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What Do the Courts Consider in Indecent Exposure Cases?

Indecent exposure laws in most states make it a crime to purposefully display one's genitals in public, causing others to be alarmed or offended. While the motive will vary from person to person, indecent exposure is often committed for the sexual gratification of the offender or to entice either arousal or offense.

This article provides a brief overview of indecent exposure laws.

What Does It Really Mean to "Expose One's Genitals?"

Exposing one's genitals means just that -- to reveal one's bare genitals. Typically, flashing one's underwear, no matter how revealing or skimpy, is usually not considered indecent exposure for purposes of most states' laws. While showing a bared female breast could result in a criminal charge in some states, most states carve out an exception for women breastfeeding their babies, and some do not categorize bared breasts as an offense at all.

So, what about urinating in public? If one is urinating behind a dumpster, for example, outside direct view of the public (especially at night), that person likely would have a good argument that the act was not done with the purpose of sexual arousal, gratification, or offending another. But, whether or not public urination falls within the definition of indecent exposure will rely heavily on the way a state's statutes are written. Moreover, public urination is often prohibited by nuisance ordinances passed by local governments, so it is best to just find a restroom if at all possible.

Samples of State Indecent Exposure Laws

In California, for instance, to be convicted of indecent exposure, the prosecution must prove an intent to sexually arouse, sexually insult, or offend someone. The California statute broadly and vaguely makes it a crime to willfully expose one's genitals to someone else, motivated by a desire for sexual gratification or to give offense or insult to the other person.

Similarly, in Florida, a person cannot be convicted of this crime unless the offender had the intent to be lewd, lascivious, or indecent. Additionally, Florida not only makes exposing oneself in public a crime, but also doing it near or on someone else's private property.

In contrast to California and Florida, New York simply makes it a crime to expose or not have clothes on one's "private or intimate parts" in a public place. This prohibition is not without exceptions, as New York carves out a defense for those performing in a play or other type of show.

Penalties for Indecent Exposure

In most cases, the first conviction subjects an individual to misdemeanor penalties, which could entail a short stay in the county jail or just a fine. A second offense would likely carry tougher penalties, and repeat offenses could be prosecuted as felonies, which would usually lead to a state prison sentence. Moreover, in some states, like California, any type of conviction that involves exposing oneself can result in a lifetime duty to register as a sex offender.

This penalty often makes plea bargaining for an alternative charge a vital objective for the defense. On the other hand, prosecutors might be looking to upgrade their charges; an indecent exposure charge could reach the level of sexual assault if any physical contact is made.

Get Peace of Mind Today: Contact a Criminal Defense Lawyer

Although it may not seem like a serious crime, a conviction for indecent exposure could follow someone for the rest of their life, especially if the conviction requires sex offender registration. If you or a loved one has been charged with indecent exposure, it is important to have a strong legal team in place to establish facts favorable to your case and, where necessary bargain for an alternative charge.

Contact an experienced criminal defense attorney near you today.

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