Indecent Exposure

Created by FindLaw's team of attorney writers and editors.

Indecent exposure laws in most states make it a crime to purposefully display one's genitals in public, causing others to be alarmed or offended. While the motive will vary from person to person, indecent exposure is often committed for the sexual gratification of the offender or to entice a sexual response.

What Does It Really Mean to "Expose One's Genitals?"

Exposing one's genitals means just that -- to show your bare genitals. However, flashing one's underwear, no matter how revealing or skimpy, is usually not considered indecent exposure for purposes of most states' laws. While showing a bare female breast could result in a criminal charge, most states carve out an exception for women breastfeeding their babies.

So what about urinating in public? If one is urinating behind a dumpster, for example, outside direct view of the public (especially at night), that person likely would have a good argument that the act was not done with the purpose of sexual arousal, gratification, or offending another. But, whether or not public urination falls within the definition of indecent exposure will rely heavily on the way a state's statutes are written.

Sample of State Indecent Exposure Laws

In California, for instance, to be convicted of indecent exposure, the prosecution must prove an intent to sexually arouse, or sexually insult or offend someone. The California statute broadly and vaguely makes it a crime to willfully expose your genitals to someone else, motivated by a desire to sexually gratify yourself or offend or insult the other person.

Similarly, in Florida, a person can't be convicted of this crime unless the offender had the intent to be lewd, lascivious, or indecent. Interestingly, Florida not only makes exposing oneself in public a crime, but also doing it near or on someone else's private property.

In contrast to California and Florida, New York simply makes it crime to expose or not have clothes on one's "private or intimate parts" in a public place. But, New York also carves out a defense for those performing in a play or other type of show.

Penalties for Indecent Exposure

In most cases, the first conviction subjects an individual to misdemeanor penalties, meaning a few months in county jail and/or a fine. A second offense likely would rise to a felony, which would usually lead to a state prison sentence. But perhaps worst of all, in some states any type of conviction that involves exposing oneself can result in a lifetime duty to register as a sex offender. This penalty often makes plea bargaining for an alternative charge vital. It's important to remember that an indecent exposure charge reach the level of a sexual assault if any physical contact is made.

Get Peace of Mind Today: Contact a Criminal Defense Lawyer

Although it may not seem like a serious crime, a conviction for indecent exposure can follow you the rest of your life, especially if you have to register as a sex offender. Sometimes this type of charge might result from a prank gone bad. In any case, it's important to have a strong legal team in place to establish facts favorable to your case and, where necessary bargain for an alternative charge. Contact an experienced criminal defense attorney near you today.

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