Public Urination Laws and Penalties

When you have to go, you have to go. But peeing in public is illegal and can result in a criminal conviction. Learn about public urination charges, penalties, and defenses here.

By , Attorney | Updated by Kelly Martin, Attorney

Public urination might not be listed as a crime in some states, but it's usually illegal nonetheless. In other words, peeing in public usually violates some law, even if that law doesn't specifically target public urination.

Public Urination Laws

One way or another, urinating (or defecating) in public is illegal in every state. Someone who urinates in public can be charged under a state's laws or a city or county's local ordinances.

Peeing in Public is Illegal Under State Law

Although some states' laws specifically prohibit urinating in public, in most states it's usually charged as disorderly conduct or creating a public nuisance.

Though less common, a harsher approach is to charge people who pee in public with indecent exposure or public lewdness, which are crimes that could require them to register as a sex offender. (For more information, see "Public Urination and Sex Offender Registration" below.)

Public Urination Also Violates Local Ordinances

Many city and county criminal ordinances also ban public urination, and people are often charged under these ordinances for it. A typical ordinance might prohibit urination "on any street, sidewalk, alley, plaza, park, beach public building or public facility, or any place open to the public or exposed to public view."

These types of ordinances ban urination even on private property if it's visible from a public place. So, peeing on your front lawn in view of people driving by would violate the typical ordinance.

Criminal Penalties for Urinating in Public

State law usually classifies disorderly conduct and similar crimes as misdemeanors, which are less serious than felonies. Penalties for a misdemeanor can include:

  • Incarceration in county jail. Usually, courts can order up to a year, but people don't often go to jail for a year for peeing in public (especially for a first offense), and sometimes they do no jail time.
  • Payment of a fine. The amount of the fine varies from state to state and locality to locality.
  • Community service. The court can require volunteer work at a charity, for example.
  • Instead of or in addition to jail, the court can place the defendant on probation (usually for two or three years).

Penalties can be more severe if you've been convicted of prior offenses; you could be less likely to get probation and more likely to do jail time and pay higher fines.

Violations of local ordinances are usually punished by fines, community service, or both. Local governments set the amounts of the fines. A typical fine might be from $50 to $500, depending on the circumstances.

Public Urination Defenses

Various defenses can apply to a public urination charge, depending on the facts of the case. Here's an explanation of a couple of the main ones, starting with necessity.

Necessity: "I Really Needed to Go"

Breaking the law out of necessity has long been a defense to most criminal charges. Courts allow the necessity defense because it's unfair to punish someone who breaks the law only because they have to.

To successfully argue necessity, the defendant typically must show that:

  • they broke the law to "prevent a significant evil" (usually physical harm)
  • they had no adequate alternative to breaking the law
  • they didn't create a bigger danger than the one they avoided by breaking the law
  • they had a reasonable belief in the need to do what they did, and
  • their own conduct didn't significantly contribute to the emergency that caused them to break the law.

With a public urination charge, the defense of necessity is that you really had to pee and had no choice but to do so in public. For example, if someone had a health condition that caused incontinence or an urgent need to pee, and no toilet was available, they might be able to argue that urinating in public was a necessity.

Whether this defense is allowed might depend on how the state law or local ordinance is worded, and whether the person did their best to conceal themselves from view. That said, necessity is often a hard defense to win on, so it's best not to assume you can rely on it.

(Cleveland v. Pugh, 674 N.E.2d 759 (Ohio Ct. App. 1996); People v. Cooke, 152 Misc.2d 311 (N.Y. Just. Ct. 1991).)

Public Urination and Sex Offender Registration

People convicted of indecent exposure or public lewdness could face the harsh consequence of registering as sex offenders. In many states that require registration for indecent exposure, the defendant's acts or intent must have been lewd. This requirement ensures that only people who have committed actual sex offenses are on the registry.

Some of the states that allow (or require) registration for indecent exposure or public lewdness are California, Arizona (cases involving minors and repeat crimes), and Georgia (when done in view of a minor).

(Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 13-3821(2022); Cal. Penal Code §§ 314, 290 (2022); Ga. Code Ann. §§ 42-1-12, 16-6-8 (2022); Brown v. State (2004) 605 S.E.2d 885 (Ga. Ct. App. 2004).)

See a Lawyer

If you've been charged with public urination, take it seriously. A conviction for lewd conduct or even just disorderly conduct has consequences.

Consult with an experienced, local criminal defense attorney, who will know how such cases are typically handled in the court your case is in. A lawyer can advise you of your options, including whether to try for a plea bargain. Never speak with the prosecutor or a prosecutor's investigator without having your lawyer at your side.

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