Indecent exposure might sound like a funny thing to some people, but it is a real crime and those who are found guilty of it face a life of consequences. The good news is that many courts in California have historically ruled with some leniency when it comes to indecent exposure, which means it can be a difficult crime to prove and be determined guilty of.
At Orange County Criminal Attorney, we help people throughout Orange County, California, to fight and beat cases of indecent exposure and other sex crimes. A formal charge of indecent exposure might leave you feeling confused, angry, frustrated, and overwhelmed, unsure of where to start. Luckily, that’s where we come in: with our years of experience in fighting these types of accusations in court, we can help you understand your options.
We put together this guide to understanding the legal definition and ramifications of indecent exposure in California. We’ll cover definitions, how to prove a charge versus how to fight one, punishment for the crime, and even demystify some common misconceptions. Please know that this guide is intended to be educational in nature – it is not meant to serve as your rules of the road when trying to navigate a charge of indecent exposure.
If you or a loved one are charged with indecent exposure in California, seek a lawyer who specializes in this field in order to understand your rights and responsibilities and to mount your best defense to secure a not guilty determination.
What is Indecent Exposure?
The general concept of indecent exposure is a legal term that describes a person who deliberately and willfully exposes himself or herself (wholly or a portion of the body) to the view of the general public in a situation that is contrary to local or traditional customs, expectations of appropriate behavior, or local law.
In most states in the U.S., it is illegal for people to expose their genitals (male sex organs including the penis, scrotum, penis and more, female sex organs including the vagina, vulva, labia, and more, buttocks, etc.), including female breasts. Because of the sexual nature of the intention, indecent exposure is typically considered a sex crime.
California And Indecent Exposure
California Penal Code Section 314 makes it illegal to expose oneself indecently in a public place. The law prohibits any situation wherein a person, both willfully and lewdly, meets all of the following conditions:
- Exposes his or her own full, naked body or the “private parts” of his or her body in any public place.
- Exposes his or her own full, naked body or the “private parts” of his or her body in any non-public place where other people are offended or annoyed by such an action.
- Helps, counsels, or procures yourself or another person in order to exhibit or expose the person to public view for the lewd purposes of sexual arousal or sexual offense.
In order to more fully understand the various requirements of an indecent exposure crime, let’s explain some of this legal language:
- “Willfully” means you meant (intended) to expose yourself. For instance, you took your pants and underwear down, which is difficult to do if you did not mean to. On the other hand, if a woman’s skirt blew up with a gust of wind, she exposed herself accidentally – without intending to do so.
- “Lewdly” means you had a purpose that was sexual in nature, such as arousing yourself, arousing another person, or that you wanted to offend another person. This means that if you exposed yourself without sexual purpose, such as exposing your breast to feed your baby, the charge of indecent exposure is invalid. If, on the other hand, you exposed your genitals in order to masturbate, a charge of indecent exposure is valid.
- “Naked body” and “private parts” means you have shown a part of your body that is not clothed but normally would be, such as your genitals or your buttocks.
In California, indecent exposure is generally tried and prosecuted as a misdemeanor crime for first-time offenders. Repeat sex criminals or aggravated circumstances can lead to more severe misdemeanor punishments or a felony crime conviction.
Proving Indecent Exposure in California Courts
In California, the responsibility of proving indecent exposure rests with the prosecuting team – the lawyer and legal team representing the person or group who filed charges against you. This idea of proving the case is known as the “burden of proof”, a legal term which means that it is the prosecution who must prove the following conditions, beyond reasonable doubt. The responsibility of the defense lawyer (your attorney) is to cast enough doubt or suspicion on the prosecution’s argument to encourage the court or jury to return a decision of not guilty.
In order to meet the burden of proof, the prosecuting team must satisfactorily prove the following conditions:
- Your willful intent to expose yourself.
- Your willful intent to gain public attention focused upon your genitals.
- Your purpose to gratify you or another person sexually or to offend another person.
- The presence of one or more persons who were or would be offended or annoyed by your willful action.
Penalties and Punishment for Indecent Exposure
At first glance, indecent exposure may seem like a lighter, less serious offense. However, because it falls under the category of sex crimes, California state law does regard the crime as a misdemeanor offense. Though misdemeanors are less severe than felony crimes, the imperative punishments of a sex crime can have long-lasting effects on your life.
If you are convicted (determined guilty) of indecent exposure and it is your first serious crime, your punishment will likely include the following:
- Imprisonment of up to six (6) months’ time served in a county jail (different from a state prison)
- Payment of a fine up to $1,000
- Any combination of the above
If you are found guilty for a second time, you may be subject to imprisonment in a state prison.
Upon completion of your sentence, however, you are not free from consequence. Your record will continue to reflect your misdemeanor crime. More significantly, though, is that you will be required to register with the State of California’s sex offender registry for a minimum of 10 years. Additional circumstances such as repeat offenses of this or other sex crimes can extend your time on the sex registry for up to the remainder of your life.
Aggravated Indecent Exposure
California law also recognizes a more severe version of indecent exposure known as aggravated indecent exposure. Aggravated implies that the situation was more intense or significant because of certain circumstances. In order for aggravated indecent exposure to a valid charge, each of the following conditions must be met:
- You willfully exposed yourself per the same definition of indecent exposure (above).
- Your exposure occurred in a home, building, trailer, or similar private property.
- You entered such private property without permission of the owner or person of responsibility.
The first case of aggravated indecent exposure likely receives the following penalties:
- Imprisonment of up to 1 years’ time served in a county jail (different from a state prison)
- Payment of a fine up to $1,000
- Any combination of the above
If, however, your aggravated indecent exposure is tried and convicted as a felony crime, as it may be determined by the prosecution under California law, you may receive the following punishment:
- Imprisonment in a California state prison for a time of 16 months, 2 years, or 3 years
- Payment of a fine up to $10,000
- Registering with the state as a sex offender for a minimum of 10 years’ time
If you are convicted of a felony crime, you are also subject to additional loss of rights, such as the right to own a legal firearm and the right to vote. You will also have significant trouble trying to maintain or obtain gainful employment, as most employers avoid hiring convicted felons.
Defending Against Indecent Exposure Charges
Your best chance to beat the charges against you rests with your attorney. Seeking a skilled, local attorney who specializes in defending against sex crimes and indecent exposure is imperative. You may also want to consider an attorney and legal team who are familiar with the local courts and the reputation of various judges, as that can affect how a jury hears your case.
The most important thing your legal team will do is create your defense strategy. Here are some common strategies for defending against indecent exposure:
- You exposed yourself with a purpose other than lewd intent. You may have exposed yourself, but you did so for another purpose, such as a political or personal statement, not one related to sexual arousal or sexual offense.
- You exposed yourself accidentally. You may be able to argue that your exposure was accidental, such as caused by the wind or another person’s actions against you.
- You were not in public view. This can be a strong argument in many cases. California courts seem hesitant to determine guilt for people who may have exposed themselves in a public place, such as a park, but in a specific, secluded area such as a hidden spot in bushes or trees where your actions were not evident.
- You were unaware that anyone else was present. This may follow the similar thought of the previous point – that you were not in public view.
- You mistook the people who were present would not be offended. You may have believed you were surrounded by people who supported your action, such as at a political rally or a relaxing setting. You did not expect that others in your area would be offended.
- You are innocent. You may be a victim of someone’s personal vendetta, or simply the wrong person at the wrong time.
Debunking Common Myths About Indecent Exposure
Test your knowledge of indecent exposure in California with these following true/false statements.
Any exposure in public qualifies as indecent exposure. False. In order for the charge to be valid, the legal team must be able to prove that your exposure was both intentional and meant to either (a) sexually arouse yourself or another person, or (b) sexually offend someone else. If your exposure was accidental or intended to convey a different message, such as one of political, personal, or other purposes, indecent exposure is likely legally invalid.
Indecent exposure depends on the alleged exposer’s intent to use sex to either arouse or offend. True. If the alleged exposer’s intent does not align with sexual arousal or offense, the incident is unlikely to qualify for indecent exposure in California.
A first-time offense of indecent exposure will likely be tried as a misdemeanor crime. True. For first-time offenders of indecent exposure or similar sex crimes, California likely sentences you to a misdemeanor punishment, as listed above. However, you will likely be required to keep an updated record with the state’s sex offender registry, as you have been deemed guilty of a sex crime. The sex offender registry can have long-term consequences, making it difficult to obtain work or housing in certain areas or situation.
A charge of indecent exposure is essentially the same as a guilty decision (conviction). False. When a person, group, or other entity (the state) charges you with indecent exposure, it is merely the formal accusation that triggers the legal process for determining whether you are guilty or not guilty of the crime in question. You are able to fight any charge against you. Your first important decision is likely who to choose as your defense lawyer.
Hiring the Best Indecent Exposure Attorney Near Me
Our Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney is here and ready to help you fight the sex crimes you may be accused of. We have worked with many clients across Orange County and we are experts at understanding California sex crime laws, including indecent exposure. You can feel at ease thanks to the support, guidance, and expert knowledge we can provide you. Ready to get started? Simply call us today at 714-831-1858 and we will help you get started in protecting your rights and reputation.