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