Like most states, Nebraska distinguishes misdemeanors from felonies based on the amount of time a person could spend behind bars. Misdemeanors carry a maximum possible sentence of a year in jail. Penalties of more than a year's incarceration and up to life behind bars are felonies. Check out Nebraska Felony Crimes by Class and Sentences to learn more.
This article will discuss the penalty, sentencing, and expungement options for Nebraska misdemeanors.
Nebraska divides its misdemeanors into seven classes. Class I and W are the most serious misdemeanors, while Class IV and V are the least serious with no possibility of jail time.
Misdemeanors include a wide variety of offenses from low-level property crimes to person offenses. Examples of class I and II misdemeanors include third-degree assault, threats of domestic assault, stalking, violating a harassment protection order, and theft of less than $500. Class III and IIIA misdemeanors include several unlawful possession crimes (such as fireworks, dangerous dogs, and radar detectors), as well as second-degree criminal trespass. Fine-only misdemeanors (classes IV and V) include certain agricultural and gambling offenses and status offenses (like underage smoking and tobacco use).
Nebraska law provides enhanced penalties for certain misdemeanors, such as those motivated by bias or committed against vulnerable victims, as well as repeat offenses. Enhanced penalties increase the possible maximum sentence available for the offense.
For instance, a second domestic assault involving bodily injury bumps up from a class I misdemeanor to a class IIIA felony. The same increased penalty applies to a third-degree assault when committed against an on-duty emergency responder or health care provider. And certain crimes (including criminal mischief and trespass) increase to the next higher penalty classification when committed against a victim based on bias. These are just a few examples of Nebraska's sentencing enhancements.
(Neb. Rev. Stat. §§ 28-106, -111, -323, -931 (2021).)
Judges have several sentencing options and alternatives for misdemeanors offenses. While jail time is an option, it's not necessarily a given. A person with a relatively clean record could receive a deferred judgment or probation sentence and serve little or no jail time. A first-time offender might even be eligible for pretrial diversion, which can avoid a criminal record altogether. But the judge will be looking at the circumstances of the offense, the defendant's character and criminal record, and the likelihood the defendant can remain law-abiding. A repeat offender who hasn't shown the ability to stay out of trouble could very well spend time behind bars.
A judge may order a convicted misdemeanor offender to spend time in jail. (Misdemeanants don't typically serve time in prison unless they are also serving time on a felony sentence.) Nebraska laws dictate the maximum sentence and, for certain DUIs, a minimum sentence for a misdemeanor conviction. (See above for classifications and penalties). The judge can impose any amount of jail time up to the maximum allowed. It's common for the judge to also impose fines, court costs, and restitution (payment to compensate a victim).
Instead of jail time, a judge may choose to place the defendant on probation. Probation allows a defendant to serve their time in the community—but only as long as they comply with court conditions. Common probation conditions include remaining law-abiding, maintaining employment or attending school, attending counseling, paying restitution to victims, completing community service, not possessing firearms, and remaining in the state. In some cases, a judge can impose short jail sentences as part of probation.
Nebraska law authorizes several intensive probation programs, including Intensive Supervised Probation (ISP) and Specialized Substance Abuse Supervision (SSAS). ISP and SSAS incur the highest levels of probation supervision, such as monitored curfews, home and employment visitation, daily check-ins with probation officers, and electronic monitoring.
For a first misdemeanor offense, the judge can order probation for up to two years. A second misdemeanor bumps up the time on probation to five years. If the probationer does well on probation, the court can discharge the probationer early. Successful completion of probation means the criminal sentence is complete. Violating probation can mean being brought back in front of the court to face administrative sanctions, custodial sanctions (short jail stays), or imposition of the original suspended jail sentence. (Neb. Rev. Stat. §§ 29-2261, -2262, -2262.04, -2263 (2021).)
Except in certain cases (like DUI and domestic abuse), a court may find a defendant guilty but hold off on entering the conviction and imposing the sentence. The court will consider several factors before deferring judgment, such as the seriousness of the offense, harm caused to victims, and the defendant's character and history. The prosecutor can also object to a deferral.
If granted, the judge places the defendant on probation subject to conditions. A defendant who successfully completes their probation can have the case dismissed and records sealed. (More on this below.) But upon a violation, the judge can impose any sentence that could have originally been set. (Neb. Rev. Stat. § 29-2292 (2021).)
The law authorizes prosecutor officers to establish pretrial diversion programs. A defendant must generally apply to participate in the program, and the individual prosecutor's office determines eligibility requirements. A program might, for instance, only accept first-time, non-violent misdemeanor offenders. Some programs address only juvenile offenders or offenders with mental health issues, while others focus on restorative justice work between police and community members. Acceptance is not guaranteed even when the program is offered.
Generally in diversion programs, the prosecutor will hold off on filing charges and the participant must agree to complete all the program conditions, such as completing community service, remaining law-abiding, and paying a fee. The prosecutor may dismiss the case upon completing the program or refile charges for a violation. Successfully completing diversion comes with several advantages, including avoiding a criminal court record and having all charges dropped and sealed.
Nebraska law doesn't allow convictions to be sealed or expunged from public view. A person can seek a pardon or set-aside, which removes certain civil disabilities of the conviction, but it does not remove the conviction from the public record. Potential employers, landlords, and lending institutions can still see the set-aside conviction.
However, if the judge dismisses the case for a deferred judgment or acquittal, records will automatically be sealed. For charges dismissed by a prosecutor in a diversion case, all records will be sealed after two years. The public cannot access sealed records. (Neb. Rev. Stat. § 29-3523 (2021).)
Like other states, Nebraska law requires prosecutors to file criminal charges within a certain amount of time after a crime is committed or believed to have been committed. This time limit is known as a criminal statute of limitations. For misdemeanors, this time limit ranges from 12 to 18 months. Find more information in Criminal Statute of Limitations in Nebraska. (Neb. Rev. Stat. § 28-113 (2021).)
A conviction for a misdemeanor in Nebraska becomes part of your permanent criminal record. If you are convicted later of another crime, the court can consider your prior conviction and impose a harsher sentence in the new case. And a conviction—even for a minor crime—can hurt you when you are applying for a job, housing, loan, or professional license.
If you've been arrested for or charged with a misdemeanor, talk to a criminal defense attorney in your area. Your attorney can review your case, protect your rights, and work to achieve the best outcome in your case. A local attorney will know how the prosecutor's office typically handles a case like yours.