Nebraska State Constitution Article I-20

Article I-20


Imprisonment for debt prohibited.

No person shall be imprisoned for debt in any civil action on mesne or final process.


  • Neb. Const. art. I, sec. 20 (1875);
  • Amended 1998, Laws 1997, LR 26CA, sec. 1.


1. Cases involving fraud

2. Debt

3. Miscellaneous

1. Cases involving fraud

Section 28-611(1), R.R.S.1943, the Nebraska "bad check statute", does not violate this section of the Constitution because section 28-611(1), R.R.S.1943, contains the elements of fraud by its very definition. State v. Kock, 207 Neb. 731, 300 N.W.2d 824 (1981).

Section 69-109, R.S.Supp.,1980, held not to violate this section, since a requirement of fraud has been engrafted onto the statute by judicial interpretation and thereafter statute was reenacted in same form by Legislature, thus supplying the fraud requirement. State v. Hocutt, 207 Neb. 689, 300 N.W.2d 198 (1981).

Statute which permits criminal prosecution without requiring proof of fraud violates this section. State ex rel. Norton v. Janing, 182 Neb. 539, 156 N.W.2d 9 (1968).

2. Debt

"Debt," as stated in state constitutional prohibitions of imprisonment for debt, is generally viewed as an obligation to pay money from the debtor's own resources, which arose out of a consensual transaction between the creditor and the debtor. Sickler v. Sickler, 293 Neb. 521, 878 N.W.2d 549 (2016).

Imprisonment for contempt for the failure to comply with the order of property division in a dissolution decree does not violate this provision. Sickler v. Sickler, 293 Neb. 521, 878 N.W.2d 549 (2016).

Whether an obligation is a "debt" depends on the origin and nature of the obligation and not on the manner of its enforcement. Sickler v. Sickler, 293 Neb. 521, 878 N.W.2d 549 (2016).

Award of alimony, suit money and attorney's fees in divorce action does not create "debt" within meaning of this section. Jensen v. Jensen, 119 Neb. 469, 229 N.W. 770 (1930).

Order to pay temporary alimony is not a mere debt, and imprisonment for contempt in willfully refusing to obey such order does not violate this section. Cain v. Miller, 109 Neb. 441, 191 N.W. 704 (1922).

Fine for violation of liquor laws, one-fourth to be paid to complaining witness, is not a debt. Sothman v. State, 66 Neb. 302, 92 N.W. 303 (1902).

Judgment in "children born out of wedlock" proceeding is not debt. Ex parte Donahoe, 24 Neb. 66, 38 N.W. 28 (1888); Ex parte Cottrell, 13 Neb. 193, 13 N.W. 174 (1882).

3. Miscellaneous

Statute, making issuance of no-fund check a criminal offense, does not violate constitutional provision against imprisonment for debt. White v. State, 135 Neb. 154, 280 N.W. 433 (1938).

Act providing for prosecution and punishment by imprisonment of husband for refusal to pay alimony for support of minor child is not violative of this section. Fussell v. State, 102 Neb. 117, 166 N.W. 197 (1918).

This section has no application to the case of a license tax imposed upon peddlers, if the object is the raising of revenue and its enactment was an exercise of the taxing power and not the police power. Rosenbloom v. State, 64 Neb. 342, 89 N.W. 1053 (1902).