What Are the Penalties for Indecent Exposure in California?

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Navigating the legal system after being accused of indecent exposure in California can be intimidating and perplexing.

Building a solid defense requires a thorough understanding of the relevant laws and the potential repercussions of a conviction for this offense. Speaking with a skilled criminal defense lawyer can help you understand the complexities of the legal system and offer practical guidance.

What Is the Legal Definition of Indecent Exposure?

California law defines indecent exposure as willfully exposing your genitals or naked body in a public place in the presence of another person who could be offended or annoyed by that behavior. Key elements include:

  • Willful exposure—meaning the act was intentional and not accidental;
  • Public place—the act must happen in an area accessible to the public, including parks, streets, libraries, or even open windows facing public spaces; and
  • Presence of another person—exposure must be in the view of someone who could be offended, even if there was no direct intent to target them.

To be found guilty of indecent exposure, you must have acted with the intent to sexually gratify yourself or someone else or to offend someone else sexually.

What Are the Penalties for Indecent Exposure?

The severity of the offense, your prior criminal history, and whether a minor was involved in the incident all influence the penalties for indecent exposure in California. Penalties also depend on circumstances as follows.

  1. First-time Offenders: First offenses of this nature are considered a misdemeanor, carrying a fine of up to $1,000 and a potential jail term of up to six months. In some cases, mandatory sex offender registration for at least 10 years may also be required.
  2. Involving a Minor: In cases involving a minor, penalties become significantly harsher, often leading to years in prison and mandatory sex offender registration.
  3. Prior Convictions: Individuals with prior convictions for indecent exposure or lewd acts with a minor may face up to three years in prison, a fine of up to $10,000, and mandatory sex offender registration for life.
  4. Subsequent Offenses: Subsequent offenses escalate to felonies with increased jail time, higher fines, and mandatory sex offender registration for life.

Understanding these penalties underscores the importance of a robust defense strategy when facing indecent exposure charges in California. Consulting with a knowledgeable criminal defense lawyer can make a substantial difference in safeguarding your rights and securing the best possible outcome in your case.

What Is the Punishment for Public Indecency?

In California, “public indecency” is not a legal term. Still, many use the term to describe acts of indecent exposure in public. Since they describe essentially the same thing, the same penalties apply, including fines, probation, and possible incarceration.

How Long Does Indecent Exposure Stay on Your Record?

A common concern for people convicted of indecent exposure is how long this offense will stay on their criminal record. Indecent exposure is not a minor infraction that can be easily erased. It has serious and long-lasting consequences.

A misdemeanor indecent exposure conviction usually stays in the court file for ten years. However, it stays on one’s “rap sheet” for life. A felony conviction, however, is permanent and cannot be removed.

This can have a negative effect on many areas of life, such as finding a job, renting a house, or pursuing higher education. Having the right legal team in your corner can help get the best outcome for your case, and give you the best chance of avoiding the harshest of consequences.

What Is the Sex Offender Registry Requirement?

If you are convicted of certain sex crimes or offenses in California, you will have to register as a sex offender.

Depending on the type and severity of your offense, you may have to register for at least 10 years, up to the rest of your life. For example, if you have a previous conviction for exposing yourself or touching a child inappropriately, you will likely be a lifelong registrant. 

You must report to the local law enforcement agency every year within five days of your birthday and whenever you change addresses.

You will face criminal charges of up to one year in county jail for a misdemeanor failure to register or up to three years in state prison for a felony failure to register.

Are There Restrictions on Where You Can Live or Work If You Are Convicted?

While California law does not inherently impose restrictions on the residence or workplace of individuals convicted of indecent exposure, it is essential to acknowledge the varied landscape across the state. Such a conviction can limit your employment and housing opportunities, damage your reputation, and cause you stress and anxiety.

Some cities and counties have introduced local ordinances that enforce residency restrictions on registered sex offenders. Being convicted of indecent exposure and being on the sex offender registry can affect your life in many ways. It can limit your employment and housing opportunities, damage your reputation, and cause you stress and anxiety.

These restrictions, often centered around schools, parks, or places frequented by children, can significantly impact your housing options. Beyond these local ordinances, certain professions may be off-limits for individuals with an indecent exposure conviction.

Indecent Exposure and Related Crimes in California

Indecent exposure is frequently charged in conjunction with other offenses involving public exposure or sexual acts in front of others. Some of the crimes that fall under this category are:

  • Lewd conduct in public,
  • Lewd conduct with a minor,
  • Annoying or molesting a minor,
  • Solicitation of prostitution, and
  • Sexual battery.

California takes these crimes seriously. The level of charge (i.e., misdemeanor vs. felony) and the penalties depend on the case’s circumstances.

The Law Offices of Kerry L. Armstrong, APLC – California Criminal Defense Attorneys 

If you or a loved one are facing charges of indecent exposure or are at risk of being on the sex offender registry, you need a skilled criminal defense lawyer to help defend your rights.

The Law Offices of Kerry L. Armstrong, APLC, has over 47 years of experience handling such cases with empathy and support. We have conducted over 125 jury trials and received over 100 media mentions for our work.

Don’t hesitate to reach out to us today. One of our qualified criminal defense attorneys will explain the charges and your options and devise a strategy to achieve the best possible outcome.

Where You Can Find Our San Diego, CA Office

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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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