Indecent Exposure

Sex offenses can cause you problems even after serving the sentence. In as much as indecent exposure charges may result in lower penalties and less stigma compared to other sex offenses, it’s still necessary to take the sentence very seriously as it can affect your employability and reputation in the future. If you are facing indecent exposure charges in Los Angeles, get in touch with the LA Criminal Defense Attorney. Our team of expert attorneys will help you to possibly reduce the penalties or avoid the charges.

What Is Indecent Exposure?

California Penal Code 314 describes indecent exposure as exposing one’s genitals or oneself in the presence of others or in a public place, intentionally, thereby annoying them or causing them to be offended. Simply put, indecent exposure or public indecency is when you purposefully display your genitals in public, causing others to be offended.

California’s statute on indecent exposure remains unchanged since it was enacted in 1872, regardless of the continuous changes in what the society considers “indecent”. Below are examples of behaviors that can result in indecent exposure convictions in California:

  1. Exposing your breasts with the intention of sexually satisfying your boyfriend in a crowded restaurant
  2. Teenage boys exposing their genitals to an elderly woman walking from church with the intention of offending her
  3. A male adult flashing his genitals to females walking by a street corner, for the purposes of sexual gratification

The prosecutor has to prove different facts that revolve around the legal meaning of indecent exposure. These key facts are well recognized as elements of the crime and they include:

  1. That you deliberately exposed your private parts
  2. You did so in the existence of a person who might get annoyed or offended by your behavior
  3. That the purpose was to attract public attention towards your private parts with the intention of either:
  • Sexually resenting someone else
  • Sexually satisfying someone else or yourself

To have a better understanding, the following section covers the above elements in detail.

Elements of Indecent Exposure


For you to be charged with indecent exposure, you must have willfully revealed your genitals. Willfully means on purpose or willingly but it does not mean that your aim was to offend someone else or break the law. For example, a person goes swimming in the sea and while he’s swimming, his shorts ripped off accidentally, exposing his private parts. When he walks back to the shore, many people see his private parts and they get offended. That person didn’t commit a crime because he didn’t expose his private parts willfully.

Exposing your genitals or yourself

Exposing yourself means exposing your bare body entirely. Exposing your genitals means showing your naked genitals. For the purposes of Penal Code 314, the following aren’t considered indecent exposure:

  • Exposing a bare female breast
  • Showing someone your underwear regardless of how revealing the act is

For it to be considered a crime, the defendant must have exposed his/her genitals in a way indicating that they purposely tried to attract attention to their private parts. A familiar example is urinating in public or breastfeeding a child in public. These are not considered as crimes because they aren’t done with the intention of gratification, sexual arousal, or offending others.

In the presence of a person that might get annoyed or offended

According to California laws, to be considered as having committed a crime of indecent exposure, you should have revealed yourself:

  • In the presence of another person
  • The person must feel annoyed or offended by the exposure

With the intention to direct public attention towards your private parts

California Penal Code 314 specifies that your intention should be to specifically draw public attention towards your private parts. This means that merely revealing your private parts is not enough, you should expose them with the intention of drawing attention towards them.

It is important to note that the prosecutor might charge you with indecent exposure if your intention was to direct attention towards your private parts even if nobody saw them.

With the intention to sexually arouse or sexually offend

Merely exposing oneself even if you deliberately attract public attention towards your genitals won’t suffice as an indecent exposure crime unless your intention is lewd or sexual motivated. This means either:

  • You intend to sexually arouse or gratify yourself,
  • You intend to sexually arouse or gratify someone else, or
  • You intend to sexually annoy someone else.

Bear in mind, the prosecutor has to satisfy all the elements of the crime to prove you guilty of indecent exposure. You shouldn’t be held liable if any of the elements above is not proven.

Note that the California Legislature controls laws on indecent exposure for the state. While local authorities may attempt to control decency standards in their community, the court will pronounce their regulations invalid if they’re more restricting than the comparable California laws on indecent exposure.

Penalties for Indecent Exposure

For many first-time convicts, violation of Penal Code 314 is a misdemeanor under California laws on indecent exposure. You face the following punishments for misdemeanor charges of indecent exposure:

  • A maximum of six months in a county jail
  • A fine of $1,000 maximum
  • Minimum 10-year duty to register as a sex offender under Penal Code 290

Aggravated indecent exposure

An aggravated indecent exposure is committed when you reveal yourself:

  • In a live-in home, building or trailer and
  • You went in the building, home or trailer without the owner’s permission

This is a wobbler offense, which means that based on what the prosecutor decides, you may be sentenced with either a felony or a misdemeanor.

If convicted as a misdemeanor, you face the following penalties:

  • A maximum of one-year jail term
  • A maximum fine of $1,000
  • Minimum 10-year duty to register as a sex offender

If charged as a felony, you face the following penalties:

  • Sixteen months, two years or three years in the state prison of California
  • A maximum fine of $10,000
  • Minimum 10-year responsibility to register as a sex offender

Repeat offender

If you’re either

  1. Convicted of indecent exposure for the second or subsequent time
  2. Or you face your first conviction as an indecent exposure offender but you have faced a previous conviction for a lewd act with a child

You will face felony charges for indecent exposure and face the above penalties for a felony.

Indecent exposure and the duty to register as a sex offender in California

As previously noted, one of the punishments for indecent exposure is the minimum 10-year duty to register as a sex offender in accordance with Penal Code 290. California laws use this punishment notwithstanding whether you were convicted with indecent exposure as a felony or a misdemeanor. If you fail to abide by the requirement to register, you may be convicted with a crime of failing to register as a sex offender.

Failure to register as a sex offender is a misdemeanor if you’re obligated to register due to a misdemeanor indecent exposure and a felony if you’re obligated to register due to a felony indecent exposure. The penalties are up to one year in county jail or up to three years in state prison for both cases respectively.

Most licensed professionals including nursing licenses, dental board licenses, doctors’ medical board licenses, and other similar professional licenses punish their members who receive a sex crime conviction that requires registration as a sex offender.

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Terms of Probation for Indecent Exposure

In case you are placed on probation, the court will create certain terms of probation which include:

  1. Random testing for drugs
  2. Random searches on you or your home
  3. Require you to attend sexual rehabilitation or sexual addiction programs
  4. Require you to perform community service
  5. Visit your probation officer as many times as your probation terms require
  6. Violate no other law except traffic infractions

If the court finds you in violation of the above probation terms, you’ll be sentenced to the maximum time allowed by the law.

Legal Defenses for Indecent Exposure Charges

There are various legal defenses for indecent exposure that an experienced attorney can present on your behalf. Some examples of common defenses include:

  1. Insufficient evidence - You are not guilty of indecent exposure until the prosecution proves all the elements of Penal Code 314 violation. You may not be criminally liable for indecent exposure if the evidence shows that:
  • There wasn’t anyone around to get offended
  • Your private parts were partially covered
  • You did not act lewdly
  • You did not satisfy any other requirement of Penal Code 314


  1. Wrongful arrests/ False accusations - Any experienced sex crime defense attorney in California understands that sex crime charges are prone to false accusations, and that they require very little proof because most of them are formed on allegations. This makes it easier for anyone acting out of jealousy, anger or seeking revenge to wrongly accuse someone else of committing a crime.


  1. Mistaken identity - It is very possible that a well-intentioned victim can mistakenly identify you as the person that unlawfully exposed themselves, depending on the circumstance surrounding the offense. Maybe the offense occurred in darkness. Maybe the offender’s face was partly hidden. Maybe you resemble the perpetrator from the back according to the victim’s view. Maybe you have a similar name to the suspected culprit. There are various reasons to identify you as a culprit for indecent exposure by mistake and that’s where a skilled criminal defense attorney steps in to prove to the jury and the judge of that fact.

Indecent Exposure and Related Offenses

California’s law on indecent exposure is related to laws on other offenses since they are charged repeatedly in relation with each other or because the same behavior can cause sentences of either offense. Examples of related offenses include:

  1. Lewd behavior in public - You may be charged with the lewd act in public when you touch yourself or someone else with sexual intentions. The big difference between lewd conduct in public conviction and a conviction for indecent exposure is the requirement to touch. You can be charged with both offenses if you indecently reveal yourself and touch yourself or another person in public. In California, lewd behavior in public is a misdemeanor.


Practically, if you are convicted of lewd behavior in public, the prosecutor will tack on indecent exposure charges to gain leverage and seek stiff penalties for the current case, because convictions for lewd conduct in public do not elicit the duty to register as a sex offender while convictions for indecent exposure do. In such situations, if the prosecutor is willing to discharge the conviction on indecent exposure, most defendants will take the risk of registering as a sex offender off the table and plead to the charge of lewd conduct.


  1. Lewd acts with a minor - California Penal Code 288 forbids performing lewd acts with a child who is less than 14 years or who is 14 or 15 years and not less than 10 years younger than the defendant. For lewd with a minor to be considered a crime, it requires some lewd touching which makes it different from indecent exposure. If you reveal yourself in the presence of a child while touching the child you could face charges for both offenses. Lewd act with a child is more serious compared with indecent exposure. It’s a wobbler if the child is 14 or 15 years and a felony if the child is less than 14 years, with a potential conviction of up to 8 years in prison.


  1. Burglary - California Penal Code 459 defines burglary as going into any structure intending to commit a felony once in the structure. If you go into a trailer, an inhabited structure or a home without authorization and commit indecent exposure, you can be convicted with aggravated indecent exposure. Additionally, the move to go into the structure without permission can be a separate burglary crime in California. Any intention to commit a felony in a building or a home without necessarily stealing will suffice as a crime, thus, California laws on burglary and indecent exposure are sometimes related.


This means that the prosecutor can charge you with both indecent exposure and burglary for going into a structure and exposing yourself. Even though you were not successful to commit indecent exposure once in the house, you can still face burglary charges if you’re intention was to commit the crime. Burglary of a live-in structure is a felony in California and you may face two, four or six years in the state prison of California.


  1. Trespass - pursuant to California Penal Code 602, trespass is committed when you enter a property or a building without authorization. It doesn’t matter whether you intended to commit a crime inside the building or property. Trespassing is a misdemeanor in California. Charges for trespass might come into effect if the prosecutor wants to sentence you with aggravated indecent exposure and/or burglary for going into a structure with the intentions of committing indecent exposure but they do not have enough proof that you were intending to commit indecent exposure.

Trespass can be a helpful appeal bargain from an indecent exposure conviction. If the prosecutor consents to discharge your charges for indecent exposure in exchange for a trespassing plea, you can have a less consequential conviction and you will not be required to register as a sex offender.

  1. Disturbing peace - In accordance with California Penal Code 415, disturbing peace occurs when a person behaves in an offensive, a belligerent and loud manner in public. Whilst disturbing peace is not connected to indecent exposure, it’s commonly used to appeal against indecent exposure by most attorneys. Reason being, pleading guilty to disturbing peace will not require you to register as a sex offender. Therefore, your attorney may try to negotiate for a disturbing peace offense on your behalf in exchange for the prosecutor to dismiss your charges for indecent exposure.

Other Examples of Sex Crimes

Different state and federal laws have specific names for various sex offenses. The most used examples of sexual offenses include:

  • Statutory Rape
  • Rape
  • Sexual Assault
  • Child Pornography

As much as specific definitions for the above sexual crimes may differ, there are typical elements for every crime. Additionally, each crime has its sentencing requirements. In the case of several crimes, the defendant is likely to face multiple charges. Also, once released from prison, the offender will face serious restrictions.

Restrictions on a Sex Offender

Offenders convicted with sex crimes usually face lasting restrictions in the form of requirements to register as an offender or when the state takes preventive measures to stop the offenders from executing crimes in the future. The restrictions will still apply no matter how serious the offense may seem. Some preventive measures undertaken by the state may seem encroaching while others may serve as a caution to community members. The states should provide information on where the sex offender lives to serve as a caution to the community. Other restrictions include imposing drug treatments to the sex offender to reduce their sex drive or laws requiring sex offenders to live some distance away from schools.

Frequently Asked Questions on Laws on Indecent Exposure in California

  1. Which parts of the body need to be exposed in order for you to face charges of indecent exposure?

Pursuant to California laws on indecent exposure, for you to be found guilty of the crime, the prosecutor must prove that you revealed your private parts in public or in front of people who might get offended by your actions. Private parts include any sexual part situated below the waist. Exposing your undergarment or any part of your body above your waist is not enough to convict you of indecent exposure.

  1. What intention does the prosecutor need to proof for them to charge you with indecent exposure?

The prosecutor should prove that your intention was to attract public attention towards your private parts for sexual arousal purposes or for purposes of annoying someone else. To prove this intention, the prosecutor will rely on proof that the aim of the crime was sexually motivated or to commit a lewd. Merely revealing your private parts without the intention of showing them to the public or mistakenly exposing them is enough evidence to sentence you of indecent exposure according to Penal Code 314.

  1. Do I face felony or misdemeanor charges after with indecent exposure accusation?

This will depend on a lot of factors. According to California laws on indecent exposure, if you are convicted with indecent exposure for the first time, it will be sentenced as a misdemeanor. But, if you’ve been charged with indecent exposure previously or you’ve been charged with lewd acts with a minor before, the offense will be charged as a felony. Aggravated indecent exposure is a wobbler and it can be convicted as either a felony or a misdemeanor depending on your previous criminal history or the facts surrounding your case.

  1. If you are convicted with indecent exposure, do you have to register as a sex offender?

Yes, you have to register as a sex offender. California laws on sex offenders require any person convicted with a crime of sex to register with a local law enforcement agency in your town of residence or where you attend school as long as you live in California. Violation of California laws on indecent exposure is regarded as a sex crime and one of the penalties will need you to be registered as a sex offender notwithstanding whether you’ve been convicted of a felony or a misdemeanor. The social and professional outcomes of registering as a sex offender are adverse, but an experienced lawyer can help you avoid them.

If you are being charged with a crime feel free to contact our Los Angeles Criminal Defense Lawyer for a free consultation.