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Indecent Exposure

California Penal Code 314 PC

Indecent exposure, as contemplated under California law, refers to the act of willfully exposing one’s naked body or genitals in a public place to others who would be offended or annoyed by it. This is considered to be a criminal act and is punishable under California Penal Code 314. The offense may be prosecuted as felony or misdemeanor and punishable by up to 6 months in county jail or imprisonment in state prison. In addition to the penalty of imprisonment, a conviction will also result in mandatory registration as sex offender for a minimum period of 10 years.

Penal Code 314 states that:

Every person who willfully and lewdly, either:

1. Exposes his person, or the private parts thereof, in any public place, or in any place where there are present other persons to be offended or annoyed thereby; or,

2. Procures, counsels, or assists any person so to expose himself or take part in any model artist exhibition, or to make any other exhibition of himself to public view, or the view of any number of persons, such as is offensive to decency, or is adapted to excite to vicious or lewd thoughts or acts, is guilty of a misdemeanor.

Every person who violates subdivision 1 of this section after having entered, without consent, an inhabited dwelling house, or trailer coach as defined in Section 635 of the Vehicle Code, or the inhabited portion of any other building, is punishable by imprisonment in the state prison, or in the county jail not exceeding one year.

Upon the second and each subsequent conviction under subdivision 1 of this section, or upon a first conviction under subdivision 1 of this section after a previous conviction under Section 288, every person so convicted is guilty of a felony, and is punishable by imprisonment in state prison.

The penalty for indecent exposure will depend on the number of times with which the defendant has committed the offense. First indecent exposure conviction will be prosecuted as a misdemeanor and is punishable with up to six (6) months in county jail and a fine of up to one thousand dollars ($1,000). A second offense will be prosecuted as a felony and is punishable by imprisonment at California state prison.

What is more concerning in relation to its conviction is that Penal Code 314 PC conviction leads to a minimum ten (10) year duty to register as a California sex offender, the offense being classified as tier one.[1]

Being charged with an offense does not necessarily equate to being automatically held liable for it. Being an accused means that you are entitled to due process and that you will be given your day in court so that you may be able to set up your defenses to counter such charges. With the help of an experienced attorney, he/she can present on your behalf legal defenses in order to have charges against you reduced or even dismissed. Some of the more common legal defenses raised in similar circumstances are: there was no actual exposure of private parts, you weren’t aware of anyone else being present who would be offended, and / or you were the victim of mistaken identity.

When is the crime of “indecent exposure” committed?

In order to be held criminally liable for a charge, the prosecution must be able to prove “the elements” of the crime beyond reasonable doubt. For Penal Code 314, the “elements of the crime” Are as follows:

  1. that you willfully exposed your genitals,
  2. in the presence of someone who might be offended or annoyed by your actions, AND
  3. that you intended to direct public attention to your genitals for the purpose of either
    1. a. sexually gratifying yourself or someone else, OR
    2. b. sexually offending someone else.[2]

In order to gain a better understanding of the foregoing elements, let’s take a look at its legal definition.

i. “Willfully”

As cited above, in order to be convicted of the offense, you must have willfully exposed yourself. “Willfully” simply means that you have committed the exposure on purpose; though not necessarily for with the intention of breaking the law, but doing so should have been made consciously- free from any external influence.

Therefore, if the act of exposure happened accidentally, then it is not covered under this penal code.

ii. Expose yourself or your “private parts”

There are two ways with which you may commit the crime of indecent exposure; it could either be exposing yourself or exposing your body parts. Exposing yourself refers to the act of revealing your naked body. On the other hand, exposing your “private parts” as another way of committing this crime means to reveal your bare genitals. Hence, you cannot be considered to have committed this crime if, for example, you have exposed your underwear, no matter how revealing the underwear is.

iii. In the presence of someone who might be annoyed or offended

Another important element of indecent exposure is that the act of indecent exposure must be done in the presence of another person who might be annoyed or offended by such exposure.[3] There must be that reasonable expectation or belief that someone would see you. Therefore, even if it is done in a public area, but such area is deemed to be secluded and that there could have been no reasonable expectation, you cannot be held criminally liable under this section.

iv. With intent to direct public attention to your genitals

The act of publicly exposing yourself must be done for the purpose of drawing attention to your genitals. Thus, the mere exposure in itself does not necessarily equate to committing the crime, rather it should be for that specific purpose.

v. For the purpose of sexual arousal or sexual offending

Penal Code 314 is very specific as it requires that the act must be motivated by some lewd or sexual intent. It is deemed to be motivated by lewdness if the act is done with an intent to sexually gratify or arouse yourself, someone else sexually, or that it is done with intent to offend someone else sexually.[4]

Penalties for Penal Code 314 PC conviction

Charges for Penal Code 314 may be prosecuted either as misdemeanor or felony. If committed for the first time, the prosecutors most likely will charge it as a misdemeanor offense.[5] If done for the second or subsequent occasions, the charges will be elevated to a felony offense.

If convicted of “simple” misdemeanor indecent exposure, penalties prescribed will include up to six (6) months in county jail, a maximum fine of one thousand dollars ($1,000),[6] and a 10-year (minimum) duty to register as a sex offender pursuant to Penal Code 290.

For repeat offenders, however, charge necessarily becomes a felony. Defendant is deemed a repeat offender if he is convicted of Penal Code 314 PC indecent exposure for a second or subsequent time, or that defendant has a prior conviction for Penal Code 288 PC “lewd acts with a minor.

“Aggravated” indecent exposure

There are instances of indecent exposure, whereby, even though committed for the first time, the prosecutor may charge it as a felony. This circumstance is known as “aggravated” indecent exposure.

It is considered as aggravated indecent exposure if done in an “inhabited” (lived-in) home, trailer, or building, and you entered the home, trailer, or building without permission.[7]

Ultimately, the choice falls upon the prosecutor to charge the offense either as misdemeanor or felony.

If charged as misdemeanor, aggravated exposure will carry with it the same penalty as discussed above plus one (1) year jail sentence. If charged as felony, aggravated indecent exposure carries with it sixteen (16) months, two (2) years or three (3) years in the California State Prison, and up to ten thousand dollars ($10,000) in fines. Whether charged as felony or misdemeanor, conviction for Penal Code 314 will necessarily result to a 10-year (minimum) duty to register as a sex offender.[8]

California Sex Offender Registration

One of the more serious consequences of being convicted under Penal Code 314 is the mandatory registration as California Sex Offender. With the effectivity of Senate Bill (SB) 384, lifetime registration is no longer necessary for conviction under Penal Code 314. SB 384 now classifies offenses into three tier levels. As for Penal Code 314, it is classified as tier level one offense; which means that the duty to register as sex offender is at a minimum ten (10) years. It should be noted that whether convicted of Penal Code 314 as felony or misdemeanor, minimum requirement for registration will be the same.

It is important to note the requirement of registration because failure to comply therewith shall result in an additional criminal charge. If proven guilty for failure to register, penalties can include up to one (1) year in county jail or up to three (3) years in state prison.

Legal Defenses for Penal Code 314

Challenging charges for violation of Penal Code 314 seems to be a daunting task. However, with the assistance of an experienced attorney, it is not entirely impossible. Your attorney may raise legal defenses on your behalf in order to have these charges reduced or even dismissed. Some of the most common legal defenses are discussed as follows:

1. Insufficient evidence

It should be stressed that the prosecution bears the burden of proving each and every element listed above beyond reasonable doubt. Thus, casting doubt as to any or all of the elements existence will most likely result to exoneration from such criminal charges. To cast doubt as to the prosecution’s case, you may raise that there was no one around for you to offend, your genitals were partially clothed, you didn’t act “lewdly”, or you didn’t satisfy any of the other requirements of California’s “indecent exposure” law, or any circumstance that would dispel prosecutions case.

2. False accusations / wrongful arrestand or Mistaken identity

Being falsely accused of a crime is not far from reality. The judicial system is apparently designed to afford defendants to have their day in court and be given all the opportunity to defend themselves. One of these defenses may be that he is wrongfully accused of a crime he did not commit such that the alleged victim could have mistaken his identity or that the accusations were motivated by ill-will, jealousy or vengeance. In such cases, you may present your own evidence to corroborate your side of the story.

Related Crimes

Prosecution for the crime of Indecent exposure will only prosper if all elements of the crime are proven beyond reasonable doubt. The lack of one or more elements, however, does not necessarily mean total exoneration. It could be that the act constitutes a related offense. Crimes similar or related to Penal Code 314 are as follows:

1. Penal Code 647(a) PC “lewd conduct in public”

California Penal Code 647a PC specifically defines and penalizes lewd conduct in public. Acts punishable under this statute include touching your own or another person’s genitals, buttocks, or a female breast, for the purpose of sexual gratification, when you know or should know there are people present who would be offended by it.

Also punishable under this statute is the act of soliciting lewd conduct in public. This offense is a misdemeanor and offenders convicted under this code shall be meted with a punishment of 6 months in jail and fines of up to $1000.00. It is worth mentioning, however, that conviction under this code does not result in Sex offender registration.

“Lewd or dissolute conduct”, as contemplated under this law, is defined as touching your private parts (or another’s private parts). The touching must be done for the purpose of sexual gratification, or to annoy or offend someone else.

Private parts may refer to the genitals, the buttocks, or a female breast.

Penal Code 314 and Penal Code 647(a) are almost similar except that the latter involves the act of actually touching private parts for the purpose of sexual gratification. On the other hand, Penal Code 314 punishes the mere exposure of thereof. Nonetheless, both crimes will necessarily result in mandatory registration as sex offender if found guilty of such offenses.

2. Penal Code 288 PC “lewd conduct with a minor”

California Penal Code 288 defines and penalizes lewd and lascivious acts involving a child. PC 288 is a “wobbler” offense, which means that it may be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony depending upon their case circumstance and their prior criminal history. However, if convicted of a sex crime under this statute, you can expect to become a lifetime inclusion on California’s sex offender’s registry list.

Penal Code 288 and Penal Code 647a are similar in that they both involve lewd acts. Distinction lies in the fact that Penal Code 288 specifically deals with acts where minors are involved; whereas PC 647a may not necessarily be committed against minors only. Moreover, Penal Code 288 is a serious offense and may even lead to lifetime registration as sex offender.

3. Penal Code 459 PC “burglary”

One commits burglary as defined and penalized under California Penal Code 459 PC “when a person enters any structure with the intent to commit a felony once inside.

If you recall, entering a home, trailer, or other inhabited structure without permission and committing indecent exposure on the occasion thereof constitutes an “aggravated” form of indecent exposure. In such cases, the act of entering the structure alone can be a source of another crime namely burglary.

Therefore, in the instance described above, entering a structure and exposing oneself can lead to two separate charges of burglary and indecent exposure., prosecutors could charge you with burglary and indecent exposure.

Burglary of an inhabited structure is a felony and is punishable with imprisonment in California State Prison for a period of two (2), four (4) or six (6) years.

4. Penal Code 602 PC “trespass”

California Penal Code 602 PC trespassing defines and penalizes the act of entering someone’s property without permission. This offense has nothing to do with lewd conduct cases. However, for plea bargaining purposes, this Penal Code section is preferred because it carries less of a stigma on one’s criminal record.

If granted, being convicted of Penal Code section 602 on trespass you will have a much less serious conviction on your record, and that you will no longer be required to comply with the duty to register as sex offender.

5. Penal Code 415 PC “disturbing the peace”

Penal Code 415 PC defines the crime of “disturbing the peace”. It is committed by making unreasonable noise so as to disturb your neighbor, getting into a fight with someone, or using certain offensive language or fighting words. Disturbing the peace charges can be filed as either a misdemeanor or a noncriminal infraction.

This is another common plea bargain offense. Just like criminal trespassing, disturbing the peace has nothing to do with lewd conduct in public. However, this is also preferred by defendants for plea bargaining purposes because it does carry a lesser stigma than lewd conduct in a public place.

Moreover, it can be treated as an infraction that results in no criminal record at all.

If you have been arrested or been accused of a crime in California, call us as soon as possible to request your free consultation at (626) 827-7222.

[1] Penal Code 290 PC – The Sex Offender Registration Act.

[2] Judicial Council of California Criminal Jury Instructions (“CALCRIM”) 1160 – Indecent Exposure. (“To prove that the defendant is guilty of this crime, the People must prove that: 1. The defendant willfully exposed (his/her) genitals in the presence of another person or persons who might be offended or annoyed by the defendant’s actions; [AND] 2. When the defendant exposed (himself/herself), (he/she) acted lewdly by intending to direct public attention to (his/her) genitals for the purpose of sexually arousing or gratifying (himself/herself) or another person, or sexually offending another person(;/.) [AND] [3. The willful and lewd exposure occurred after the defendant had entered an inhabited (dwelling house/part of a building/trailer coach) without consent.]”)

[3] See CALCRIM 1160 – Indecent Exposure

[4] Same.

[5] Penal Code 314 PC – Indecent exposure.

[6] Penal Code 19 PC — Punishment for misdemeanor; punishment not otherwise prescribed.

[7] Penal Code 314 PC – Indecent exposure

[8] Penal Code 290 PC – The Sex Offender Registration Act

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