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How Can I Fight Indecent Exposure Charges?

Posted by Dmitry Gorin | Aug 10, 2021

Review of PC 314 Indecent Exposure Charges and Best Defenses

California Penal Code 314 PC describes the crime of indecent exposure as when a person willfully exposes their naked body or genitals to someone else who could be offended or annoyed in a public place.

It should be noted that the act of “exposing” must be done with an intent to draw public attention to their genitals for sexual gratification, or to offend. Put simply, “intent” is a key factor in PC 314 prosecutions.

How Can I Fight Indecent Exposure Charges in California?
PC 314 indecent exposure case requires an intent to willfully expose for sexual gratification.

Indecent exposure is only a misdemeanor offense for a first conviction, but it's a crime with potentially long-lasting and devastating ramifications if you are convicted.

For example, a second or subsequent indecent exposure offense can result in aggravated felony charges that carry up to three years in a state prison.

Further, indecent exposure is a sex crime, meaning that upon conviction (regardless of the severity of the offense), you must register as a sex offender, and your name will remain on the registry for ten years.

This is a serious stigma affecting where you can live or work, and have other serious collateral consequences. This is one of the reasons you must retain experienced legal counsel early in the court process.

Let's talk about what California law has to say about indecent exposure—what it entails, what the possible penalties and consequences are, related offenses, and common strategies for defending against this charge. 

Our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers will provide a detailed review below.

Overview of Indecent Exposure Law in California

Put simply, indecent exposure is purposefully exposing yourself in public when the exposure is commonly considered lewd, just out of place, and not normal. Use of common sense would be advised here and avoid overanalyzing it.

Intentional exposure of your private body parts, when the particular exposure seems offensive and against the standards of decency in a specific community, could be considered the common sex offense of indecent exposure.

Clearly, some areas of the state of California are more tolerable of indecent exposure incidents than other parts. However, if you intentionally exposure your genitals in public, then you are likely facing PC 314 charges anywhere.

As noted above, the crime of indecent exposure is described in Penal Code 314 PC. It details two scenarios in which a person may be guilty of indecent exposure:

  • willfully and lewdly exposing one's naked body or genitalia in public such that others present might be annoyed or offended; or
  • taking part in or facilitating a public exhibition of such exposure “such as is offensive to decency, or is adapted to excite to vicious or lewd thoughts or acts.”

In understanding what indecent exposure is, it's also important to note what it is not. “Willfully and lewdly” are the operative terms in procuring a conviction for indecent exposure.

The prosecution must demonstrate not just that you were exposed but that you intended to expose yourself to others for the purpose of self-gratification or to annoy or offend.

Indecent exposure also does not include the following:

  • accidental nudity (e.g., wardrobe malfunctions, nudity while believing oneself to be alone);
  • exposing one's underwear;
  • exposure of a woman's breast (indecent exposure involves only genitalia)

Elements of the Crime

As noted, one of the primary elements of the crime that have to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt to be convicted of Penal Code 314 PC indecent exposure is that your act of public nudity was sexually motivated.

California Penal Code 314 PC indecent exposure law
Prosecutors must prove there was some type of sexual purpose related to your actions.

Put simply, in all indecent exposure cases, the prosecutor has to show your actions had the intent to disturb anyone who was viewing.

This means unintentional exposure is not considered illegal.

A sexual purpose is required for a conviction, thus any display that was not sexually motivated, like urinating in public, is simply not an indecent exposure offense.

Further, since indecent exposure requires displaying the genitals, showing female breasts or mooning someone are also not a criminal act.

If you expose your genitals in any manner that was for a sexual purpose, then you could be convicted under this statute.

So, here are some crucial points to remember to be convicted of this sex crime.

  • the genitals have to be publicly exposed in the presence of another person who might be annoyed or offended;
  • you had a specific intent to draw public attention to your genitals;
  • the drawing of attention to your genitals was for the purpose of either sexual gratification or to offend someone.

What are the Punishments for PC 314?

In California, the crime of indecent exposure is a misdemeanor for the first offense. If convicted, you could be fined up to $1000 and sentenced to up to 6 months in jail.

There is also A 10-year minimum registration as a sex offender under PC 290. If you are convicted of a felony, then the penalties include:

  • 16 months, two years, or three years in a California state prison,
  • a maximum fine of $10,000,
  • mandatory PC 290 sex offender registration.

Put simply, it does not matter if you are convicted of a felony or a misdemeanor indecent exposure charge, you will most likely have to register as a sex offender.

Clearly, sex offender registration can have numerous collateral consequences that will follow you for the rest of your life.

Background checks will show the indecent exposure conviction to possible employers and it often affect your ability to obtain housing or loans.

What If the Victim was a Minor?

It's no secret that sex crimes against minors frequently carry more severe punishments that sex crimes against adults, but this doesn't apply in indecent exposure cases

Any person convicted under this statute will be facing the same penalties regardless if the was a minor or an adult.

It should be noted, however, if you intentionally expose your genitals to a minor for a sexual purpose, then you could be facing charges under California Penal Code 647.6, annoying or molesting a child.

In order to be convicted under this statute, prosecutors must prove you had an unnatural sexual interest in children, which is harder to prove than just exposing yourself to a minor.

Enhancements to Indecent Exposure Charges

While indecent exposure is a misdemeanor, certain circumstances can escalate the charges to become more severe and carry harsher penalties. These include:

  • Repeat offender. If you are charged with a second or subsequent indecent exposure offense, the charge is automatically escalated to a felony (known as “automatic felony indecent exposure”). If convicted, you could face fines up to $10,000 and serve up to three years in state prison for each offense.
  • Aggravated indecent exposure. If you commit indecent exposure in an inhabited home, trailer or building—or if you enter said structure without permission for the purpose of indecent exposure—you can be charged with “aggravated indecent exposure.” This is a “wobbler” offense, meaning it may be charged either as a misdemeanor or a felony.

Sex Offender Registry

As noted above, what makes this crime particularly damaging is that indecent exposure is a sex crime in California.

Whether you're charged with a misdemeanor or felony, a conviction of any kind comes with a mandatory 10-year duty to register as a Tier-1 sex offender under Penal Code 290.

This means you must register with local law enforcement every time you move, and depending on the circumstances of your case and the determination of the courts, you may face certain restrictions on where you can live and work.

If you fail to register, or if you fail to update any changes to your situation, you may be charged with the additional crime of failing to register as a sex offender.

Related California Crimes 

The indecent exposure law under California Penal Code 314 has several related offenses that can be added as an additional charge or used for negotiation to resolve the case. These separate crimes include the following:

Penal Code 647(a) PC - lewd conduct in public

This law makes it a crime to touch your own or someone else's genitals, buttocks, or breasts in public for the purpose of sexual gratification or annoyance.

It is also illegal to publicly solicit lewd conduct from another. Similar to indecent exposure, lewd conduct is a misdemeanor offense.

Penal Code 288 PC - lewd acts with a minor child

If lewd conduct with a minor is committed against a child under the age of 14, it is a felony rather than a misdemeanor, subject to the harsher penalties associated with felony sex crimes.

Penal Code 602 Trespassing and Penal Code 459 Burglary

While trespassing isn't a sex crime and might seem unrelated to indecent exposure at first, prosecutors often use it as a subsequent charge for suspects accused of aggravated indecent exposure (inside a building) if they don't have sufficient proof that the defendant intended to expose themselves.

In like manner, if prosecutors do believe the defendant intended to expose themselves once inside, they may add the charge of burglary, which is entering a building without permission with the intent to commit a felony.

Penal Code 415 PC – disturbing the peace

This statute can be used to charge someone when they behave in a loud, offensive, or belligerent manner in a public place. While it's not directly related to indecent exposure, it's frequently a negotiating tool for criminal lawyers in plea bargaining.

What are the Best Defenses for Indecent Exposure Cases?

There are a wide range of potential defenses our criminal lawyers can use against charges of indecent exposure in violation of Penal Code 314 PC:

  • no intent for sexual gratification,
  • exposing genitals was not intentional,
  • exposure was not in public or in presence of others,
  • insufficient evidence,
  • mistaken identity,
  • false allegation.

As noted, if the prosecutor can't prove every element of crime, then you are not guilty of indecent exposure.

Perhaps you didn't violate every provision under this statute, such as the act was not in a public place to be seen by other people that could be offended.

What are the Best Defenses for Indecent Exposure Cases?
If you are accused of indecent exposure, then contact our law firm to review all the details and options.

Perhaps your genitals were partially clothed or there was not intent for sexual gratification. Recall every factor has to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

We might be able to make an argument the allegations against you are false. Maybe the accuser was motived by anger or jealously.

Further, we might be able to prepare a defense of mistaken identity. Perhaps the accuser made an honest mistake or the alleged crime occurred in a dark place where the real perpetrator's face was partially obscured.

Through prefiling intervention, we might be able persuade the prosecutor from filing formal charges before court.

If you are under investigation, or already arrested and charged with a violating Penal Code 314 PC indecent exposure laws, then you should contact our criminal defense lawyers for a confidential consultation.

Eisner Gorin LLP is based in Los Angeles County. Call our law firm at (877) 781-1570 or you can fill out our contact form.

About the Author

Dmitry Gorin

Dmitry Gorin is a licensed attorney, who has been involved in criminal trial work and pretrial litigation since 1994. Before becoming partner in Eisner Gorin LLP, Mr. Gorin was a Senior Deputy District Attorney in Los Angeles Courts for more than ten years. As a criminal tri...

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