck. Other examples of bodily injuries include a bloody lip, sprain, black eye, or lacerations.

Serious bodily injury means bodily injury that creates a substantial risk of death or serious permanent disfigurement or that involves a prolonged loss or impairment of a body part or organ. Examples might include knife or gunshot wounds, broken bones, or injuries involving extensive blood loss, requiring surgery, or resulting in permanent scarring.

Intentionally or knowingly means that the defendant wanted to cause the injuries or was aware their actions would result in injuries. A person who aggressively hits someone with a fist or tire iron wants to cause injuries or should at least be aware injuries will result.

Recklessly means a person disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk that their conduct will cause harm. Shoving someone or throwing a glass bottle in another's direction would be examples of actions that risk harm to another person.

(Neb. Rev. Stat. § 28-109 (2024).)

What Is Third-Degree Assault in Nebraska?

A person commits third-degree assault in Nebraska by:

  • intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly causing another bodily injury, or
  • threatening another in a menacing manner.

Third-degree assault is a misdemeanor.

Examples of Third-Degree Assault

Examples of third-degree assault would be hitting or kicking someone on purpose or recklessly shoving someone toward a sharp object or down some steps. Throwing a glass bottle or large object (like a lamp) at another would also be third-degree assault.

A person could be convicted of threatening another in a menacing manner if they promise to do another harm or place a reasonable person in fear of being harmed. Forcefully grabbing someone and threatening to beat them up would fall under this definition. Shaking a fist and coming at another angrily could also be considered menacing threats.

Misdemeanor Penalties for Third-Degree Assault

In most cases, third-degree assault carries Class I misdemeanor penalties, punishable by up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine. If the assault involved a mutual fight or scuffle, the penalty is a Class II misdemeanor. The maximum penalty for a Class II misdemeanor is six months of jail time and a $1,000 fine.

(Neb. Rev. Stat. §§ 28-106, 28-310 (2024); State v. Bryant, 971 N.W.2d 146 (Neb. 2022).)

What Is Second-Degree Assault in Nebraska?

Second-degree assault carries felony penalties. This level of assault occurs when a person:

  • intentionally or knowingly causes bodily injuries to another with a dangerous instrument
  • recklessly causes serious bodily injuries to another with a dangerous instrument, or
  • unlawfully strikes or wounds another while in lockup or correctional custody.

Examples of Second-Degree Assault

Unless a situation involves being in jail, prison, or another lockup, second-degree assault requires proof that a person used a "dangerous instrument" to harm another. A dangerous instrument is any object that is capable of inflicting bodily injury by how it's used. For example, it could be a knife, firearm, brass knuckles, glass bottle, steel-toed boot, or even a wooden board.

A person who acts intentionally or knowingly commits second-degree assault by causing bodily injuries. Reckless actions taken with a dangerous instrument rise to second-degree assault only if the resulting harm is considered a serious bodily injury.

For instance, a person who intentionally hits someone with their stiletto heel and cuts them could face second-degree assault charges. If the person had recklessly thrown the stiletto, a cut wouldn't likely rise to the level of serious bodily injury required for second-degree assault. However, if the recklessly thrown stiletto hit the person in the eye and caused serious damage to their vision, that could be second-degree assault.

Felony Penalties for Second-Degree Assault

Second-degree assault carries Class IIA felony penalties, punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

(Neb. Rev. Stat. §§ 28-105, 28-309 (2024).)

What Is First-Degree Assault in Nebraska?

A person can face charges for assault in the first degree by intentionally or knowingly causing another serious bodily injury.

Examples of First-Degree Assault

Examples of first-degree assault include a person who:

  • purposely breaks someone's jaw, arm, or leg
  • intentionally hits, shoots, or stabs someone resulting in extensive blood loss or life-threatening internal bleeding, or
  • knowingly cuts someone across their face, which results in permanent scarring.

While a dangerous instrument can be involved in first-degree assault, it's not required for a conviction.

Felony Penalties for First-Degree Assault

Assault in the first degree carries Class II felony penalties. A person convicted of a Class II felony faces one to 50 years of prison time and is not eligible for probation.

(Neb. Rev. Stat. §§ 28-105, 28-308 (2024).)

Other Types of Felony Assaults in Nebraska

Nebraska law carries separate penalties for assault by strangulation and assault of an officer, first responder, or health care worker. The law also carries enhanced felony penalties for hate crimes and assaulting a pregnant woman.

Felony Assault by Strangulation or Suffocation

Assault by strangulation or suffocation is always a felony offense, even if a victim suffers no visible injuries. A person commits this offense by knowingly or intentionally impeding another's normal breathing or blood circulation by covering their nose and mouth or applying pressure on their neck or throat.

This offense carries Class IIA felony penalties if the defendant:

  • used or attempted to use a dangerous instrument in the offense
  • caused the victim serious bodily injuries, or
  • had a prior conviction for the same offense.

Class IIA felony carries a maximum 20-year prison sentence. All other violations are Class IIIA felonies, with a maximum 3-year prison sentence.

Felony Assault of Police Officers, First Responders, Health Care Workers, and Others

A person will face increased penalties if they commit first-, second-, or third-degree assault against a police officer, firefighter, first responder, health care professional, or correctional officer who's engaged in their duties. A first-degree or second-degree assault increases by one felony level. A third-degree assault bumps up from a misdemeanor to a Class IIIA felony.

(Neb. Rev. Stat. §§ 28-929, 28-930, 28-931 (2024).)

Enhanced Felony Penalties for Hate Crimes

Under Nebraska's hate crime statute, a defendant who commits an assault in the first, second, or third degree because of the victim's race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age, disability, or other protected status will face the next higher penalty classification for the offense. For example, a Class II felony becomes a Class ID felony with an increased minimum prison sentence. A Class I misdemeanor increases to a Class IV felony.

Enhanced Felony Penalties for Assaulting a Pregnant Woman

Similar enhanced penalties apply if a person assaults a pregnant woman. However, this enhancement is broader and applies to:

  • assault in the first- through third-degrees
  • domestic assault in the first- through third-degrees
  • assault of an officer, firefighter, emergency responder, or health care professional in the first- through third-degrees, and
  • assault by strangulation or suffocation.

A convicted defendant faces the next higher felony class. For a Class I misdemeanor, the penalty increases to a Class IIIA felony.

(Neb. Rev. Stat. §§ 28-111, 28-115 (2024).)

Defenses to Assault Charges in Nebraska

Available defenses to assault charges depend on the circumstances of the offense. A defense attorney might raise an affirmative defense or try to poke holes in the prosecutor's case. If a prosecutor cannot prove all the elements of a crime beyond a reasonable doubt, the judge or jury must acquit.

Actual Innocence

Defendants charged with assault have the usual defenses available to all criminal defendants, such as "Someone else committed this crime," or "The alleged conduct did not occur." It's possible that the police got the wrong person or the victim or an eyewitness incorrectly identified the defendant as the culprit. In these cases, a defendant might need to present an alibi or other witnesses to testify that someone else committed the crime or try to discredit the eyewitness's testimony.


A common defense in assault crimes is self-defense. For instance, the defendant might argue that the alleged victim attacked or threatened to attack the defendant first.

Lack of Intent

Most assault crimes require the prosecutor to prove the defendant acted intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly. If the prosecutor doesn't establish the defendant acted intentionally or otherwise to cause the intended harm, the charges might be dismissed or reduced.

Level of Harm

Nebraska's assault crimes vary in seriousness depending on the resulting harm. A defense attorney might argue that a victim's resulting injuries don't rise to the level of serious bodily injuries. If successful, this argument could result in reduced penalties.

Talk to a Lawyer

If you face assault charges in Nebraska, consult a criminal defense attorney. An assault conviction can mean jail or prison time and lead to stiffer penalties for future crimes. Having a record of assault can also harm your ability to get a job or housing.

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