Indecent Exposure Charges in California
- Penal Code §314 -
Indecent Exposure – Penal Code §314
In California, it is a crime to expose one’s private parts for the purpose of sexual gratification or to annoy the other person. Most people refer to this crime as indecent exposure.
While the conduct is sometimes minimized in popular movies and TV-shows, the consequences for indecent exposure can be very serious. In fact, California categorizes indecent exposure as a sex crime that requires a defendant to register as a sex offender for a MINIMUM of 10-years if convicted.
As you will see, indecent exposure charges should never be taken lightly. The following information is only intended to provide a general understanding of the crime of indecent exposure in California. However, it is always recommended that someone charged with indecent exposure contact an experienced indecent exposure defense lawyer at JPLaw, P.C. as soon as possible.
1. What is indecent exposure?
Indecent exposure is criminalized pursuant to California penal code section 314. Indecent exposure makes it a crime to expose your genitals to another person for the purposes of sexually arousing oneself or to sexually annoy the other person.
Ordinarily, indecent exposure is a misdemeanor offense. However, there are several circumstances that can elevate the severity of the offense to a felony. For more information on the severity of indecent exposure, please see the penalty section below.
It should be noted that the other person does not have to actually see the perpetrator’s genitals. Simply exposing the genitals in the presence of another person is sufficient to find someone guilty of indecent exposure.
PC 314 States:
Every person who willfully and lewdly, either:
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,
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.
2. What are the elements of indecent exposure?
To be convicted of any crime, the prosecutor must prove the essential component of the crime. The essential components of a crime are called the elements of the crime.
Every person in the United States is presumed innocent until proven guilty. Therefore, the prosecutor has the burden of proving every element beyond a reasonable doubt. The jury may NOT find the defendant guilty unless they believe the defendant committed every element beyond a reasonable doubt.
To be found guilty of indecent exposure for violating penal code section 314, the prosecutor must prove the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:
The defendant willfully and lewdly exposed his/her private parts; AND
In the presence of another person who might be offended or annoyed by the conduct.
Pursuant to California law, the following terms have the assigned definitions.
Private Parts – Indecent exposure is the exposure of one’s private parts. As one can probably assume, the phrase “private parts” means genitals within the meaning of section 314.
Willfully – Someone does an act willfully when they do it on purpose. It is not required that the person intend to break the law, though.
Conversely, a person does not act willfully when they do something by accident. Thus, a person would not be guilty of indecent exposure for violating penal code section 314 if they accidentally expose their genitals to someone by forgetting to lift their zipper.
Indecent exposure must be willful and it must be sexually motivated.
Lewdly – In addition to having to act willfully, a defendant must also act lewdly to be guilty of indecent exposure. A person acts lewdly when the conduct is sexually motivated.
Accordingly, indecent exposure requires proof that the actor not only meant to expose himself, but intended to direct public attention to his genitals for purposes of sexual arousal, gratification, or affront.
Thus, even if someone willfully exposes their genitals to someone else, they cannot be found guilty unless they did so for a sexual reason.
3. What is aggravated indecent exposure?
Indecent exposure is even more serious when it is done after the perpetrator has entered an inhabited house, trailer coach, or other part of an inhabited building without consent. This form of indecent exposure is referred to as “aggravated indecent exposure” because the defendant is subject to more severe penalties.
Inhabited – A house, trailer coach, or building is inhabited if someone uses it as a dwelling, whether or not someone is inside at the time of the alleged indecent exposure.
In other words, a house, trailer, or building is inhabited when someone is living in the place. Thus, someone is not guilty of aggravated indecent exposure if they expose themself after entering an abandoned home.
House – A house includes any structure that is attached to the house and is functionally connected with it. A detached shed or garage would not be considered part of a house for purposes of aggravated indecent exposure.
4. What are the penalties for indecent exposure?
A first offense for committing indecent exposure in violation of penal code section 314 is a misdemeanor crime in California. Any subsequent incident of indecent exposure will be charged as a felony offense.
Additionally, indecent exposure will be charged as a felony if the actor has already been convicted of penal code section 288 for committing a lewd act on a child.
Aggravated indecent exposure can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony. However, as indicated below, the maximum penalty for misdemeanor aggravated indecent exposure is more serious than regular indecent exposure.
Penalties for Misdemeanor Indecent Exposure –
The maximum penalty for misdemeanor indecent exposure in violation of section 314 is:
Imprisonment in the county jail for up to 6-months;
A fine of up to $1,000; OR
Both that fine and imprisonment.
IMPORTANT: If the defendant is charged with aggravated misdemeanor indecent exposure, the defendant can be imprisoned for up to one year in the county jail.
Penalties for Felony Indecent Exposure –
A judge can also order that the defendant be imprisoned in jail as a condition of the defendant's probation.
If charged as a felony offense, the maximum penalty for indecent exposure for violating penal code section 314 is:
Imprisonment in the state prison for 16 months, 2 years, or 3 years;
A fine of up to $10,000; OR
Both that fine and imprisonment.
The trial judge is responsible for deciding the duration of custody when sentencing the defendant. However, the judge is prohibited from imposing the 3-year high-term unless there are aggravating circumstances that justify imposing the longer sentence.
**Note: The penalty for aggravated felony indecent exposure is the same as ordinary felony indecent exposure.
5. Will I have to register as a sex offender if convicted of indecent exposure?
Yes, in addition to the penalties listed above, any person convicted of indecent exposure in California will be required to register as a sex offender for a minimum of 10 years. The requirement to register as a sex offender applies whether you were convicted of penal code section 314 as a misdemeanor or a felony.
The requirement to register as a sex offender pursuant to penal code 290 is required by law. Therefore, neither a judge nor a prosecutor can waive a defendant’s requirement to register as a sex offender.
The 10-year requirement to register as a sex offender starts whenever the defendant is released from custody. For example, if the defendant is sentenced to 2 years in prison for indecent exposure, they will have to register as a sex offender for 10 years from the date they are release from prison.
A 3-year sex offender registration requirement can be added to the 10-year requirement every time a person fails to register. Additionally, failure to register as a sex offender is a crime that can be charged either as a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the underlying conviction.
6. Common defenses to criminal threats charges.
There are many defenses a good criminal lawyer can use to defend some accused of indecent exposure.
No Criminal Intent –
As previously mentioned, the crime of indecent exposure requires that the defendant be acting with some form of sexual intent. Normally, the sexual intent is to be aroused, but can sometimes be to sexually offend someone else. Whatever the reason, at a minimum the defendant must be sexually motivated.
Thus, a person would not be guilty of indecent exposure for streaking across a football field because their friend dared them to. Under these circumstances, the defendant is not sexually motivated.
Mistaken Identity –
It is not uncommon for indecent exposure to occur at night in lowly lit areas. This can sometimes lead to someone mistakenly identifying someone as the perpetrator.
A good criminal defense lawyer will have you retrace your steps the night of the alleged incident. If you can be placed at a completely difference location at the time of the alleged indecent exposure, then it is very unlikely the prosecutor will be able to move forward with criminal charges.
Every situation is different though. If you or someone you love has been charged with indecent exposure for violating penal code section 314, it is best to contact an experienced and knowledgeable criminal defense lawyer.
You should never try and talk your way out of the situation with officers. Officers will try and use anything and everything you says against you. It is best to just hold your tongue and request a lawyer.
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