California’s indecent exposure laws are written broadly and vaguely. For that reason, if you have been charged with indecent exposure and you’re a little baffled as to how it could happen: You are not alone.

In California, the courts’ interpretation of indecent exposure really hasn’t changed that much since the law was enacted in 1872.

And while indecent exposure might seem like a minor offense, it’s consequences can be devastating. A conviction for indecent exposure can carry felony prison sentences and mandatory registration as a sex offender, which can lead to professional and personal reprecussions.

If you or someone you love has been accused of indecent exposure, it’s important to speak with an attorney skilled in sex crimes cases as soon as possible.

What Is Indecent Exposure?

California Penal Code 314 defines indecent exposure as willfully exposing your genitals to someone else, with the goal of offending them or sexually gratifying yourself.

In order to convict you of indecent exposure, a prosecutor will have to prove that a certain number of facts were true in the incident. These are called “elements of the crime.” 

Indecent exposure has three elements:

  1. You willfully exposed your genitals. This means that accidentally exposing your genitals (for example, if your shorts are torn) is not a violation of 314 PC.
  2. In the presence of someone who might be annoyed or offended. Note here that California law makes no distinction between exposing yourself in a public or private area. It simply means that you exposed yourself to an audience.
  3. You intended to direct public attention to your genitals for the purpose of EITHER:
    1. Sexually gratifying yourself or someone else. Simply exposing yourself isn’t enough. You must have done it to draw someone’s attention to your genitals for sexual gratification.
    2. OR Sexually offending someone else. If you did not expose yourself for sexual gratification, the prosecution must prove that you did it in order to offend the sexual sensibilities of someone else.

As we mentioned above, this law is written broadly and vaguely. There is a lot of nuance in indecent exposure situations, so let’s look at a few examples:

Example 1: Tom goes on a first date with Linda, and after dinner, he returns with her to her house to share a cup of tea. Tom briefly excuses himself and returns to the dining room fully nude. Even though Tom was in a private residence, because he exposed himself to a person who might be annoyed and offended and did it for the purposes of sexual gratification, he could be guilty of indecent exposure.

Example 2: Tom wakes up early for a day of sunbathing at the nude beach. He arrives, strips down and falls asleep on a towel. Unfortunately, it turns out he made a mistake and arrived at a public beach. The police wake him and arrest him. Because Tom didn’t willfully expose himself for the purpose of sexual gratification or offense, he would likely be found not guilty.

Example 3: Brad and Steve are teenagers, driving in their town’s main drag. As they pull up to a red light, Steve pulls down his pants and “moons” the adjacent car. Because Steve’s action was motivated by mischief rather than sexual offense or gratification, he likely is not guilty of indecent exposure.

If your specific case isn’t covered here, we strongly recommend speaking with a defense attorney to understand your situation and your rights.

Penalties for Indecent Exposure

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Indecent exposure is a “wobbler,” meaning that it can be charged as either a felony or misdemeanor depending on your criminal history and the facts of the case. 

For most first-time indecent exposure cases, a defendant could face:

  • Up to 6 months in county jail
  • Up to $1,000 in fines
  • A minimum 10-year duty to register as a convicted sex offender

Even though six months in county jail seems minor, the 10-year duty to register as a convicted sex offender can lead to difficulty finding jobs and housing. This can also lead to loss of professional licensure.

In cases of “aggravated indecent exposure,” where a person enters an inhabited building uninvited and exposes themselves, or on subsequent offenses, indecent exposure is often charged as a felony.

As a felony, indecent exposure is punishable by:

  • Up to 3 years in California state prison
  • Up to $10,000 in fines
  • A minimum 10-year duty to register as a convicted sex offender

Defenses Against Indecent Exposure Charges

“Robert really came to my rescue! I found myself under false accusations and he really came through. I was really freaking out, and Robert was able to make me feel like I was in good hands. I can’t recommend his services enough.”Drew, CA

Facing allegations of indecent exposure can be humiliating. A simple situation can sometimes get out of hand and can lead to legal trouble for otherwise law abiding people.

The good news it that there are a number of defenses against indecent exposure charges. The strongest defense against these charges is often insufficient evidence. The prosecution must prove that every “element” of the crime above is true, and a skilled criminal defense attorney can examine the facts of your case and expose weaknesses in the prosecution’s arguments.

As well, indecent exposure cases often fall apart under scrutiny due to mistaken identity. “Flashers” sometimes expose themselves in dark environments, so it might lead to innocent people getting caught up in the case.

As we mentioned above, every situation is different. Robert M. Helfend is an expert in sex crimes cases, and has successfully defended thousands of clients in the Los Angeles area since 1984. Call today for your free case review — 800-834-6434.

What Is Indecent Exposure?

California Penal Code 314 defines indecent exposure as willfully exposing your genitals to someone else, with the goal of offending them or sexually gratifying yourself.