Wrongful Accusations of Indecent Exposure

Learn about common defenses to indecent exposure, including defenses relating to public urination, streaking, and unintentional exposure.

Indecent exposure is the intentional exposure of one’s private parts in public. Most states have specific laws addressing indecent exposure, and these laws share many similarities. Read on to learn more about indecent exposure and common defenses to indecent exposure.

Elements of Indecent Exposure

A conviction of indecent exposure requires the prosecutor to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, each of the following elements:

  • The exposure was willful.  Most states require proof that the exposure was willful, meaning there was an intentional exposure of the private parts of the body. For example, if a person unknowingly exposes his or her private parts because of a broken button, zipper, or tear in clothing, a court would likely find that the exposure was not willful.
  • Exposure of private body parts.  Generally, statutes define “private body parts” as external male and female sex organs, and some states include male and female buttocks in the statutory definition. Some states also include female breasts as a private body part, though expressing milk is often protected by state and local breastfeeding laws (see  Do I have to cover up while breastfeeding in public?).
  • Exposure in a public place. “Public place” is loosely defined as a place where the exposure is likely to be seen by a number of casual observers, including a place open to view by the public at large. Restaurants, mall parking lots, and highway rest stop are examples of public places.
  • Exposure in the presence of one or more person.  To be guilty of indecent exposure, at least one person must have been within sight of the exposure, though the victim need not have actually seen the exposure for a defendant to be convicted. Additionally, some states require that the victim is a member of the opposite sex.

Learn more about indecent exposure laws and penalties.

Common Defenses to Indecent Exposure

A number of defenses are available to a charge of indecent exposure.

  • Lack of willful intent.  Because indecent exposure requires that the exposure was willful, claiming that the exposure was unintentional is a common defense. For example, public urination can be viewed as unintentional exposure if efforts were made to limit the public’s exposure to the offender’s genitals (that is, peeing in a secluded alley or behind a wall, out of the public’s view). Some courts have held that “answering an urgent call of nature alfresco” is not public indecency, absent an intent of sexual exposure. Similarly, exposure that occurs while in the home (for example, through an open door or window) is usually viewed as unintentional.
  • Consent between parties.  Some states allow for indecent exposure if both parties consent to the exposure. Common examples of consent include commercial nude dancing and sexual acts in public between parties. Of course, if a member of the public who does not consent to the exposure encounters the amorous couple, then the couple may be charged with indecent exposure.
  • Lack of sexual motivation.  Some states require that the defendant has a sexual motivation behind the indecent exposure. Therefore, if the exposure was not sexually motivated (for example, public urination, wardrobe malfunctions, or streaking), then a defendant cannot be convicted of indecent exposure.

Get Legal Help

Indecent exposure is a serious crime, and a conviction can result in jail time, fines, and registration as a sex offender. A defendant facing an indecent exposure charge should seek the counsel of a skilled defense attorney to guide him or her through the criminal court process. To locate a criminal defense attorney in your geographic area, visit Nolo’s  Lawyer Directory.

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