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Indecent Exposure

In California, it's a crime to expose your genitals to another person with the intention of sexual gratification or to offend them. Most people are aware that this behavior is criminal, but they do not know that indecent exposure is a sex crime under California Penal Code 314. Indecent exposure carries serious consequences, including lifetime registration as a sex offender.

California laws on indecent exposure are vague, and you could be arrested and convicted for acts that you might think are not criminal. That's why it's crucial to hire a professional attorney once you are arrested for indecent exposure. An attorney will assess everything related to your arrest and provide necessary guidelines and a strong defense against your accusation. Schedule an appointment with our Long Beach Criminal Attorney and learn how we can help you in your situation.  

How California Laws Define Indecent Exposure

Indecent exposure in California is defined under Penal Code 314. Under this statute, the prosecution should prove several factors. These facts are referred to as the elements of the crime and are as follows:

  • You willfully revealed your genitals.
  • You reveal your genitals in the presence of a person who can be annoyed or offended by this action
  • Your intention was to direct or divert the public’s attention to your private parts to gratify yourself sexually, another person, or to offend someone else sexually.

To have a clear understanding of indecent exposure's legal definition, let's have a closer look at these elements.  

Willfully Exposing Your Genitals

Doing something “willfully” means that you did it on purpose or willingly. However, it does not imply that you had any intention to hurt someone or break the law. Therefore, accidental exposure does not mean that the action was willful. For instance, if your trunk is ripped off when swimming and walks around the beach exposing your genitals, which in turn offends other people, this does not count as indecent exposure since the exposure was not willful.  

When it comes to exposing your genitals, it means revealing your bare body or private parts. Therefore, you cannot be accused of indecent exposure while exposing your underwear or revealing a bare female breast, especially during breastfeeding. 

In the Sight or Presence of Someone Who Can Be Offended or Annoyed 

Indecent exposure in California requires you to be in the presence of someone who can be offended by the indecent exposure. The definition of a "public area" is broad since secluded areas in a public location like a bush located in a park does not count as a public place. Therefore, your action like urinating in a remote but public area does not suffice as indecent exposure according to California Penal Code 314.

In defining being annoyed or offended, Penal Code 314 does not consider the particular audience offended or upset by the indecent exposure. Therefore, exposure to an undercover cop, unwary young woman, or a correctional officer meets indecent exposure requirements as long as the prosecutor demonstrates all the other elements of this crime.

To divert the Public’s Attention to Your Genitalia

Under Penal Code 314, you should have the intention to direct the public’s attention to your genitalia to be prosecuted for indecent exposure. Therefore, exposing your private parts isn't enough unless the purpose was to draw the public to them. However, you can still be prosecuted for indecent exposure even when no one saw your genitals. For instance, if you exposed yourself to someone in a dark alley, this is viewed as a form of indecent exposure.

The Intention of Sexual Offending or Arousal

Simple exposure of your genitals or intentionally drawing the public’s attention to your private parts could not be prosecuted under Penal Code 314 unless your action was sexually motivated to:

  • Arouse or gratify yourself sexually.
  • Arouse or gratify another person sexually.
  • Upset someone else sexually.

Please note that prosecutors should satisfy every element provided above. Failure to prove any of the elements does not hold you criminally liable for this charge. Consequently, everything to do with indecent exposure is controlled by the California state laws. 

However, local ordinances can regulate their community's indecent exposure standard, making them more restrictive than the state's regulation. In such a situation, the court usually declares these local ordinances invalid.  

Actions That Define and are Contrary to Indecent Exposure Under Penal Code 314   

Particular actions are assumed not to be indecent exposure, whereas they fall under the category of actions under Penal Code 314. On the other hand, some actions are considered as indecent exposure, whereas they are part of the actions that fall under Penal Code 314.

For instance, when a woman exposes her breast while breastfeeding in a public means transport, this does count as indecent exposure. Similarly, flashing your underwear no matter how revealing or skimpy does not count as indecent exposure. However, if a lady, probably a commercial sex worker, stands in a dark alley and exposes her naked body to every passerby, this action suffices as indecent exposure.

In another example, when a person urinates behind a dumpster, away from the public's direct view, that person cannot be guilty of indecent exposure since the action was not meant to arouse or gratify him or offend another person sexually.

Finally, mooning does not meet the requirements of indecent exposure. Mooning involves pulling down your pants to reveal your bare buttocks. Mooning, as much as it appears as indecent exposure, is not sexually motivated. In most cases, people engage in such actions to amuse or annoy others in a non-sexual way.

Accidental exposure also does not suffice as indecent exposure. For instance, a woman is walking down a Halloween parade, and her costume falls down, exposing her naked body to parade-goers, but quickly fixes her outfit. Since the indecent exposure was accidental rather than intentional or willful, then it's not indecent exposure.  

The Penalties for Indecent Exposure in California

Indecent exposure attracts several consequences depending on whether the perpetrator was a first-time offender or a subsequent offender. Most first-time indecent exposure offenses are misdemeanors. The conviction for simple misdemeanor indecent exposure include:

  • A maximum of 6 months in county jail.
  • A fine of up to $1000.
  • A requirement to register as a sex offender for a minimum of ten years.

Penalties for Aggravated Indecent Exposure

You can be accused of aggravated indecent exposure for exposing yourself in an occupied building, trailer, or home or entering a building, trailer, or home without the owner’s consent. An aggravated indecent exposure is a wobbler, meaning that the crime can be prosecuted as a felony or misdemeanor, based on the offense's circumstances.

If you are charged as a misdemeanor, you will be subject to the penalties provided above. However, the maximum county jail sentence is different since it's one year. If you are charged as a felony, you may face the following penalties:

  • 16 months, two or three years in a state prison
  • A maximum fine of $10,000
  • The requirement to register as a sex offender for a minimum of ten years

Penalties for Repeat Offenders

A repeat indecent exposure offender faces similar consequences as felony aggravated indecent exposure. You can be prosecuted as a repeat offender if you are convicted under Penal Code 314 for the second or subsequent time. You can also be charged as a repeat offender during your first charge but have been previously convicted under Penal Code 288: Lewd acts with a minor.

What You Should Know About the Requirement to Register as a Sex Offender for Indecent Exposure

As stated above, among the penalties for indecent exposure is the requirement to register as a sex offender for a minimum of ten years. California laws impose this punishment whether you're convicted of a felony or misdemeanor.

Failure to register as a sex offender can be a misdemeanor or a felony offense. You can be prosecuted as a felony when you fail to register, whereas you are convicted for a felony indecent exposure conviction. On the other hand, you can be prosecuted as a misdemeanor when you were sentenced for a misdemeanor indecent exposure. The penalties for failure to register as a sex offender after an indecent exposure conviction range from one-year county jail sentence to a maximum of three years in the state prison.  

Please note that most professional license committees punish their members if required to register as a sex offender. This usually applies in professional license associations like:

  • Nursing licensing board.
  • Doctor's medical licensing board.
  • Dental licensing board.
  • Other similar professional licensing board.

However, although there are chances of losing your professional license, some associations put an exception on a misdemeanor conviction. In that case, you cannot lose your license.  

Legal Defenses for Indecent Exposure Charges in California

Criminal law charges require the prosecution to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he or she engaged in the act of indecent exposure. Therefore, your attorney can plant the seed of doubt into the mind of at least one of the jurors hearing your case. Here are a few strategies that your attorney can use.

Insufficient Evidence

If the prosecutor fails to prove all the Penal Code 314 violation elements, you are innocent of the charges. Therefore, if the evidence fails to prove that:

  • No one around to be offended by your actions.
  • Your private parts were visible.
  • Your actions were lewd.
  • You satisfied any of the other elements of Penal Code 314 prosecution.

Then you are innocent of indecent exposure.  

Lack of Willful Intention

Since indecent exposure requires willful exposure, claiming that the actions were unintentional can be a strong defense. For instance, public urination can be viewed as unintentional exposure, especially when limiting public exposure to your genitals. Similarly, an exposure that occurs while the defendant is at home is considered unintentional, for instance, through a window or open door.

Lack of Sexual Motivation

Under Penal Code 314, you can only be prosecuted for indecent exposure if there was a sexual motivation behind the action. Therefore, acts like public urination cannot have you convicted of indecent exposure.  

Mistaken Identity 

Most indecent exposure claims often arise when the accuser cannot accurately identify the perpetrator. Factors like dim lighting, time of the day, and distance can bring a false perception of the actual perpetrator. Due to the challenge of identification under particular circumstances, you will probably be mistaken for indecent exposure.  

In this situation, your attorney will argue that the accuser mistook you for being the actual perpetrator and present factual evidence proving that the accuser’s perception is wrong.  

You can also present an alibi defense in a mistaken identity case. For instance, if the alleged offense occurred when you were working, you can have a co-worker testify against the accusations.

Potential Plea Options

Sometimes your attorney might advise you to make a plea bargain for your charges if the evidence presented by the prosecution is too strong to beat. A plea bargain is an arrangement between a defendant and the prosecution whereby the defendant pleads guilty to a lesser charge in exchange for a more lenient sentence or an agreement to drop your charges.  

One of the potential plea options for indecent exposure is  lewd conduct in public under Penal Code 647(a). Typically, this charge arises when you touch yourself or another person publicly with sexual intent. The "touching" element brings the difference between lewd conduct and indecent exposure charges.

Lewd conduct in public is charged as a California misdemeanor crime. It can be a suitable plea bargain option for your indecent exposure charges since it does not trigger the mandate to register as a sex offender. 

Find a Sex Crime Attorney Near Me

If you face criminal charges of indecent exposure, you must act immediately to reduce the likelihood of a conviction. At the Long Beach Criminal Attorney, we will conduct a thorough evaluation of your case and determine the most effective legal action course.

We serve our clients with top-tier defense strategies against their indecent exposure charges in Long Beach, CA. For more information, call us at 562-308-7807 for a free non-obligatory legal consultation.