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Can I be Charged with a Felony for Indecent Exposure?

Can I be charged with a Felony for Indecent Exposure?

Frank “The Tank” in the blockbuster comedy, Old School, becomes intoxicated and is streaking down the city streets buck naked. Should Frank “The Tank” have been charged if there was a police presence? In the State of California under Penal Code § 314(1), if the crime of Indecent Exposure occurs when a person exposes his or her naked body or genitals in front of anyone that may be annoyed or offended, it may be charged. The short answer is, yes.

The next question is whether it can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony? In California, this is considered to be a “wobbler” charge. In other words, you may be charged with one or the other based upon a set of factors and circumstances. Before getting into the differences, it is important to define the Penal Code and what it prohibits. First, intentionally exposing your naked body or genitals; second, exposing yourself in front of someone who might be offended; third, purposefully directing attention to yourself; and, finally, for sexual gratification.

Perhaps an example of indecent exposure may help put into perspective the seriousness of this charge. Sally is working in her garage with the door open during the summer and it is getting hot. She believes that if a man can remove his shirt, then why can’t a woman. Sally removes her shirt and continues to work, but as neighbors pass her home and they see the exposed top half of her body, they contact the police. Sally reports that she should be offered the same considerations as a man by removing her shirt on her private property. Is this a misdemeanor or felony? Before answering, consider this scenario: Sally is working in her garage with the door open during the summer and it is getting hot. She believes that if a man can remove his shirt, then why can’t a woman; however, she knows that Johnny, the man across the street, is very attracted to her. Sally removed her shirt, in part, because she was hot, but she was hoping that Johnny would pay attention and notice her nakedness. In the first scenario, Sally presented her naked top half because of what she thought should be her expression of equal rights.  In the second scenario; however, Sally exposed her top half for the purposes of sexual gratification/attention.

The primary difference between a misdemeanor and felony charge of Indecent Exposure is whether there are aggravating factors. An aggravating factor may be whether you exposed yourself inside a home or place of habitation. This may become a “wobbler” charge as a misdemeanor or felony based upon whether people were present as an aggravating factor. 

Regardless of the classification of the offense, it is important that you seek the assistance of competent legal counsel to help you best understand your legal defense while identifying an outcome that best minimizes your risk. We here at the H Law group patiently await your call.

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