8 Things You Didn’t Know About “Indecent Exposure” Charges

California Penal Code Section 314

What Is Considered Indecent Exposure?

In California, indecent exposure is when a person exposes his person, or the private parts thereof, in any public place where other people are present and could be offended.

Depending on the circumstances and on your criminal record, indecent exposure can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony. In either scenario this charge carries with it a lifetime sex offender registration requirement. A California indecent exposure charge can come with consequences that can affect the rest of your life.

Definition of Indecent Exposure Under Penal Code 314

California Penal Code Section 314 — California’s law on indecent exposure defines the offense as willful exposure of one’s genitals to another person, for the purpose of either gratifying oneself or offending the other person.

Example:

A man was a serial flasher, who walked into office buildings  pretending to be a messenger service.  As soon as he would walk up to an office reception area, he would pull down his pants and reveal his bare genitals to sexually gratify himself.  The man is guilty of indecent exposure.  Moreover, because he is a repeat offender, he will get an automatic felony charge.

How Does the Prosecutor Prove The Charge?

To prove that you are guilty of “indecent exposure,” the prosecutor has to prove the following facts or elements1:

Willful Exposure

The defendant willfully exposed his/her genitals in the presence of another person or persons who might be offended or annoyed by the defendant’s actions2; and the exposure  cannot be accidental. It has to be willful or intentional.

Example:

Two men were walking down the Halloween parade dressed up as ghosts.  One of the men’s costumes fell apart, exposing his genital area to the oncoming parade goers.  The man right away tried to fix his costume and felt embarrassed by the mishap.  Because the exposure was only accidental rather than willful or intentional, it is not indecent exposure.

Genitals

Exposure must be of one’s bare genital parts.  If you exposed your underwear, this does not qualify as indecent exposure.  Also, exposure of bare, female breasts does not qualify, whether it was done for sexual gratification or for a non-sexual reason such as breastfeeding.

In The Presence Of Someone Who Might Be Annoyed Or Offended

Exposure must occur in the presence of at least one other person who may be annoyed or offended by the exposure.  Exposing yourself even in a public place when no one is around likely does not constitute indecent exposure.

When the defendant exposed himself/herself, he/she acted lewdly by intending to direct public attention to his/her genitals for the purpose of sexually arousing or gratifying himself/herself or another person, or sexually offending another person3;

Inhabited Dwelling

The following element applies if the willful and lewd exposure occurred after the defendant had entered an inhabited dwelling house/part of a building/trailer coach without consent4.

How You Can Fight Indecent Exposure Charges?

The most common defenses used to defend against “indecent exposure” charges are as follows:

Accidental Exposure

As mentioned earlier, if the exposure was not will or intentional, it does not constitute indecent exposure.  If you accidentally exposed yourself in public, you did not commit the offense.  See the example above involving a Halloween costume malfunction.

Mistaken Identity

You could easily become a victim of mistaken identity in a situation where the perpetrator’s face was not seen well if it was dark or if he/she was wearing a mask.  A criminal defense attorney will try to convince the court that you were not the perpetrator, especially in a situation where the incident took place in a dark alley or where the perpetrator’s identity was intentionally hidden.

Insufficient Evidence

If there is insufficient evidence for a prosecutor to show that you in fact committed the crime of indecent exposure, you cannot be convicted of the crime.

Examples:
  • It was too dark for the victim to clearly identify the perpetrator
  • You did expose your genitals but in a secluded area where no one was around to be offended by your act
  • Your intent was neither to gratify yourself nor to offend anyone

Penalties, Punishment and Sentencing Guidelines

If you are convicted of “indecent exposure” pursuant to California Penal Code Section 314, you face the following penalties:

Penalties1st Offense2nd Offense
ChargeMisdemeanorFelony
Fine Up to $1,000 Up To $1,000
JailUp to 6 months county jailPossible State Prison
Sex Offender RegistrationYesYes

Potential Plea Options

Lewd Conduct

Pursuant to Penal Code Section 647(a), if anyone solicits another person to engage in lewd conduct in any public place or in any place open to the public or exposed to public view, he/she can be charged with this offense.  The difference between “indecent exposure” and “lewd conduct in public” is the requirement in the latter offense that the perpetrator actually touches him/herself or another person in public with sexual intent.

The benefit of a lewd conduct plea deal is the ability to avoid sex offender registration.

Says attorney Diana Aizman

Next Steps

If you have been arrested and would like to learn more about what attorneys charge.

If you want to understand why its important to have an attorney represent you.

If you are ready to discuss a pending case with an attorney contact the Aizman Law Firm at 818-351-9555 for a free confidential consultation.

Het Legal Help Now

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Footnotes

  1. California Penal Code Section 314: California’s Penal Code Section 314: Every person who willfully and lewdly, either: 1. Exposes his person, or the private parts thereof, in any public place, or in any place where there are present other persons to be offended or annoyed thereby; or, 2. Procures, counsels, or assists any person so to expose himself or take part in any model artist exhibition, or to make any other exhibition of himself to public view, or the view of any number of persons, such as is offensive to decency, or is adapted to excite to vicious or lewd thoughts or acts, is guilty of a misdemeanor.  Every person who violates subdivision 1 of this section after having entered, without consent, an inhabited dwelling house, or trailer coach as defined in Section 635 of the Vehicle Code, or the inhabited portion of any other building, is punishable by imprisonment in the state prison, or in the county jail not exceeding one year.  Upon the second and each subsequent conviction under subdivision 1 of this section, or upon a first conviction under subdivision 1 of this section after a previous conviction under Section 288, every person so convicted is guilty of a felony, and is punishable by imprisonment in state prison. []
  2. Someone commits an act willfully when he or she does it willingly or on purpose.  It is not required that he or she intend to break the law, hurt someone else, or gain any advantage.  Exposing Person Must Have Intent to Expose Genitals.  People v. Massicot (2002) 97 Cal.App.4th 920, 926–928 [118 Cal.Rptr.2d 705]. []
  3. It is not required that another person actually see the exposed genitals.  Must Expose to Other Person But Other Person Need Not View.  People v. Carbajal (2003) 114 Cal.App.4th 978, 986 [8 Cal.Rptr.3d 206]. []
  4. A house/part of a building/trailer coach is inhabited if someone uses it as a dwelling, whether or not someone is inside at the time of the alleged indecent exposure.  Inhabitation Defined.  See Pen. Code, § 459 [in context of burglary]. []