When people hear the term “indecent exposure” it probably conjures images of a flasher in a trench coat or an inebriated college student streaking at a football game. You probably don’t think it’s an offense everyday people need to worry about. While, it is not the most severe sexual offense, misunderstandings are all too common, and ordinary citizens find themselves in compromising and serious legal trouble every day.
At The Law Offices of Morgan Fletcher Benfield, PLLC, we realize that an indecent exposure charge can be very hard to explain and is often the first time people encounter the criminal justice system. We know it can be embarrassing and your first instinct may be to simply get the process over with as soon as possible, but the worst thing you can do is underestimate your situation. The full impact of a conviction can be harsh and long-lasting. By working with a knowledgeable indecent exposure lawyer, you can avoid the pitfalls and effectively handle the matter with the utmost sensitivity.
Call Tacoma sex crimes lawyer Morgan Fletcher Benfield today at (253) 203-3379 to schedule a free and confidential consultation.
Understanding Indecent Exposure in Washington State
According to RCW 9A.88.010(1), a person commits indecent exposure if they intentionally expose themselves or another person to someone in an open and obscene manner, knowing that their behavior is likely to cause a reasonable affront or alarm. When indecency is being discussed, it typically revolves around a person revealing his or her private parts in a public space, but a lot will depend on the circumstances involved and the specific elements of the statute:
- The act must be intentional. Specifically, it needs to result from a conscious effort. If you jump into a swimming pool and the water forces your baiting suit off, this cannot be considered willful.
- There must be legitimate exposure. This refers to the area and degree in which a private area was revealed. If someone only glimpsed your underwear as you adjust your waistband, this would not constitute exposure.
- The exposure needs to be open and obscene. This element can be confusing, since nudity on its own does not necessarily rise to this level. For instance, public breastfeeding does not meet the condition, probably because the legislature does not find that openly showing breasts for the purposes of feeding a child as obscene.
- The act must be likely to cause alarm or affront. It can certainly be difficult to gauge what will offend another person; however, this element is met when you are aware that your conduct will reasonably cause offense. Essentially, a prosecutor will need to prove that you were aware that your open and obscene exposure was likely to cause alarm. It does not have to be your intent – just that it was likely. For instance, if you participated in a nude marathon for charity, you probably won’t face charges because the people in attendance are not likely to be alarmed. They undoubtedly expected it. However, if you decide to run naked through a farmer’s market, it would be feasible that other people would be alarmed by a naked person, surprisingly running past them.
Penalties and Consequences of Indecent Exposure
Typically, under Washington law, indecent exposure is prosecuted as a misdemeanor for adult offenders. For a first offense, an individual with a previously clear criminal record can expect to be charged with a simple misdemeanor, punishable by a maximum jail term of 90 days and up to a $1,000 fine. The offense is heightened to a gross misdemeanor if the alleged conduct was directed to a child or children under 14-years-old. This escalates the possible penalties to up to a year in jail and/or a fine of up to $5,000. Additionally, if you have a prior criminal history that includes certain sexual-related offenses you face repercussions as a class C felony, punishable by a maximum of five years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.
Oftentimes, indecent exposure charges are handled in local municipal courts with various procedures and sentencing practices that are best handled by a legal professional with experience in these city courts. A misdemeanor indecent exposure conviction may sound rather innocuous, but a criminal record of any type can have an enduring impact on your life. From an incident that you will have to repeatedly explain on job, loan, and housing applications to the stigma a sex crime conviction can have on your reputation, it will be important to limit or hopefully eliminate your exposure.
Will I Need to Register as a Sex Offender for Indecent Exposure?
Washington does not require someone to register as a sex offender based on an indecent exposure conviction alone. However, an offender does need to register as a sex offender if he or she was previously convicted in a state that does require registration for that crime and has since moved to Washington. This is meant to prevent people from evading the need to register by moving out of state. Correspondingly, if a person is convicted in Washington for indecent exposure, he or she may have to register if they move to another state that has the requirement for that specific crime, especially if the offense is against someone under 14 years-years-old.
How to Defend Against Indecent Exposure
Prosecutors tend to pursue indecent exposure vigorously because they may feel this behavior shows a predilection towards more serious sexual offenses. However, since there are often several factors involved and the incidents themselves are open to interpretation, there is significant room for error and a greater chance for a wrongful conviction based on vague circumstances.
In these cases, a lot will depend on your specific intentions. For example, if you were dressing in a bathroom or engaged in a sex act by a window, but were unaware a door or curtain was open, it could be argued that anything that was revealed was accidental. Furthermore, if you merely forgot to zip your fly or an unanticipated gust of wind blew your skirt up, you can argue that you did not intentionally expose yourself due to a simple mistake or an inability to control the wind.
Another available defense strategy revolves around the need to relieve yourself in a situation where your options were limited. If you were ill or intoxicated and did not expose yourself, but rather urinated in public, this act can still be penalized with a $250 fine, but is a drastically reduced outcome and does not carry the same effects as a criminal conviction.
There are also instances where someone may have a documented or yet to be uncovered psychological issue that compels them to engage in risky or explicit behaviors. In these situations, it will be critical to work with a dedicated Tacoma indecent exposure attorney, who not only gets to know you and what led to your charges, but will also assist in preparing for any necessary evaluations without exposing you to any increased penalties.
Possible Treatment & Vacating Indecent Exposure Charges
When people are charged with indecent expose, they often want to deal with the matter quickly. This is understandable, but by accepting a plea agreement too hastily, you may be placing yourself in a tough spot further down the road. In addition to the normal limitations of a conviction, if a mental issue was the root cause of you conduct, it could escalate and with a prior offense on your criminal record, a prosecutor will be reluctant to show leniency. It can be extremely hard to admit a problem, but by working with a skilled and compassionate Tacoma indecent exposure attorney, you can understand all your options and how to best help yourself.
If you need help with a mental issue, at The Law Offices of Morgan Fletcher Benfield, PLLC, we’ll work with you to have the problem properly evaluated as well as choose an appropriate treatment program. When you seek treatment, you are putting yourself in a much better position to reduce the impact of a conviction. When the court realizes that you are being proactive and taking responsibility to correct a problem, your attorney can use this to mitigate the possible consequences.
In the event that an indecent exposure conviction has previously been attached to your record or a conviction is likely, you should know that this type of offense can eventually be vacated or removed. While the process is discretionary, vacating your criminal record of indecent exposure generally requires making a written request to the court after three years have passed without any new charges.
Why You Need a Tacoma Indecent Exposure Lawyer
An indecent exposure arrest does not have to be an automatically a conviction. Prosecutors depend on your embarrassment to rush through the process that involves you sacrificing some of your rights and possible alternatives. It does not have to end this way. These cases require an attorney that knows the process, all your options, and will put in the work to get the result you need. Negotiation with the prosecution and the ability to present your case with passion is essential. Take the right steps toward putting this behind you, and hire an indecent exposure lawyer you can trust,
If you’ve been charged with an indecent exposure in Tacoma or any surrounding area, call (253) 203-3379 to schedule a free and confidential consultation with attorney Morgan Fletcher Benfield.