California Indecent Exposure Laws

Exposing yourself inappropriately is a crime against the person under California indecent exposure laws. A prosecutor must prove several elements to convict a defendant for indecent exposure, which falls under the broad category of sex crimes. First, the prosecutor must show that the defendant willfully exposed his or her person or private parts. If the defendant did not know about the exposed private parts or accidentally exposed a body part, the prosecutor likely cannot establish the elements of the crime.

Overview of California Indecent Exposure Laws

The following chart provides a general overview of California's indecent exposure laws, including the elements of the crime, the defense, and penalties if found guilty:

Statute California Penal Code Section 314
Elements

As previously stated, a threshold issue is the willful exposure of a person's private parts.

Furthermore, indecent exposure is a crime of specific intent. The defendant must have intended to act for a lewd or obscene purpose. The prosecutor can establish intent by showing:

  • That the defendant intended to direct public attention to the defendant's genitals; or
  • That the defendant wanted to achieve sexual arousal, sexual gratification, or sexual affront.

The defendant did not have to be completely naked or unclothed to be charged with indecent exposure; the prosecutor only needs to establish that the defendant's genitals were exposed.

California law also requires that the defendant acted in a public place. A public place might be a location in full view of people passing by. However, a private dwelling or inhabited building might also qualify as a public place for the purposes of indecent exposure if the defendant entered the premises without invitation or later provided the inhabitants with an unwanted display of the defendant's private parts.

Defenses First Amendment protection of an artistic performance or expression with a non-obscene intent or value
Penalties
  • A first-time charge of indecent exposure may result in a misdemeanor conviction. If the defendant committed indecent exposure after entering a dwelling or the inhabited part of a building without the inhabitant's consent, the court may sentence the defendant to a term of imprisonment lasting up to one year. Imprisonment may take place in county jail or state prison.
  • A second-time or subsequent conviction for indecent exposure, or a first-time conviction for indecent exposure after a conviction for another sex crime under California law, is a felony conviction. The felony conviction will likely result in a term of imprisonment in state prison. Felony indecent exposure also results in the requirement that the offender register with the Sex Offender Registry.

Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

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Sex offenses can result in problems long after the sentence is served. Although indecent exposure charges tend to result in less stigma and lower penalties than other sex offenses it is still important to take the charge seriously since it can impact your reputation and employability for years to come. Contact a qualified local attorney for a free initial case review to discuss your case.

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