Nebraska Statutory Rape Laws

Statutes governing Nebraska's age of consent, associated criminal charges, available defenses, and penalties for conviction.

By , Attorney · University of Houston Law Center
Updated March 04, 2024

Nebraska law makes it illegal for a person to have consensual sexual activity with a minor younger than 16, with a few exceptions (see below). Anyone who engages in such unlawful conduct can face charges for varying degrees of sexual assault.

What Is the Age of Consent in Nebraska?

In Nebraska, the age of consent is 16. Anyone who engages in sexual activity with a child younger than 16 can face charges for statutory rape or a similar crime. For these age-based sexual offenses, it's immaterial whether the child consented to the activity or not. The child's age is the important fact, as it determines whether that person can legally consent to sexual activities.

Nebraska's Statutory Rape Laws and Penalties

Statutory rape is prosecuted under Nebraska's rape and sex crimes laws. Penalties depend on the ages of the defendant and victim and the sexual activity that occurred (sexual penetration or contact). Second and subsequent convictions can result in harsher penalties.

Sexual penetration includes genital, oral, or anal sex, or penetration with an object or body part, however slight.

Sexual contact means sexual touching of the victim's sexual or intimate parts, under or over clothing, to arouse or gratify a person's sexual desires.

What Are the Penalties for Statutory Rape Crimes in Nebraska?

Nebraska divides statutory rape offenses into sexual penetration and contact crimes. First-degree offenses are penetration crimes, and the third-degree offense is a contact crime. All carry felony penalties.

Sexual Assault of a Child in the First Degree

A person commits sexual assault of a child in the first degree by:

  • subjecting a child younger than 12 years old to sexual penetration when the defendant is 19 or older, or
  • subjecting a child who is 12 to 15 years old to sexual penetration when the defendant is age 25 or older.

    First-degree sexual assault of a child constitutes a Class IB felony, which carries 15 years to life in prison for the first offense.

    Sexual Assault in the First Degree

    First-degree sexual assault occurs when a defendant who is 19 to 24 subjects a minor who is 12 to 15 years old to sexual penetration. Sexual assault in the first degree is a Class II felony, punishable by 1 to 50 years' imprisonment.

    Sexual Assault of a Child in the Third Degree

    A person who is 19 or older commits third-degree sexual assault of a child by engaging in sexual contact with a child age 14 or younger. Such an offense constitutes a Class IIIA felony, subjecting a guilty defendant to up to three years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

    (Neb. Rev. Stat. §§ 28-105, 28-318, 28-319, 28-319.01, 28-320.01 (2024).)

    Does Nebraska Have a Romeo-and-Juliet Law?

    Yes. In many states, "Romeo and Juliet" exceptions—named for Shakespeare's teenage lovers—protect young people from harsh criminal charges for engaging in consensual sexual conduct with others close to their own age. Nebraska's Romeo-and-Juliet exemption protects from prosecution certain minors who engage in consensual sex. Individuals who are 18 or younger cannot be convicted of statutory rape.

    Defenses to Statutory Rape Charges in Nebraska

    Defendants charged with sex-related crimes of minors in Nebraska have several potential defenses available to them. At the same time, the law prohibits or limits the use of certain defenses.

    Actual innocence. Defendants charged with statutory rape or a similar crime have the usual defenses available to all criminal defendants, such as "Someone else committed this crime," or "The alleged conduct did not occur."

    Consent. While many offenders attempt to use consent as a defense, this does not constitute a sufficient defense in sex crime prosecutions involving a victim younger than 16 when the offender is 19 or older.

    Mistake of age. Defendants accused of statutory rape often claim they had no reason to know that their partner was underage. They may argue that the victim claimed to be older than they really were, and that a reasonable person would have believed them. Like many states, Nebraska doesn't recognize a mistake-of-age defense for sex crimes involving underage victims, even if the child actively concealed or misrepresented their age.

    Marriage. In many states, it is a defense to a charge of statutory rape that the defendant and the child are married, but not in Nebraska. Nebraska was the first state to abolish the marital rape exemption, and it did so for statutory rape cases.

    (State v. Campbell, 239 Neb. 14, 473 N.W.2d 420 (1991); State v. Willis, 223 Neb. 844, 394 N.W.2d 648 (1986).)

    Is Sex Offender Registration Required for a Statutory Rape Conviction?

    Yes. Nebraska's Sex Offender Registration Act requires, in addition to the applicable fines and incarceration time, people convicted of certain sexual crimes (including statutory rape) to register as sex offenders. Depending on the level of the sex offense, registration lasts from 25 years to life.

    A person who fails to register is guilty of a Class IIIA felony, punishable by up to three years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Subsequent failures can result in Class IIA felony convictions.

    (Neb. Rev. Stat. §§ 29-4003, 29-4005 (2024).)

    Talk to a Lawyer

    If you are facing a charge of statutory rape or a similar crime, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney in your area as soon as possible. A lawyer can evaluate the strength of the prosecution's case against you and help develop any defenses that might apply to the unique circumstances of your case. A knowledgeable attorney can also advise you on how the law will apply to your set of facts.

    Get Professional Help

    Talk to a Sex Crime attorney.

    How It Works

    1. Briefly tell us about your case
    2. Provide your contact information
    3. Choose attorneys to contact you

    Talk to a Lawyer

    Need a lawyer? Start here.

    How it Works

    1. Briefly tell us about your case
    2. Provide your contact information
    3. Choose attorneys to contact you