“Public indecency” or “indecent exposure” is a crime in California. People may associate a crime like this with flashers, which may seem somewhat comical. However, these allegations are quite serious and apply in a wider range of circumstances. Not only can the penalties for these charges be quite serious, involving jail time and high criminal fines, but they can also mean registering as a sex offender. If you were charged with indecent exposure in California, it is important to talk to a Ventura sex crimes attorney right away.
What is “Indecent Exposure” Under CA Penal Code § 314?
California’s Penal Code has a heading entitled “Crimes Against Public Decency and Good Morals,” which contains the indecent exposure statute. Penal Code § 314 makes it illegal to expose yourself or your “private parts.” This could include flashing your genitals, your buttocks, or (sometimes) your breasts.
The statute also has particular requirements for the place where this flashing occurs. Since the statute is sometimes called “public indecency,” it’s no surprise that it is illegal to flash “in any public place.” Alternatively, it is also illegal to flash “in any place where there are present other persons to be offended or annoyed thereby.” This seems very broad and could include many places. Even private places could be included for indecent exposure if there are other people there that you would offend or annoy by flashing them. That means that entering someone’s home, apartment, dormitory, or other building, even if it is private property, could still lead to indecent exposure charges.
What Are the Penalties for Indecent Exposure in CA?
California’s indecent exposure crime is a misdemeanor. There are two general classifications of crime in California: misdemeanors, punishable by up to one year in county jail, and felonies, punished by a potential of more than a year in state prison. A first-time conviction for indecent exposure can have harsh penalties at sentencing, including a jail sentence up to 6 months and a fine of up to $1,000.
These penalties can be upgraded for multiple reasons. If you entered an occupied house without consent to commit this crime, you could have the penalty upgraded to one year. Also, for each subsequent conviction for this crime, you could face punishment in state prison and a felony conviction.
Conviction for public indecency or indecent exposure can also require you to register as a sex offender. Even if you never touched another person during this act, you could still be required to register as a sex offender for 10 years. This would require you to report your sex offender status when required and continue to keep up your registration for the entire 10-year period, making it harder to get jobs and housing.
Fighting Indecent Exposure or Public Nudity Charges in California
Police and prosecutors can charge you with a crime whenever they have “probable cause” to believe you committed the offense. This means having articulable facts that make them think that the crime was committed, and that you were the perpetrator. However, this does not mean that they need to be 100% correct about what the statute covers when charging you. It is up to the court to decide whether your conduct legally fits the definition of the crime. If your criminal defense attorney can prove that it does not fit the crime, the charges against you can be dismissed.
One powerful tool that helps beat charges of indecent exposure are the specific terms of the statute itself. The law requires that the government prove that the person’s “private parts” were exposed. California courts have previously held that exposing one’s breasts does not constitute the crime of indecent exposure. Especially if the breast is exposed for breastfeeding your child, it can hardly be called criminal. Additionally, it is not indecent exposure to flash someone else if you still have your underwear on. While there may still be a conviction if parts are poking through or the underwear can be seen through, by the terms of the statute you are not “exposed” if you are still wearing your underwear. This can help overcome claims against you.
The statute also requires that, if the place where you exposed yourself is not public, then there must have been people there who would have been offended or annoyed. If you did not know that others were present when you were undressing, it may be an acceptable misunderstanding, not a criminal offense.
There are other potential ways that your attorney can argue that the charges against you don’t apply or that they should be dropped or dismissed.
California Public Exposure Defense Lawyers Offering Free Consultations
If you or a loved one was charged with indecent exposure in California, talk to an attorney today. The Ventura criminal defense lawyers at The Law Offices of Bamieh and De Smeth represent those charged with crimes in Ventura, Ventura County, and the surrounding areas. For a free consultation on your charges, contact our law offices today at (805) 585-5056.