Indecent Exposure Laws in California

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Indecent exposure in California is a crime. Defendants can face severe penalties, including a requirement that they register as a sex offender.

As experienced criminal defense attorneys, we have spent decades providing the kind of detailed defense that few law firms can offer.

Like most states, California forbids certain types of public nudity, including the intentional exposure of one’s genitals.

In order to be convicted of public indecency in California, the following must be proven:

  1. The defendant willfully exposed his or her genitals in the presence of another person who was annoyed or offended by such actions, and
  2. During the act of exposure, the defendant purposely directed public attention to his or her genitals for the purpose of sexual arousal or offense.

If you have been picked up for indecent exposure, then please contact us for a free consultation today. We offer compassionate legal guidance in what is probably a trying and embarrassing time.

California’s Indecent Exposure Statute – Penal Code

You can find the state’s indecent exposure statute at California Penal Code PC § 314. It criminalizes the willful exposure of one’s genitals to another person for one’s gratification or to offend the other person.

Let’s take a closer look:

  • Willful exposure. This means intentional exposure as opposed to accidental. It is not indecent exposure to accidentally expose yourself.
  • One’s genitals. Women’s breasts are not covered by the statute, so flashing someone does not qualify as indecent exposure.
  • For one’s gratification or offense. The person exposing themselves must do it to gratify themselves or to offend another person. The offended person does not need to actually see the person’s genitals to be offended.

If you satisfy these elements, you could face indecent exposure charges. Contact our office to begin quickly starting a defense.

Indecent Exposure Penalties in California

In California, indecent exposure can be charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor. A first indecent exposure incident is charged as a misdemeanor.

The penalty will depend on whether this is a first or a subsequent offense. If this is the first offense, then a defendant can be charged with a misdemeanor and face up to 6 months in jail, a fine up to $1,000, or both.

However, if this is a second or subsequent offense, then the prosecutor can bring felony charges. The punishments are more serious for felonies and include potential time in state prison.

Regardless of whether you are charged with a misdemeanor or felony, you can be required to register as a sex offender upon conviction. Once registered, the public can find out what you were convicted of and where you live.

However, a second or subsequent indecent exposure incident can be charged as a felony. In addition, indecent exposure committed in a home or a building is categorized as aggravated indecent exposure—also a felony.

Sex Offender Registration

In addition, anyone convicted of either a misdemeanor or felony indecent exposure is required to register as a sex offender for life. Registration as a sex offender carries a number of negative consequences, including:

  • Difficulty finding and maintaining long-term employment
  • The stigma of being a registered sex offender
  • Difficulty sustaining relationships

In addition, the failure to register as a sex offender can lead to additional criminal charges.

Examples of Possible Indecent Exposure Crimes

To better understand the law, let’s look at some examples:

  • A man stands in his front window completely naked, knowing that people walking by the house can see him. He does this to gratify himself, so he can be charged with indecent exposure if someone looks up and sees his genitals through the window.
  • A woman walks into an empty park and pulls her pants down, hoping to shock the public. However, it is at night and no one is around. Since no one observed the exposure, this does not qualify as a crime.
  • A man walks out to get the mail with only a towel wrapped around his waist. It slips, and he exposes himself to people on the sidewalk, but quickly pulls the towel back up. In this example, the exposure was accidental, so the man has not committed indecent exposure.
  • A woman lifts up her skirt and flashes the public her underwear. Since she has not exposed her genitals, she has not violated California’s indecent exposure law.

How to Beat an Indecent Exposure Charge

Many defenses are possible, but it is vital to meet with an experienced attorney who can carefully review the facts of your case to identify which defenses are most likely to “stick.”

If you have been charged with indecent exposure in California, it is imperative that you obtain the services of a San Diego criminal defense attorney.

A dedicated and skilled criminal defense attorney will defend you against such charges by asserting one of several available defenses. Typical defenses to indecent exposure charges in San Diego are:

  • The defendant failed to expose his or her genitals
  • The exposure took place, but it did not occur in the presence of another person
  • The exposure took place, but it wasn’t lewd or willful
  • The exposure took place, but it was unintentional or the exposure was accidental. Many factors will go into this, including how quickly you managed to cover yourself back up and your behavior afterward. If you were embarrassed and quickly got your clothes back on, then it is more likely that the exposure was accidental.
  • The defendant was misidentified. A witness might have claimed that you exposed yourself, but they have the wrong person. This type of misidentification can happen at night when alleged victims don’t get a good look at the offender’s face. In fact, if they quickly cover their eyes, then they are less likely to actually see the offender’s identity.
  • Insufficient evidence. An alleged victim might not have been able to see clearly because it was raining or because it was nighttime. In these types of cases, there isn’t enough credible evidence that a defendant exposed genitals to anyone or was clothed.

Each case turns on its own facts. Unlike other firms, we don’t use “off the rack” defense strategies. Instead, we build a defense based on the facts as they present themselves.

Plea Deals

One option is to try to plead a charge down to lewd conduct.

This crime involves soliciting another person to engage in lewd conduct publicly, such as having sex in a parking lot.

Believe it or not, lewd conduct is in many situations a beneficial charge because you do not have to register as a sex offender, though you can still face other penalties and sanctions.

Our philosophy is not to automatically accept a plea deal. If we believe there isn’t enough evidence to convict you, we will advise you of your options, including going to trial.

The decision of whether to accept a plea always belongs to the client.

Speak to a Top San Diego, CA Criminal Defense Lawyer

Indecent exposure charges can result in severe penalties, including jail time, fines, and registration as a sex offender.

Due to these potential consequences, it is important that anyone charged with a sex crime in San Diego seek the guidance of an experienced criminal defense attorney.

At the Law Offices of Kerry L. Armstrong, APLC, our experienced sex crime defense attorneys provide all of our clients with expert legal guidance in order to achieve the most favorable results possible.

The talent and experience of our attorneys ensure that our client’s cases are handled expertly and with the utmost care.

If you or a loved one is facing sex crime charges in San Diego, please contact us today for a free consultation.

Author Photo

Kerry L. Armstrong


Attorney Kerry Armstrong opened up his law firm in June 2007. Mr. Armstrong attended Thomas Jefferson School of Law, San Diego, California, and received his B.S. from Middle Tennessee State University. Kerry L. Armstrong became certified by the State Bar of California’s Board of Legal Specialization for criminal law in August 2020, making him one of the few criminal defense attorneys with a criminal law legal specialization certificate in San Diego County.  Between 2014 – 2019, Mr. Armstrong was selected for inclusion in the California Super Lawyers list, an honor only awarded to 5% of the nation’s attorneys.

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