While exposing yourself or your genitals may seem harmless, it is a crime with severe consequences. California PC 314 criminalizes any intentional display of your body or genitals in a public place in a manner another takes offense. A conviction will land you in prison. In addition, you will have to pay a fine and register as a sex offender. All consequences adversely affect your future. You, therefore, need an experienced criminal attorney to fight the charges. Get in touch with Chula Vista Criminal Attorney if you or a loved one is facing indecent exposure charges.
Understanding Indecent Exposure
Some individuals carry out indecent exposure to achieve sexual gratification. Others commit the offense to entice a sexual response from the would-be victim. Both scenarios require proof of specific elements for a conviction, namely:
- That you intentionally exposed your genitals, partially or entirely, to another. The exposure cannot be accidental
- The individual or individuals you exposed yourself to were annoyed or offended by your actions
- You aimed at directing public attention to your genitals to gratify yourself or another sexually, or you wanted to offend or annoy another by your actions.
Further analysis of each of the elements will help explain the crime.
You must have intentionally exposed yourself, intending to draw the public’s attention to your genitals or body for you to be found guilty. That is why you cannot be held liable for accidental exposure. Moreover, willfulness does not necessarily imply that you intended to break the law.
For example, Tom is walking through a popular nature trail and accidentally rips his shorts. He walks back to his car with his genitals exposed to oncoming hikers. By the definition of willfulness above, Tom did not commit an indecent exposure offense. While the hikers were offended and might have thought that was the aim, the incident was accidental.
Exposing yourself can be both completely, going fully naked, or partially (exposing your genitals). This definition of exposure, therefore, eliminates two situations sometimes confused as exposure. Revealing your innerwear, no matter how revealing, is not indecent exposure under the law. Similarly, revealing your bare breasts is also not an offense, even if you did so for sexual gratification or non-sexual reasons like breastfeeding.
Annoying Or Offending Another
Prosecutors should prove that you exposed yourself in the presence of another who was annoyed or offended by your actions. It is material for another person to have seen your actions. Therefore, you will not be liable for indecent exposure charges if your exposure was in a public area with no one around. Further, you will also not be criminally liable if you were in a secluded area where you believed no one else would see you.
In an annoyed audience, the rule of thumb is what a reasonable person would do. In most cases, a reasonable person would be offended by another’s indecent exposure. Therefore, you will face PC 314 violation charges regardless of your audience.
Your Aimed At Sexually Gatiying (Yourself Or Another) Or Offending Another Individual
Exposing yourself in itself is not enough for a conviction under PC 314. Intent is key. Prosecutors must prove that you either were motivated to:
- Sexually arouse or gratify yourself or another or
- Sexually offend another — The court factors in instances of annoyance other than sexual. Therefore, you will not be liable for indecent exposure if the annoyance was not sexual.
What if the individual exposed to your actions covered their eyes or went to great lengths not to see your body or genitals. Am I liable for indecent exposure charges?
Yes. What matters is that you expose yourself in full view of the public or another.
How The Court Handle Indecent Exposure Cases In Environments Other Than Public Places
Context matters in indecent exposure cases. As such, your actions may fit PC 314’s definition of the crime, even if you were on your private property or own home. All prosecutors need to do is prove the elements detailed above.
Let us look at two scenarios where you can expose your genitals or body in your home or private property.
In the first case, you intentionally expose your body or genitals in full view of the public by standing in front of your door, yard, or window. With compelling evidence, prosecutors will pursue PC 314 violation charges, and there is a possibility of being found guilty of the crime. Your actions were intentional, geared at drawing public attention to your nakedness, and you were in full view of your neighbors and passers-by.
Scenario two has you undressing or dressing in your private residence without knowing your curtains are drawn or your window is open. While you were in full view of your neighbors or passers-by, the display of your nakedness was unintentional. Thus, your actions do not amount to a PC 314 violation.
Does urinating in public fit PC 314’s definition of indecent exposure?
As is the case above, context matters. While public urination is illegal, there are some exceptional cases.
For example, Joe, in a state of emergency, relieved himself behind a dumpster in a dark alley. His actions do not amount to indecent exposure. However, if he did so on a sidewalk sign on the street accessible by the public, he could face indecent exposure charges.
PC 314’s definition exempts certain situations of indecent exposure. For example:
- Commercial nude dancing
- Involuntary wardrobe malfunctions
- Lack of sexual intent in your actions
- Exposure in designated public areas like nude beaches
Consequences of a PC 314 Conviction
You could be convicted on a misdemeanor or felony indecent exposure charge. First-time offenses are misdemeanor violations. Offenders are required to serve a six-month jail sentence and part with a maximum of $1,000 in fines. Further, pursuant to PC 290, offenders will register as sex offenders, a tag that remains in effect for no less than ten years.
Repeat offenders and aggravated indecent exposure violations are felonies. Repeat offenders, upon conviction, risk facing 16 months, 2, or 3 years in prison, paying a fine of up to $10,000, and registering as a sex offender.
Aggravated indecent exposure offenders are guilty of exposing their nakedness in a building, tailor, or an inhabited home entered without permission. The offense is a wobbler, meaning prosecutors have the discretion of pursuing misdemeanor or felony charges. Misdemeanor convictions result in a maximum of one year in jail, fines not exceeding $1,000, and a sex offender tag. Felony conviction penalties for aggravated indecent exposure compare to those of felony indecent exposure cases.
Registering as a Sex Offender
PC 290 requires individuals convicted for sex crimes to register as sex offenders. It's a measure to keep track of offenders. You will be required to re-register every five years or if you relocate to a new residence. You should complete your re-registration within five business days of your birthday. Failure to comply with these provisions would be a misdemeanor or a felony violation if the underlying crime was a misdemeanor or a felony, respectively.
A sex offender registration allows those who run a background check on you to access your information, including but not limited to:
- Your name and all known aliases
- Current physical description and your photo
- Your date of birth
- current residence
- The offenses you have been convicted of, as well as the dates you committed the offense
Failing to register as a sex offender will see you spend up to one year in jail or three years in prison.
A sex offender tag adversely affects various aspects of your life. The tag reflects on your record. Thus anyone who runs a background check will know of it. Here’s a look at some of the areas a conviction will affect:
- You could lose your professional license — However, while this is a possibility, every profession has its approach in disciplining its members after their conviction, especially sex crime convictions. A review of your case has to be done to determine if you will maintain your license. In most cases, misdemeanor convictions, though they require registration as a sex offender, do not automatically result in you losing your license.
- You will be prohibited from living close to areas where children frequent. These areas include playgrounds, schools, parks, or daycare centers.
- You will experience travel restrictions.
- Others face challenges securing or maintaining employment — Criminal records, especially sex crime convictions, are frowned upon by society. Employers and employees may find it challenging to work with someone convicted of a sex crime.
- A sex offender tag destroys your reputation among friends, colleagues, family, acquaintances, and neighbors. Thus your relationships change, and not all for the better.
All the adverse impacts of indecent exposure are enough reasons for you to hire an experienced attorney. Your attorney should tailor a proper defense to have your charges reduced, if not a dismissal of your case.
Defenses Used in Indecent Exposure Cases
You need an experienced attorney for your defense. Their experience in indecent exposure cases will be to your advantage because they will employ various defense strategies, some of which are detailed below.
Prosecutors need to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt. Their evidence should be sufficient enough to prove the elements discussed earlier. Failure to do so creates an opportunity for insufficient evidence to be used as a defense in your case.
Your attorney could introduce evidence suggesting:
- Your genitals were partially covered.
- That there was no one around when you exposed yourself. Thus no one was offended. Alternatively, you exposed your genitals in a secluded area.
- You had no intention of sexually gratifying yourself or another or offending anyone.
You Accidentally Exposed Yourself
Accidental exposure eliminates willful intent, which is critical for you to be found guilty. Your attorney should provide sufficient evidence for this defense.
Human error cannot be ruled out, especially when identifying a culprit. Several factors cause the misidentification of a suspect. For example, the crime occurred in a dark environment, the victim was not close enough to positively identify the suspect, or the suspect’s face was partially hidden. In other instances, the victim’s vision may not be reliable. Thus their identification of you as the suspect is questionable.
Your attorney will identify some of the causes that led to you being mistakenly identified as the perpetrator and use them to convince the court of your falling victim to a case of mistaken identity.
Jealousy, revenge, the need to get even are some malicious acts that drive accusers to falsely accuse others of the crime. Most indecent exposure cases are predominantly he said / she said cases. An experienced attorney can decipher the facts, and there is a possibility the accusations were false.
We live in a world where people take video recordings and photos of almost everything. While the advancement has improved lives, it does have a dark side, including deep fakes and photoshopped images. Deep fakes are videos of another, tweaked with your likeness. Without careful analysis, you can be easily mistaken for the one in the video or the photoshopped picture. Therefore, someone could present an image or video of an indecently exposed individual and claim you as the one in the picture or video.
An experienced attorney will have the right resources, including an expert witness, to testify that it is not you in the photo or video and, therefore, you were falsely accused.
Prosecutors offer plea bargains if they doubt the possibility of securing a guilty verdict in your case. In this situation, prosecutors may prefer you plead guilty to a lesser crime, lewd conduct, in exchange for a less harsh sentence.
Lewd Conduct — Penal Code 647(a)
Soliciting or engaging in lewd behavior in public or an open place accessed by the public is considered lewd behavior and penalized under PC 647(a). Touching yourself or another with sexual intent is lewd or dissolute conduct.
Under PC 647(a), touching should be on the defendant’s or another’s private parts that include breasts, genitals, and buttocks. Legally, sex in public places is not a crime. However, it becomes a PC 647(a) violation when you should have reasonably known, or you knew that there would be someone watching and taking offense at your actions. Therefore, you could face lewd conduct charges even if you did not see anyone in that environment before engaging in the sexual activity, but someone saw you and called the police.
Lewd conduct differs from indecent exposure in that anyone accused of lewd conduct must have been touching himself/herself in public to gratify himself/herself or another sexually. The offense is a misdemeanor charge.
A conviction under Penal Code 647(a) does not require you to register as a sex offender. It is optional. Therefore, pleading guilty to lewd conduct takes away the risk of registering as a sex offender. A conviction will result in a six-month jail sentence and a fine of $1,000.
Lewd conduct charges primarily result from undercover sting operations. Undercover cops pose as hookers or gay men in parks, adult bookstores, or bathrooms to bait unsuspecting individuals seeking sexual gratification. Proposing a sexual act, masturbating, or exposing yourself is a signal for them to bust and arrest you.
However, police officers do lie or misrepresent facts. In most cases, defendants have faced lewd conduct charges, yet all they did was make simple eye contact with the undercover officer. This is entrapment, and through your attorney, you can fight off these charges.
Prosecutors could also introduce new charges in place of or in addition to lewd conduct charges. Below is an analysis of the crimes.
Lewd Acts With a Minor — Penal Code 288
In the event the victim you were engaged in sexual activity with is a minor, prosecutors will consider pursuing lewd acts with a minor charges. Penal Code 288 defines a lewd act with a minor as either touching or causing a child to touch themselves or another for sexual purposes. Further, the law also punishes defendants who used force or threatened to injure the minor or their loved ones if they did not participate in the lewd act.
Most cases under PC 288 involve minors below the age of 14. However, if the child is under 16 years of age, you could still face PC 288 charges. Touching under PC 288 is not limited to private organs. Defendants will be penalized even if they touched the child or caused the child to touch themselves or another over their clothes rather than their bare skin.
It is worth noting that intent is critical for a conviction under PC 288. The defendant only needs to have intended to arouse himself/herself, another, or the child. Actual arousal is not necessary.
Penalties of Lewd Acts With a Minor
Lewd acts with a minor is a felony. As such, the penalties are severe if convicted. The severity of your punishment will depend on:
- The age of the child
- Patterns of led acts, if any,
- Whether force, duress, threats of violence, or actual violence was used, and
- Whether the child is 14 or 15 years the age of the defendant
Below is a list of the penalties PC 288 prescribes.
- If no force was used and the child is under 14 years, you risk facing 3, 6, or 8 years in prison and a fine not exceeding $10,000. You could serve a typical probation sentence instead of prison time.
- If force was used and the child is under 14 years, you risk facing 5, 8, or 10 years in prison and a fine not exceeding $10,000.
- If bodily harm was inflicted on a child under 14 years, you risk facing a life prison sentence.
- If the child is 14 or 15 years, and you are older by ten years or more, you risk facing 1, 2, or 3 years in prison and a fine not exceeding $10,000. Alternatively, you could spend up to one year in jail and pay a fine not exceeding $1,000.
- If the child is 16 or 17 years, you will be convicted for statutory rape under PC 261.5(a) or for sexual battery under PC 2243.4
- Habitual offenders will spend 25 years to life in prison.
The judge may also require that you pay restitution fees to cater for the victim’s psychological or medical treatment.
All the above penalties come with a mandatory sex offender registration requirement. As of January 1, 2021, sex offenders are categorized into tiers based on the severity of their cases. Each tier has a minimum registration period. Tier 1 offenders retain the ‘sex offender’ label for ten years, while Tier 2 offenders maintain the label for 20 years. First-time PC 288 offenders belong in the second tier. Subsequent offenders are in the third tier, and they will remain known as sex offenders for life.
It is also worth noting that lewd acts committed by force are strikeable offenses under the Three Strike Law. Therefore, a strike translates to heftier penalties.
Being convicted of lewd acts with a minor will also lead to losing your professional license and gun rights. Further, the conviction also does adversely affect your immigration status.
Hiring an Experienced Chula Vista Criminal Attorney Near Me
Facing indecent exposure acts is not easy, especially when you consider the consequences of a guilty charge. You will require the services of an experienced criminal defense attorney dedicated to ensuring they employ the best defense strategies for your case. Your case could have three possible outcomes: a reduction of your sentence, a modification of the charges to lewd conduct, or an outright dismissal of your case. Trust that the Chula Vista Criminal Attorney team’s wealth of knowledge and extensive experience in sex crimes, especially indecent exposure cases, will increase your chances of the best outcome. Contact us today at 619-877-6894 to schedule a free case assessment.