Indecent Exposure Charges Must Be for Volitional Acts

Indecent exposure charges include serious allegations that require an attorney that is familiar with the nuances of the law. An area that can be utilized for a successful defense strategy – both in raising it as a valid defense and in leveraging it for plea negotiation purposes – is whether the alleged indecent exposure conduct was volitional or accidental. In some instances, this answer may be obvious. But, in others, including one we’re dealing with right now, this is absolutely debatable and presents an issue for the State to have to confront. A breakdown of the case law surrounding this issue will help explain where this comes into play.
In an older case that initially analyzed the indecent exposure law, a defendant faced indecent exposure charges after several young women saw him standing nude in front of his dormitory window. There was no evidence that the defendant had signaled or called to the women or otherwise attempted to direct their attention to himself. The defendant argued that the State’s evidence was insufficient to “establish that his exposure was willful or intentionally lewd.” In support of his argument, he emphasized the State’s failure to present any evidence that he had called to the women, as well as his testimony that he did not intend for the passersby to see him nude, was not conscious of passersby on the days in question, and had accidentally neglected to draw the shades. The appellate court agreed with this argument, holding that “ordinary acts or conduct involving exposure of the person as the result of carelessness or thoughtlessness do not themselves establish the offense of indecent exposure.” The defendant’s actions in the privacy of his room required a finding that the offense “was committed with the deliberate intent of being indecent or lewd.”
The appellate court later clarified that the word “deliberate” is used to draw a distinction between volitional acts and accidental acts. Thus, as used in the statute – “deliberate intent of being indecent or lewd” – it simply requires the State to prove that the lewd exposure was volitional, as opposed to accidental. Understanding this, a later court decision clarified this point of contention. In the subsequent case, a defendant faced indecent exposure charges for masturbating in his truck, which was parked facing a playground. In upholding the conviction, the appellate court clarified that the analysis could not focus on the privacy expectations of the defendant and instead must focus on the likelihood that the conduct would be witnessed by others. In other words, the relevant question was whether the defendant’s conduct was so likely to be observed that it must be reasonably presumed that it was intended to be witnessed. Still, the court emphasized that to establish intent where the act does not occur in a public place or otherwise where it is certain to be observed, some evidence further than the act itself must be presented.
Succinctly, the indecent exposure charges must be based on volitional acts, rather than accidental. In addition to the two cases detailed above showing two extremes, a couple more examples may better show the distinction:
  • A person skinny-dipping in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area is not guilty of indecent exposure because the likelihood that the conduct would be witnessed is small; vs.
  • A defendant who stood naked in the doorway of his home and attracted the attention of passersby when saying “hi.”
Anyone facing indecent exposure charges knows that they are serious allegations and can have long-lasting collateral consequences. Having the right indecent exposure attorney to fight for you, who understands the law and how to best utilize it for your defense, is a must. The North Star team of lawyers is exactly that. Contact us now.