In most states, the laws surrounding indecent exposure charges make it a crime for any person to knowingly and purposefully display his or her genitals in public, particularly when it causes other people to be offended or alarmed. Indecent exposure is regularly committed for the gratification of the offender on a sexual level, or it may be committed in an attempt to entice a sexual response.
To be convicted of an act of indecent exposure, it's worth noting that the prosecution in any given state must prove that there was an intent present to sexually insult, sexually arouse, or offend another person. The statutes also make it a crime to expose your genitals to another person in an attempt to sexually gratify yourself or insult another person.
In Massachusetts, indecent exposure is covered by Section 53 of Chapter 272 of the Massachusetts General Law.
Importantly, showing a bare female breast is not considered to be an exposure of one's genitals. Otherwise, mothers simply involved in breast feeding activities might face indecent exposure charges. Similarly, simply showing someone your underwear, regardless of how skimpy or revealing it is, is not classed as indecent exposure for the purposes of most statutes. However, an indecent exposure charge can sometimes reach the level of sexual assault if some form of physical contact is made.
Examples of Indecent Exposure
In order for a conviction of indecent exposure to be secured, the prosecutor must be able to produce evidence that is sufficient to prove to a jury or judge beyond any reasonable doubt, that the components of the offense exist. In most circumstances, the components of indecent exposure cases will include the following factors:
- Exposure of private body parts, specifically the genitals. Whether a state's law regards the term "private parts" or uses another term in their legislation, it usually refers to the genitals of a man or woman. This can also include female and male buttocks but not female breasts. In most states, the exposure of the buttocks alone is not classed as indecent exposure.
- Willful exposure - This means that the person accused of indecent exposure must have the intention to expose his or her private parts to another person. For instance, if a person jumps into a swimming pool and the force of the water on the bathing suit forces it to come undone, this cannot be classed as indecent exposure, as it was accidental and unintended
- Exposure in a public place - Many retail establishments and outdoor areas, regardless of whether they are privately or publicly owned can be classed as a public space. In other words, if people expose themselves within a bedroom inside a home, and they are not visible to those outside of the home, they cannot be classed as being guilty of indecent exposure.
- Exposure in the presence of someone else - To be guilty of this particular offense, often there must be at least one other person within sight when the person exposed his or her genitals.
Importantly, it's worth noting that in many states the law does not demand that any other person actually observes the private parts of the defendant in question. Instead, most courtrooms will consider whether a reasonable person should have been aware whether the act of exposure would have left them open to observation by other people. For example, if someone does it in the presence of another person, who sees the act occurring but turns away, then the act of exposure still might be enough to allow a conviction.
Indecent Exposure Punishment
The guidelines for sentencing acts of indecent exposure can vary from one state to the next, and from one case to another.
In Massachusetts, indecent exposure is a misdemeanor and the penalty is:
- A fine of $200 and jail time of a maximum of 6 months
- If conduct is regarded as aggravated, the offense is elevated to that of "open and gross lewdness" with a penalty of a fine of not more than $300 and imprisonment in a state prison of not more than 3 years
Indecent Exposure Defenses
As with any other crime, a person who is convicted of indecent exposure will be able to argue against the conviction. Certain defenses may include:
- Viewer consent. One person may consent to the nudity of another person. However, a conviction may still result if the exposure occurs in the presence of another person who did not consent. For example, two people might consent to the exposure while committing a sexual act in public but both may be charged with indecent exposure if a third person sees the act.
- Missing sexual motivation. It is possible for people who expose themselves in public without the intent to arouse gratification or sexual desire to be found innocent of indecent exposure. For instance, this may be the case when a person urinates in public.
- Lack of intent to expose to third parties. A person might accidentally engage in inadvertent and unintentional exposure when he or she shows private parts in a location that they usually regard to be private, such as a hotel room or home.
What to Do If You Have Been Charged
Those facing a charge for indecent exposure should consider consulting an expert criminal defense attorney as early as possible, particularly one who regularly practices in that specific area. This lawyer should be able to evaluate the prosecution case strengths, and develop any possible defenses that might apply to you.