Being convicted of a sex crime in the State of California carries with it many potentially severe repercussions, including fines, jail or prison time, and inclusion on the publicly accessible sex offender registry.
But what about seemingly minor offenses like indecent exposure with no specific victim? Is indecent exposure considered a felony in California? The short answer is... it depends. Our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers will discuss this question in more detail below.
California Penal Code 314 PC defines the sex crime of indecent exposure as when someone willfully exposes their naked body or genitals to another person who could be offended or annoyed in a public place.
The act of “exposing” has to be done with the intent to draw public attention to their genitals for sexual gratification or to offend somebody. In other words, “intent” is a crucial element of the crime in PC 314 prosecutions.
Indecent exposure is only a misdemeanor offense for a first conviction, but even so, it carries potentially long-lasting and harmful ramifications if you are convicted.
A second or subsequent indecent exposure incident could result in aggravated felony charges carrying up to three years in state prison. Since indecent exposure is considered a sex crime, if you are convicted, you will be required to register as a sex offender, and your name will remain on the sex registry for ten years.
This is a severe social stigma affecting where you can live or work, along with other serious collateral consequences, which is why you should retain a criminal lawyer early in the court process. Negotiation with the prosecutor might be possible.
What is Indecent Exposure under California Penal Code 314 PC?
According to California Penal Code 314 PC, indecent exposure involves either of the following acts:
- Willful, lewd exposure of one's naked body or genitals in public such that others present may be annoyed or offended; or
- Publicly displaying such an image or participating in or organizing an exhibition corrupts morals or generates lewd thoughts and actions.
Note that public nudity or exposing one's genitals are not inherently illegal in California. Three factors must be present to make it a crime:
- It must be willful (i.e., intentional) and with lewdness of purpose. Accidental nudity doesn't count;
- It must be "public"—meaning that there is no expectation of privacy;
- It must be intended to annoy or offend others who might be present.
“Willfully and lewdly” are the crucial terms for convicting someone for indecent exposure. The prosecutor has to be able to prove not just that you were exposed but that you intended to expose yourself to others for self-gratification or to annoy or offend.
Indecent exposure doesn't include accidental nudity, exposing underwear, or a woman exposing her breast; instead, it only involves genitalia.
Is PC 314 Indecent Exposure a Misdemeanor or Felony?
As noted, at its most basic, indecent exposure is a misdemeanor for the first offense. If convicted, you could be sentenced to up to six months in county jail and fined up to $1000. However, other contributing factors can escalate this crime to a felony offense with more significant fines and higher prison terms. These are listed below.
Aggravated" indecent exposure. If you exposed yourself inside an inhabited home, trailer, or building that you entered without permission, you could be charged with aggravated indecent exposure.
This is a "wobbler" offense, meaning prosecutors may charge it as a misdemeanor or a felony offense. If it's a misdemeanor, the maximum jail sentence is extended from 6 months to 1 year. If it's charged as a felony, you could be facing fines of up to $10,000 and up to 3 years in prison if convicted.
Second or subsequent offenses. Suppose you are charged a second or subsequent time for indecent exposure after having a prior conviction. In that case, it's automatically escalated to a felony offense punishable by up to $10,000 in fines and up to 3 years in prison.
Additionally, if you have a prior conviction for lewd and lascivious acts with a minor (Penal Code 288), the first offense of indecent exposure will automatically be charged as a felony. Anyone convicted under Penal Code 314 PC will face the same penalties regardless of whether the victim was a minor or an adult.
However, suppose you intentionally expose your genitals to a minor for a sexual purpose. In that case, you could be charged under a separate statute California Penal Code 647.6, annoying or molesting a child that carries more severe penalties.
A closely related crime for indecent exposure is Penal Code 647(a) PC lewd conduct in public that makes it a crime to touch yourself or someone else's genitals, buttocks, or breasts in public for sexual gratification or annoyance.
Will I Have to Register as a Sex Offender if Convicted?
Yes. Under current California law, if you're convicted of indecent exposure, you will be required to register with local law enforcement as a sex offender for a minimum of 10 years.
Your name and information will then be forwarded to the California Department of Justice to be placed in a publicly searchable sex offender registry. This mandatory 10-year registration is the same whether you were convicted of a misdemeanor or a felony.
As a convicted sex offender, you must register with local law enforcement within five days of being released from custody or within five days of conviction if no incarceration is required. You'll also be required to renew your registration each year within five days of your birthday and within five days of changing addresses.
You may only request to have your name removed from the registry after your birthday following the tenth year on the registry—and then it's at the courts' discretion whether to remove it.
If you fail to register—or if you fail to keep your registration current—you may be charged with an additional crime under Penal Code PC 290, resulting in possible additional fines and jail/prison time.
What are the Best Defenses Against Charges of Indecent Exposure?
While a conviction of indecent exposure may have long-lasting consequences even for a misdemeanor offense, it may be possible to avoid conviction by presenting a solid defense.
Since the operative terms regarding indecent exposure are "willful," "public," and "to offend," most defense strategies revolve around refuting one or more of these factors. For example, your attorney may argue that:
- Your exposure was not willful (i.e., intentional) nor intended to evoke lewdness;
- You were unaware of the presence of others or that they would have been offended (e.g., you had a reasonable expectation of privacy); or
- You didn't intend offense by your actions;
- No intent for sexual gratification.
Additional defenses against indecent exposure may include:
- False accusation (e.g., someone accused you of the crime out of spite); or
- Mistaken identity (e.g., someone who looked like you committed indecent exposure, but the witnesses identified the wrong person).
If the prosecutor can't prove every element of the crime, then you are not guilty of violating California's indecent exposure law. Every factor has to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
Maybe your genitals were partially clothed you had no intent of sexual gratification. Recall every factor has to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
Perhaps we can negotiate with the prosecution for reduced charges or case dismissal, but we need first to review the allegations' details. Through prefiling intervention, we might be able to negotiate with law enforcement detectives and the prosecution to avoid the formal filing of charges in the first place.
Eisner Gorin LLP is based in Los Angeles County, and you can reach us for an initial consultation by calling (877) 781-1570 or filling out our contact form.