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.
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.
To prove that you are guilty of “indecent exposure,” the prosecutor has to prove the following facts or elements1:
- 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
- Willful exposure: Exposure has to be willful or intentional. It cannot be accidental.
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; AND
The following element applies if defendant is charged with entering an inhabited dwelling.
- The willful and lewd exposure occurred after the defendant had entered an inhabited dwelling house/part of a building/trailer coach without consent4.
The most common defenses that a skilled criminal defense attorney can use to defend you from “indecent exposure” 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.
- 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
If you are convicted of “indecent exposure” pursuant to California Penal Code Section 314, you face the following penalties:
First Time Offender:
- A misdemeanor charge
- A maximum of 6 months in a county jail;
- A maximum fine of $1,000
- A lifetime duty to register as a register as a California sex offender
Second Time Offender:
- Felony charge
- Potential California state prison sentence
- A lifetime duty to register as a register as a California sex offender
Attempted Indecent Exposure: An attempt to commit the crime of indecent exposure is a lesser included misdemeanor offense because it does not rise to the level of actual indecent exposure. However it is a specific intent crime which means the perpetrator had to have intended to commit indecent exposure to be charged with an attempt.5
Lewd Conduct in Public: 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.
Disturbing the Peace: Pursuant to Penal Code section 415, someone commits this offense if they act in a loud, belligerent, or offensive way. If a prosecutor will agree to charge you with this offense instead of indecent exposure, it will benefit you greatly because you will not have to deal with the requirement of registering as a sex offender. An experienced criminal defense attorney can use this technique to get your indecent exposure charge dismissed.
Indecent exposure is a misdemeanor if the defendant does not have qualifying priors and the alleged event did not occur in an inhabited dwelling.6 However, if the defendant is charged with one of the factors that elevates the offense to a felony, then the misdemeanor is a lesser included offense.
In Recognition of Our Work. Our Law Firm Has Been Awarded
The Los Angeles indecent exposure attorneys at Aizman Law Firm have extensive experience handling sex offense cases. We have assembled a team of former indecent exposure prosecutors, experts, researchers, and investigators to put together the most effective defense strategy in fighting your case. We know the law and we can make it work for you when you are facing charges for indecent exposure. California has tough laws and we can help. Let the attorneys at Aizman Law Firm who have extensive knowledge of California penal code 314 fight your case today.7
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- 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. [↩]
- 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]. [↩]
- 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]. [↩]
- 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]. [↩]
- Pen. Code, §§ 664, 314; People v. Rehmeyer (1993) 19 Cal.App.4th 1758, 1766–1767 [24 Cal.Rptr.2d 321]; see also People v. Finley (1994) 26 Cal.App.4th 454, 456–459 [31 Cal.Rptr.2d 288] [attempted misdemeanor indecent exposure is not elevated to felony by recidivist provision of Pen. Code, § 314]. [↩]
- Penal Code 314 [↩]
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