Over the years, I have represented numerous clients accused of indecent exposure. The essence of the crime is exposing one’s private parts in a public place around people who may be offended by the display. California Penal Code section 314 also contains a prohibition against encouraging and assisting a person to expose himself in public.
While “weenie waving” sounds funny and the circumstances of these cases are often amusing, the consequences are severe. Convictions for indecent exposure require lifetime sex offender registration. (Refer to a previous India Currents article, The Stigma Of The Sex Offender, published in February 2012.) The crime, in certain cases, could also be charged as a felony—convictions for which include a myriad of liberty restrictions.
A conviction for section 314 could also carry immigration consequences. If status is an issue, the attorney should seek a plea bargain for loitering or disturbing the peace.
However, this is not always possible because the facts of each case determine the outcome.
I referred to the crime as “weenie waving” because all the cases of indecent exposure, I have handled have involved male defendants. The charge is embarrassing. The client typically initially claims that the case is a misunderstanding and proffers innocuous explanations such as public urination or sunbathing.
The police report often tells a different tale. In one case, witnesses reported to police that my client was lying in the grass outside a large window at a gym and was masturbating at about nine o’clock in the morning. When he saw a police officer, he ran through a hedge, but unfortunately, another officer was waiting for him on the other side. He initially told me he had been urinating in public, but subsequently changed his story.
A person charged with this offense needs to take it seriously. It is important to find a good attorney, whether court appointed or private. Building rapport and trust with the attorney, and being truthful will lead to the best possible outcome for the accused.
The attorney should investigate the witnesses, get statements of good character from the accused’s friends and family, and, if investigation unearths nothing to support the misunderstanding theory, do everything possible to obtain a plea bargain for something other than section 314. District attorneys understand that sex registration is a heavy burden and often are amenable to offering plea bargains that don’t require sex registration.
Finally, if the district attorney will not offer a plea bargain without sex registration or immigration consequences, if the facts are not clear, or if the accused is innocent, a trial will be necessary. As embarrassing as it may be in cases such as these, a public jury trial is the last refuge of the innocent.
Naresh Rajan is an attorney in San Mateo County. Email [email protected].