California Penal Code Section 314: Indecent Exposure

Unlike some European countries that may welcome public nudity in public spaces such as parks or beaches, California is not quite as open-minded. In fact, California Penal Code section 314 criminalizes such an act. Section 314 addresses the offense of “indecent exposure,” which involves willfully exposing one's genitals in a public place, or any place where other people are present, and likely to be offended or annoyed by the act. 

Elements of Indecent Exposure

To be convicted under section 314, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt the following elements: 

Willful Act: The defendant intentionally and willfully exposed their genitals. The exposure cannot have occurred by accident, such as someone’s bathing suit bottom accidentally becoming untied. 

Public Place or Presence of Others: The exposure occurred in a public place or in a place where others were present, such as a communal area. This prevents criminalization of people who wish to be nude in their own homes or private gardens. 

Likely to Offend or Annoy: The exposure was likely to offend or annoy those who witnessed it. 

What About Artistic Expression?

Penal Code section 314(2) distinguishes people who innocently participate in artistic expression from a person who willfully and lewdly assists a person to expose himself or take part in a model artist exhibition or to exhibition himself to public view in a way that is both offensive to decency or adapted to excite vicious or lewd thoughts or acts. Bottom line: if nudity is crucial to an art instructor’s sculpture class and there is no lewd intent, then neither the model nor the instructor will be criminally charged. 

Potential Defenses

Lack of Intent: If the exposure was accidental or unintended, the defendant may argue that they did not willfully engage in indecent exposure. 

Lack of Offense: The defense might argue that the exposure did not meet the threshold of being likely to offend or annoy others, either due to a lack of visibility or context. 

Sex Offender Registration

Unlike other sex-related offenses, a conviction under section 314 does not typically require sex offender registration.

Possible Sentences and Fines

The potential penalties for indecent exposure can vary based on factors such as prior convictions, the nature of the exposure, and whether aggravating circumstances are present. Generally, indecent exposure is considered a misdemeanor offense. However, if the defendant has been previously convicted under this section or has a previous conviction of lewd or lascivious acts with a child. In those limited circumstances, this offense can and will be charged as a felony

If convicted of a misdemeanor, the defendant may face no more than one year in county jail. However, the defendant can face a possible prison sentence if convicted of felony indecent exposure. The court may also impose fines as part of the sentence. The amount of the fine can vary, but it is typically not more than a few thousand dollars. 

If you have been charged with indecent exposure, it is critical that you discuss your case immediately with a knowledgeable and aggressive criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. As a former Deputy District Attorney with over 14 years of prosecutorial experience, Los Angeles criminal defense attorney Michael Kraut has extensive experience defending clients who are accused of this type of offense and has successfully argued for a reduction of charges or even a dismissal. 

For more information about the criminal justice process, and to schedule your free consultation, contact Michael Kraut at the Kraut Criminal & DUI Lawyers located at 6255 Sunset Boulevard, Suite 1520, Los Angeles, CA 90028. Mr. Kraut can be reached 24/7 at 888-334-6344 or 323-464-6453. 

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