Indecent exposure is one of several sex crimes in California. Consequently, a conviction for this offense may come with devastating consequences. Even though a first-time offense is only a misdemeanor, it carries a ten-year minimum duty of sex offender registration. Registering as a sex offender could significantly affect your capability of living your life privately. This is because the registration will be exposed to landlords and employers, and it may affect your ability to get housing, travel, or reside in your neighborhood safely.
For these reasons, you need expert legal help in case you get charged with indecent exposure, so your case doesn’t become a conviction. A criminal defense lawyer is the only individual to help you fight your charges. Therefore, you need to reach out to one as soon as you get charged. If you’re in Los Angeles and surrounding areas, lawyers at The LA Criminal Defense Law Firm will help you to the best of their ability so you can get the best possible outcome for your case. Where a win is not possible, we will negotiate with the prosecution team for a reduced, less severe charge that carries lenient penalties. The moment you reach out to us, we will start devising a winning defense strategy right away. In this article, we discuss the California law on indecent exposure, legal defenses, penalties, and related offenses.
The Lawful Meaning of Indecent Exposure
The lawful meaning of an indecent exposure offense is set forth under the Penal Code (PC) 314. It is one of the many sex crimes in California, which means willfully revealing your genital parts to another person, motivated by the desire to offend that person or to gratify yourself sexually.
The California law on indecent exposure is broad & vague. It may cover behaviors that you may not have considered were criminal. If you’re facing charges of indecent exposure, you may get surprised and might feel that the prosecution, jury, or judge is violating your rights. Interestingly, despite the constant alterations in the conduct the social order considers indecent, the California indecent exposure law has remained practically constant since its implementation in 1872.
The following are instances of conduct that may warrant an indecent exposure charge in California:
- A woman exposing her breasts publicly to gratify her fiancé sexually
- A teenager baring his genital parts to an aged female coming from the market to offend her
- A grownup man standing by the street corner swinging his genital parts to female passersby for purposes of achieving sexual gratification
Elements of the Crime
The lawful meaning of an indecent exposure crime revolves around various key factors that a prosecutor has to prove for you to be convicted. These facts are called the elements of the offense. The factors a prosecutor needs to show in an indecent exposure offense include:
- You willfully showed off your genital parts
- In someone’s presence who may be annoyed/offended by the action
- You had the intent to draw public attentiveness towards your genital parts for the aim of either gratifying another person or yourself sexually or offending another person sexually. ’
Here is a detailed explanation of the various terms of the elements of an indecent exposure offense to help you understand better the legal meaning of this crime under the California statute.
You have to willfully expose your private parts to be considered to have committed an indecent exposure crime. Willfully means purposeful or willingly. However, it does not necessarily imply you had the intention to hurt another person or violate the law. By this, it means that exposing yourself by accident does not count as a crime.
Expose Yourself/Your Genitals
Exposing oneself means revealing their nude body. On the other hand, exposing one’s genital parts means showing their bare private parts. You will not have committed an indecent exposure crime if you reveal a naked breast (in case you are a female) irrespective of whether you showed it while breastfeeding or for purposes of sexual gratification. Also, it is not an indecent exposure offense when one exposes his/her underwear irrespective of how disclosing it is.
In Someone’s Presence Who May be Offended or Annoyed
For you to have committed an indecent exposure offense, you ought to have exposed yourself in another person’s presence, and that person might get annoyed or offended by your actions. It is in this element that competent criminal defense lawyers will try to find mistakes in the prosecutor’s case. Even when you were in a public place if the zone was secluded, for instance, behind the bushes in a park, where you did not believe someone would catch sight of you, your action probably does not meet the indecent exposure’s legal definition.
However, as it concerns individuals being annoyed or offended, the law on indecent exposure does not take into consideration the audience. By this, it implies that exposing your private parts or yourself to an undercover police officer, an unsuspecting female, or a correctional officer will all warrant a conviction of PC 314 violation provided the prosecutor proves all the facts of the offense.
With the Intent to Draw Public Attentiveness Towards Your Genitals
PC 314 requires that a person particularly intend to direct attention to his/her private parts. By this, it implies that revealing your genital parts does not warrant a conviction. They have to be revealed with the specific intent of driving attention unto them.
However, a critical point to note is that if you intend to drive public attention to the genital parts, the prosecutor can still find you guilty of this crime even if they are not seen by anyone in reality. This could happen, for instance, if you show your private parts or yourself to another person in an unilluminated passageway.
For the Aim of Sexual Offending or Sexual Arousal
Simply exposing oneself even if the person intentionally draws attention to his/her genitals will not support a conviction of indecent exposure unless the person does so with a sexual or lewd motivated intention. This could mean either:
- The intent to arouse/gratify yourself sexually
- The aim to arouse/gratify another person sexually, or
- The purpose of offending another individual sexually
Note that the prosecution should satisfy each element of indecent exposure before proving that you’re guilty of the offense. If even only a single of the facts of the offense we mentioned above isn’t established beyond a reasonable doubt, you ought not to be convicted of an indecent exposure offense.
Also, it is critical to keep in mind that it is the legislature that controls the indecent exposure statutes in this state. Even though local authorities might attempt to regulate the standards of decency in their communities, if they’re over-restrictive compared to the corresponding state indecent exposure statutes, courts will consider them to be invalid.
PC 314 Indecent Exposure Consequences
While an indecent exposure offense may not appear to be severe, its conviction may subject you to devastating consequences. Most first indecent exposure offenders face misdemeanor charges. If the prosecution finds you guilty of a misdemeanor PC 314 violation, your punishment may include:
- A jail sentence for a period not exceeding six months
- A minimum of ten-year duty of sex offender registration as per PC 290
- Up to $1000 in fines
Aggravated Indecent Exposure
A person commits an aggravated indecent exposure offense if they expose themselves in a lived-in building, trailer, or residence, and they make their way into the home, building, or trailer with no authorization. This kind of offense is charged as a wobbler. This means it can be prosecuted as a felony or a misdemeanor, based on the choice of the prosecutor.
If you are charged with a misdemeanor aggravated indecent exposure crime, you will face similar consequences as those of simple indecent exposure, as we mentioned above. However, your jail sentence will increase from a maximum of six months to a maximum of one year. And if you are convicted of a felony aggravated indecent exposure crime, you will be subjected to these punishments:
- Sixteen months, three or two years in state prison
- A fine that does not exceed $10000
- A minimum of a ten-year duty of sex offender registration
Repeat Offenders are Automatic Felony Indecent Exposure Offenders
If you face a first conviction of indecent exposure but also have a past conviction of PC 288 lewd conduct with a child, you will automatically be prosecuted under felony indecent exposure law. This is also the case if you are found guilty of violating PC 314 laws for a second, third, or subsequent time. In these cases, you may be subjected to similar consequences listed under a felony aggravated indecent exposure crime.
PC 314 Offense and the Requirement of Sex Offender Registration
As we mentioned previously, among the consequences of violating indecent exposure laws is the duty of sex offender registration for a minimum of ten years as per PC 290. The law dictates that an offender faces this punishment irrespective of whether they are found guilty of a felony or a misdemeanor indecent exposure crime. If you do not obey the requirement of registration, you could face other charges of the offense of failing to register as a sex offender.
If you fail to adhere to the duty of sex offender registration, you will be charged with a felony when you’re needed to register because of a conviction of felony indecent exposure. In case you’re mandated to register because of a conviction of misdemeanor violation of PC 314 laws, you will be prosecuted with a misdemeanor offense. Penalties may include a jail sentence for a period not exceeding one year or a prison sentence that does not exceed three years.
Note that many of the licensed professional bodies discipline their employees or members in case they get convicted of a sex offense that mandates registration as a sex offender. This is usually so for:
- Dental board licenses
- Medical board licenses for doctors
- Nursing licenses
- Related professional licenses
But, a conviction of indecent exposure as a misdemeanor is sometimes an exception when it comes to this regulation. If you’re employed in any of the professions mentioned, or any other occupation that mandates you to have an occupational license then get a conviction of indecent exposure as a misdemeanor, you might not lose your license automatically.
Legal Defenses to Charges of Indecent Exposure
There are several kinds of valid legal defenses your sex crimes criminal defense lawyer can apply when contesting your indecent exposure charges. Here are a few examples of the common defenses that are used:
It’s worth repeating that in case the prosecutor does not prove each element of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt, then you aren’t guilty of the crime. By this, it means if, for instance, the proof indicates that:
- Your genital parts were partly covered,
- There was nobody nearby to annoy or offend,
- Your actions were not lewd,
- You didn’t meet any other elements of indecent exposure; you might not be convicted of this offense.
Based on the facts surrounding your case, the victim may have wrongly pointed you out as the party that illegally exposed themselves. It could be that the supposed crime happened in darkness. Or, it could happen that the culprit’s face was half-hidden. In other situations, it could be that the sight of the victim of the offender from the rear resembled you, or it could be that your name resembles that of the suspected perpetrator.
There are several reasons the victim may have mistakenly identified you as the culprit of indecent exposure, and it is the job of your defense attorney to persuade the jury or judge of this very fact.
Wrongful Arrest/False Accusations
Sex crimes are always prone to false accusations. It usually needs little evidence since most rely on the allegations of ‘he or she said.’ This makes it simple for a person acting due to jealousy or anger or seeking revenge to accuse another falsely of an offense.
An experienced sex crimes criminal defense attorney ought to understand this and should always consider this likelihood as a valid defense option.
The Exposure was Accidental
Like we mentioned before, if the exposure wasn’t intentional or willful, it doesn’t count as an indecent exposure crime. Therefore, if you exposed yourself by accident publicly, you didn’t commit the crime.
Your Genital Parts Were Partially Covered
Your defense lawyer may also be capable of successfully arguing that your private parts were partly covered. If this defense is successful, it may allow a reduced charge of PC 415, disturbing the peace or PC 647a lewd behavior in public.
Related Offenses to PC 314
The California indecent exposure statute relates closely to several other crimes. This is because they’re often prosecuted with reference to the other, or the same conduct could make one get charged with either crime. The various related offenses to indecent exposure are:
Lewd Behavior in Public (PC 647a)
A criminal charge under PC 647a lewd behavior in public may occur when a person touches themselves or another party publicly with sexual intention. It is the touching element that majorly differentiates between the crime of indecent exposure and that of lewd conduct in public.
If you expose yourself indecently while touching yourself or someone else, the prosecutor may prosecute you under both indecent exposure and lewd behavior in public laws. Violating the PC 647a statute is charged as a misdemeanor crime.
Practically, when you get prosecuted under PC 647a law, the prosecution often tacks on a charge of indecent exposure so they can raise the stakes and get leverage on the case. The reason for this is that a conviction of lewd behavior in public does not trigger the duty of registration as a sex offender. In contrast, a sentence of indecent exposure does. In this case, most defendants gladly enter a guilty plea for the lewd behavior charge in case the prosecution agrees to drop the charge of indecent exposure, thereby taking the sex offender registration risk off the consequences they would face.
Lewd Behavior with a Child (PC 288)
PC 288 lewd conduct with a child is often confused with PC 647a lewd behavior in public. This law forbids engaging in obscene acts with any child that is below the age of fourteen years, or one that is fourteen or fifteen and is, at the minimum, ten years younger compared to the accused.
Just like a PC 647a offense, a PC 288 crime requires a particular kind of sexual touching, which differentiates it from an indecent exposure offense. However, in case one exposes himself or herself before a child, at the same time touching him or her, he/she might face charges of both crimes.
Lewd behavior with a minor is a severer offense compared to PC 314 violation. It’s charged as a wobbler in case the victim was fourteen or fifteen years old, and as a felony, when the victim was below fourteen years. If charged as a felony, this offense carries a possible sentence of a maximum prison time of eight years.
Burglary (PC 459)
PC 459 burglary means entering any building with the specific intent to carry out a felony offense once inside. Like we mentioned earlier, if you make your way into an inhabited trailer, home, or other lived-in structure without authorization, then committing an indecent exposure crime, you may face aggravated indecent exposure charges. In this case, your action of making your way into the building may itself qualify to be a distinct crime of burglary.
Despite the common fallacy, burglary does not necessarily entail stealing, merely making your way into a building aiming to carry out a felony while inside qualifies as a burglary crime. Therefore, while it might appear odd that PC 459 burglary relates to an indecent exposure offense, they’re sometimes connected.
By this, it implies that should you go into a building then indecently expose yourself, the prosecutor may prosecute you under both PC 314 and PC 459 laws. Also note that even when you do not succeed in carrying out the indecent exposure crime after getting inside the structure, you could still be subjected to burglary charges in case you possessed the intention to do that.
Burglary of a lived-in building is charged as a felony. Its penalties include six, four, or two years in state prison.
Trespass (PC 602)
PC 602 trespass arises when a person enters a structure or any other property with no consent. It doesn’t count whether that person intended to carry out a felony crime after getting inside the structure. A trespass crime is generally a misdemeanor, but not at all times.
Trespass charges can occur if the prosecution wants to press charges of burglary or aggravated indecent exposure for making your way into a building with the specific intent of carrying out a PC 314 offense, but it does not have sufficient proof showing that you, in reality, intended to carry out an indecent exposure offense.
Trespass may also serve as an ideal plea deal from the charge of indecent exposure. If the prosecution agrees to drop your indecent exposure charges and allow you to enter a plea deal of trespassing, you’ll face a lesser severe conviction. Additionally, you won’t be compelled to the duty of sex offender registration as one of the consequences.
Disturbing the Peace (PC 415)
PC 415 may arise when an individual conducts himself or herself in a belligerent, offensive, or loud manner publicly. Even though this crime does not technically relate to that of PC 314 violation, it’s often utilized as a tool of plea bargaining by defense lawyers. The reason for this is that entering a guilty plea for disturbing the peace won’t subject a defendant to the requirement of sex offender registration.
Therefore, a PC 415 offense is a crime that your criminal defense lawyer could try negotiating for you so the prosecution can dismiss your PC 314 charges of indecent exposure.
Get an Experienced Indecent Exposure Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
The conviction and consequences for indecent exposure under California law can be severe and life-changing. If you’re accused of this crime in Los Angeles, CA, you should contact the skilled criminal defense attorneys from The LA Criminal Defense Law Firm as soon as possible. Our lawyers will carefully evaluate the facts surrounding your case and what the law says, and provide the best legal representation. With our offices strategically placed in LA, we are easily accessible to surrounding neighborhoods. With the experience we have defending against charges of indecent exposure, we will review the proof against you carefully and help you prevail in your case. For further details on how we can assist you, for clarification, or to schedule a consultation, call us at 310-935-1675.