Legal Dictionary

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Indecent Exposure

In general, indecent exposure (sometimes referred to as public indecency) is the deliberate exhibition of a person's private parts (genitals, buttocks and/or female nipples) in a public location. Breastfeeding mothers are exempt from prosecution for exposing their breasts in public in most states. In a few states, public nudity is illegal, regardless of the individual's intention. In other states, the exposure of the person's private parts must be done for the purpose of sexual arousal or shock. For example, in 2005, six men were arrested and convicted for indecent exposure for riding their bikes in the nude during during the World Naked Bike Ride in Chicago. In some places, bare skin doesn't even need to be showing -- "sagging" is indecent exposure under local ordinances in Delcambre and Mansfield, Louisiana. Legislative efforts to make sagging illegal throughout the state of Louisiana failed.

The prosecution and defense of indecent exposure criminal charges can be complicated, particularly in states like California where the person's motivation for exposing him or herself is an element of the crime. For example, sun tanning in the nude on an unoccupied, secluded beach, urinating in public and "mooning" someone are all examples of activities that most likely would not be considered "indecent exposure" in California, because the indecent exposure statute requires that the exposure be sexually motivated or intentionally offensive.

California Law

California Penal Code section 314 contains California's indecent exposure law. The elements of the crime, which all must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, are:

  1. The defendant exposed his or her private parts;
  2. The exposure was intentional;
  3. The exposure was done for the purposes of sexual arousal, gratification or offending another person; and
  4. The exposure occurred in a public place or a place where others were present.

In California, indecent exposure is usually charged as a misdemeanor. However, if the defendant exposes his or herself after entering an inhabited dwelling without permission, the offense may be charged as a felony. Second and subsequent indecent exposure offenses are charged as felonies. Indecent exposure may be considered a minor crime, but in California the penalties can be severe, particularly because a conviction requires registration as a sex offender. For example, in addition to sex offender registration, a person convicted for felony indecent exposure can be sentenced up to 3 years in state prison and a $10,000 fine.

Any person charged with indecent exposure should hire a criminal defense attorney experienced in defending sex crimes, because of the lifelong consequences of an indecent exposure conviction.