Felony offenses are more serious crimes than misdemeanors; felony convictions carry the possibility of longer sentences and larger fines.
There are ten classes of felonies in Nebraska. Class I felonies are the most serious and Class IV felonies are the least serious.
- Class I Felony: punishable by death
- Class IA Felony: mandatory life imprisonment
- Class IB Felony: 20 years to life imprisonment
- Class IC Felony: mandatory minimum of 5 years to 50 years imprisonment
- Class ID Felony: mandatory minimum of 3 years imprisonment and up to 50 years imprisonment
- Class II Felony: 1 year to 50 years imprisonment
- Class IIA Felony: 0 to 20 years imprisonment
- Class III Felony: 0 to 4 years imprisonment and if incarceration is imposed, 9 months to 2 years of post-release supervision, and/or up to $20,000 fine
- Class IIIA Felony: 0 to 3 years imprisonment and if incarceration is imposed, 9 to 18 months of post-release supervision
- Class IV Felony: 0 to 2 years imprisonment, up to 12 months of post-release supervision, and/or up to $10,000 fine
Unless prohibited by a specific statute, a sentencing court may choose to suspend a sentence of incarceration and instead impose probation. Probation generally involves some form of community supervision in lieu of incarceration, but the terms are selected by the sentencing court based on their view of the Defendant’s needs for rehabilitation. Probation can include periods of incarceration. Nebraska Revised Statute § 29-2262 outlines the common terms a judge may require a probationer to follow.
Nebraska Revised Statute § 28-105(2) provides for where a felony sentence of imprisonment is served. All sentences where more than 1 year is imposed is served at the Department of Correctional Services (DCS). All sentences where less than 1 year of imprisonment is imposed is served at the county jail. Exceptions apply when an inmate is serving concurrent or consecutive sentences of mixed length.
In general, serious felony sentences are indeterminate, meaning that a range is given when the sentence is imposed (e.g., 1-20 years). The bottom number provides the date for parole eligibility and the top number provides the “jam date” or the point at which the facility must release the offender. In other words, if the Court imposes a term of incarceration for an offense that has a minimum, the Court is required to impose a term of incarceration of at least the minimum but cannot impose a sentence of more than maximum. For example, imagine someone is convicted of a Class II felony and received a sentence of 2-4 years of imprisonment. After 2 years of incarceration, the individual becomes parole eligible and may be released on parole. If the individual is not released on parole, at year 4, the individual is mandatorily released from incarceration.
It is important to remember that this sentence is still subject to good time and could be deferred by sentence of probation.
Calculating Good Time
Nebraska Revised Statute § 47-502 defines the good time rate for sentences served in county jails. After the first 15 days, an individual receives day for day credit. In other words, divide the sentence in half and add 7 days. For example, if the judge sentences a defendant to 30 days in jail, s/he will serve 22 days. By contrast, when serving time at DCS, the credit accrues day for day, so, a defendant can simply cut the sentence in half. For example, if the judge sentences someone to 2-4 years at DCS, the individual would serve 1-2 years with credit for good time.
Under § 28-105, “a person convicted of a felony for which a mandatory minimum sentence is prescribed shall not be eligible for probation.” Nebraska law requires someone to serve the mandatory minimum plus one-half of the remaining minimum sentence before becoming eligible for parole. In practical terms, this means that no good time accrues while serving the mandatory minimum, but after that point, the prescribed good time rate becomes effective.
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Enhancement in the criminal law context means an additional punishment is added to the base level offense. Enhancements typically involve repeated conduct, but they can also be for acts involving specific victims. Enhancements are distinguished from elements of the offense and are not found by the jury, but by the court at a separate hearing. Many misdemeanor crimes are “enhanceable,” meaning that a second or subsequent conviction results in a harsher penalty. For example, thefts, domestic assaults, resisting arrest, and driving under the influence charges can become felony level offenses with repetition. It is important to be aware of these collateral consequences and try to avoid these types of convictions.
Nebraska Revised Statute § 29-2221 defines when someone’s felony offense can be enhanced as a habitual criminal. This is the Nebraska version of California’s three-strikes law. The habitual criminal statute generally enhances the underlying felony conviction range to a mandatory minimum of ten to sixty years imprisonment. Or, with certain serious felonies (certain homicides, sex assaults, kidnapping, first degree assault, arson or using explosives to commit a felony), the range enhances to a mandatory minimum of twenty-five to sixty if the instant offense and at least one of the prior offenses fall into this class. In 2023, the statute was amended to restrict application to serious felonies.
Presentence Investigation Reports
After a conviction but prior to sentencing, a judge may order the individual to undergo a Presentence Investigation (PSI). PSIs are essentially mandatory in felony cases, but can be waived in certain circumstances. PSI reports are conducted by the county’s probation office and the purpose of the PSI is to provide the judge information about the individual to determine an appropriate sentence.
By statute, the PSI “shall include, when available, an analysis of the circumstances attending the commission of the crime, the person’s history of delinquency or criminality, physical and mental condition, family situation and background, economic status, education, occupation, and personal habits, and any other matters that the probation officer deems relevant or the court directs to be included.” Criminal histories and victim impact statements may also be required. If restitution is an issue, documentation is usually included because restitution may be ordered as part of the sentencing hearing. Neb. Rev. Stat. § 29-2281.
Because the contents of the PSI are considered by the judge in pronouncing a sentence, it’s important to have a skilled attorney to help prepare for the PSI.
Long Term Effects of a Felony Conviction
In addition to the possibility of lengthy prison sentences, felony convictions have serious additional consequences. A felony conviction will be permanently on that individual’s criminal history and will likely show up on a background check. A felony conviction makes it illegal under state and federal law to own or possess firearms, and other certain weapons, such as certain knives and brass or iron knuckles. In Nebraska, a person convicted of a felony will lose the right to vote during the felony sentence and for two-years after completing the sentence, the right to serve as a juror, and the right to hold public office. Because of the significant impacts a felony conviction can have on someone’s constitutional rights, it is essential to discuss the additional consequences of a felony conviction.
We Help Those Accused of Felony Crimes in Nebraska
If you are facing a felony charge, it’s vital to have a Nebraska criminal defense attorney who will build a strong defense and fight for the best possible outcome. Contact Berry Law today to discuss your case.