Indecent Exposure Laws, Charges & Statute of Limitations

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Indecent exposure is a crime in all states. It involves publicly displaying one’s genitals, which causes alarm or offence to others. Usually, the crime is committed for sexual gratification, as it entices a sexual response. Indecent exposure literally means that bare genitals are exposed on purpose. Female breasts are not classed as genitals, however. Additionally, for the laws to be applicable, they have to be bare genitals. Exposing underwear, regardless of how skimpy it is, is not classed as indecent exposure. If any physical contact is made, the charge would change to sexual assault.

Indecent Exposure Laws

Each state has different laws in terms of indecent exposure, and this can make it very difficult to understand. In some states, being completely nude in front of anyone who is not that person’s spouse constitutes indecent exposure. In other states, revealing any body part that is classed as being ‘private’ in front of another individual or group of people, is classed as indecent exposure.

Usually, it is not a serious offense and the defendants will be charged with a misdemeanor, rather than a felony. The exceptions are if the person they exposed themselves to was a minor, or if any physical contact has taken place. Federal law makers are now considering, as well, whether someone convicted of indecent exposure will have to sign the sex offenders’ register.

Indecent Exposure Crimes & Charges

Prosecutors must submit a number of elements in order to secure a conviction. This comes under the 25 CFR 11.408 – Indecent Exposure law. These components are different in every state, but usually include:

  • Proof that ‘private parts’ have been exposed, which usually means the genitals, buttocks, and breasts
  • Willful exposure, meaning that the defendant intended to show their parts
  • Exposure in a public place, such as public or privately owned areas
  • Exposure in the presence of someone else. In some states, this must be someone of the opposite sex

Indecent Exposure Punishment

Usually, a first conviction for indecent exposure is a misdemeanor and only incurs short county jail sentences and/or small fines. If someone has been convicted of this before, however, the crime will rise to felony and this can lead to time in state prison. In some states, offenders will have to register as a sex offender. Punishments usually include:

  • Incarceration, usually from six months to a year, although some states have 10 year sentences
  • Fines, usually from between $1,000 and $20,000
  • Probation, which usually includes counseling and maintaining employment
  • Community service with approved organizations
  • Registering on the sex offenders list

Indecent Exposure Sentencing Guidelines

Sentencing guidelines for indecent exposure vary from state to state and from one case to another. It has to be demonstrated that the defendant engaged in intentional reckless conduct, with the intentional element generally being hardest to prove. The defendant’s mental state usually plays a big role in sentencing for the offense. The recklessness element is important as well, particularly if exposure happened in the presence of children.

In most indecent exposure cases, defense attorneys will claim ‘mistake of fact’, particularly if a child was exposed. This means that they will admit to the exposure, but not to willfully doing so in front of a child. Effectively, they will claim to not have known the age of the victim, or to have targeted someone else and having accidentally been in sight of the minor. If a child is involved, penalties are usually much harsher, which is why this is a common defense, in which an alleged perpetrator effectively admits guilt to at least an element of their charge.

Indecent Exposure Statute of Limitations

Because indecent exposure is usually seen as a misdemeanor, most states have a three year statute of limitations on it, although this does vary. If a minor was involved, some states have indefinite statutes of limitations, whereas others have a certain period of time after the minor turns 18. In all cases, the statute of limitations can be tolled if the alleged offender leaves the state or the country.

Indecent Exposure Cases

  • A man has exposed himself next to an elementary school in Mission Vejo. Police were called to the Glen Yermo Elementary School, where they saw a man with his pants pulled down, facing the school. As officers approached him, he fled. The suspect remains at large. (My News LA)
  • An internal review of San Diego City Attorney’s Office demonstrated that some 98 cases were bungled. These cases included domestic violence and indecent exposure. On some of the cases, the statute of limitations has now expired. The investigation led to two top prosecutors leaving the office. (The San Diego Union – Tribune)
  • A man in Tempe, AZ, has been arrested on two indecent exposure charges. He shouted at a 13 year old girl while masturbating in his truck with the door open. The girl reported the incident to her school, who informed the police. Around one year ago, a similar event happened, this time involving an adult female. It is believed that the same man, Francisco Chavez, 32, was involved in both cases. (AZ Central)
  • Two cases of indecent exposure have been reported in Dallas. Both involved a Hispanic man, who first exposed himself while performing a lewd act to an adult and three minors, whom he proceeded to follow. In the second case, a 17 year old girl was followed in a car. The driver got out and proceeded to follow her while exposing himself and performing a lewd act. It is not known whether the two incidents involve the same male, or whether the two incidents are unrelated. (CBS DFW)
  • 19 year old David Brown has been arrested in Corvallis on suspicion of two counts of indecent exposure. The indecent exposure acts happened earlier in the week, in quick succession. The public is urged to come forward should they have any information. (Oregon Live)

Indecent Exposure Quick Links & References

Justia – Public Indecency
25 CFR 11.408 – Indecent Exposure
Nudity and Public Decency Laws in America

Indecent Exposure Laws by State

Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming