Indecent exposure is a violation of California Penal Code Section 314 - 318.6. Under this section, it is a criminal act for anyone who willfully "exposes oneself" or their "private parts" in a public place where others are present. If other people are offended or annoyed and believe the act is offensive and is intended to excite "vicious or lewd thoughts or acts," the perpetrator may be charged with indecent exposure.
Like a lot of older laws (the original penal code was written in 1872), there's a fair amount of archaic language that needs definition. Fortunately, much of the code itself is enforced by court precedent - thousands of cases spanning nearly 150 years - that gives us a lot more clarity in the court room about the true intent of the law.
For instance, “exposing oneself” means to reveal your entire naked body. Exposing one’s “private parts” means to show your bare genitals. But what about intent? Rarely does the court consider whether the “audience” viewing the exposure is actually offended. What if, for example, if the person viewing the exposure is an undercover cop? A church attendant? A family? The real point of the matter is the actor's intent - was the defendant sexually aroused by the act of exposure. Therefore, in the context of this penal code, words like "vicious or lewd thoughts or acts" is used to portray predatory behavior on the part of the actor that is intended to trigger sexual arousal from the act itself.
One more example: showing bare female breast is not considered exposing one’s “private parts.” Breastfeeding an infant is not considered indecent exposure. Public urination is sometimes mistaken as a violation of PC 314-318.6, but it is not. Public urination often cited as a public nuisance (PC 370, 372) or disorderly conduct (PC 647). By the way, the only actual law that prohibits public urination is California Penal Code 640.3 that prohibits anyone from urinating from public transportation.
Flashing underwear, “mooning”, or even removing an article of clothing that reals a partial view of genitals, urinating behind a dumpster - none of these acts are considered indecent exposure as interpreted by the courts. For the act to be "indecent," the prosecutor must show that that defendant intended to arouse sexuality. The key to a successful prosecution is proving that the defendant acted willfully and pursued sexual arousal from the act.
Why worry about this criminal charge.
Indecent exposure can be a Pandora's Box of trouble. Charged as either a misdemeanor or felony, the defendant faces long term personal damage to their freedom and liberties due to California Penal Code 290: otherwise known as the "Sex Offender Registration Act."
If the defendant is charged with a misdemeanor for violating PC 314, you face a maximum of 6 months in county jail and/or a $1,000 fine. But the worst part is that the defendant will be registered as a sex offender under California Penal Code 290 - for life.
When a charge of indecent exposure is elevated as felony, the defendant faces minimum punishment of 16 months in state prison - maximum 3 years in state prison. Under California Penal Code 672, the defendant also faces a fine of up to $10,000. And lastly, just as in the lesser misdemeanor charge, the defendant faces a lifetime registration as a sex offender under PC 290.
Either way, if conviction of PC 314 is reached, lifetime registration as a sex offender obligatory. No negotiation. No plea. If the defendant has a prior conviction for indecent exposure, even as a misdemeanor, the second charge is automatically elevated as a felony, no matter how minor of an offense.
Although public opinion and social attitudes have changed, a charge of indecent exposure in Southern California will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. In most communities in Orange County, arrest during a domestic argument for instance will probably not result in a conviction. Arrest is even less likely if there are other mitigating circumstances that led to the arrest.
Stull & Stull is led by Adam Stull, a former deputy district attorney. He has experience consulting with police officers and opposing counsel. He has spent considerable amount of time prosecuting misdemeanor and felony offenses involving a full range of charges.
If you are serious about obtaining a case dismissal or receiving a substantial reduction for your charges, then your next move is obtaining experienced and aggressive legal counsel that will provide you with the best possible outcome.
The Law Offices of Stull & Stull has more than 45 years of combined criminal trial experience in Orange County as well as Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, Santa Barbara, Kern, Tulare, Fresno and Ventura counties. The Law Office of Stull & Stull is based in Laguna Beach, California.