Penal Code 314 PC | Indecent Exposure

Penal Code 314 PC – Indecent Exposure

Indecent exposure refers to the crime of intentionally exposing one’s genitals in public, causing others to be offended or alarmed. This article provides an overview of California’s indecent exposure law – Penal Code 314 PC – including what constitutes the crime, potential penalties, and legal defenses. We’ll also look at some real-world examples and the free speech implications of indecent exposure laws.

What is Indecent Exposure?

Under California law, indecent exposure is committed when a person exposes their genitals in a public place where others are present who might be offended or alarmed. This includes flashing, public urination, public masturbation, mooning, streaking, or other acts of public nudity for sexual purposes.

To be convicted of indecent exposure, the prosecution must prove the following elements:

  • The defendant exposed their genitals
  • The defendant exposed themselves in a public place or a place where others were present
  • The defendant knew they were in a public place
  • The defendant acted lewdly by intending to direct public attention to their genitals for the purpose of sexually arousing or offending others

So indecent exposure requires more than just getting naked in public. The exposure needs to be sexually motivated – meant to draw inappropriate attention for sexual gratification or shock value. Simply exposing oneself accidentally or for a non-sexual purpose is not indecent exposure.

Penalties for Indecent Exposure

Indecent exposure under Penal Code 314 PC is a misdemeanor offense in California, punishable by:

  • Up to 6 months in county jail
  • A maximum fine of $1,000
  • Sex offender registration if convicted of misdemeanor indecent exposure against a minor

If a person has a prior conviction for indecent exposure under PC 314 or certain other sex crimes like PC 647(a) lewd conduct in public, a second offense can be charged as a felony. Felony indecent exposure can be punished by:

  • 16 months, 2 years or 3 years in state prison
  • A fine up to $10,000
  • Mandatory lifetime sex offender registration under PC 290

A conviction can also impact child custody, employment, immigration status, and civil rights. But for a first-time misdemeanor offense, jail time is rare if the person has a clean record. Fines, probation, counseling and community service are more common sentences.

Legal Defenses

There are several legal defenses that a California criminal defense lawyer could use to contest an indecent exposure charge:

  • Lack of intent – The exposure was accidental or for a non-sexual purpose like using the bathroom outside when no facilities were available.
  • No exposure – No genitals were actually exposed.
  • No public place – The incident did not occur in a public place.
  • False accusation – The alleged victim is lying or mistaken about what occurred.
  • Insanity – The defendant was legally insane and unable to understand the nature of their actions.

Indecent Exposure vs. Lewd Conduct

Indecent exposure is related to but distinct from California’s law against lewd conduct in public under Penal Code 647(a) PC. Lewd conduct involves touching genitals for sexual gratification in public. Unlike indecent exposure, lewd conduct does not require actual exposure of genitals – just publicly touching them for a sexual purpose.

So indecent exposure is exposing oneself, while lewd conduct is sexually touching oneself publicly. There is overlap between the two, as indecent exposure often involves touching one’s genitals. But lewd conduct does not necessarily involve exposure.

Public Urination and Indecent Exposure

Urinating in public can potentially be charged as indecent exposure, but context matters. The DA must prove the public urination was sexually motivated. Urinating in public because you couldn’t find a bathroom is not itself sexual. But masturbating while urinating in public or intentionally exposing yourself could qualify as indecent exposure.

Real World Cases of Indecent Exposure

Here are some examples of indecent exposure cases in the news:

These cases illustrate the wide range of conduct considered indecent exposure or lewd acts under California law. Simply being naked in public is not necessarily illegal, but public masturbation, flashing, and other sexually motivated exposure can lead to prosecution.

Free Speech Issues

Indecent exposure laws have been challenged on First Amendment free speech grounds. However, courts have generally upheld public nudity laws because of the government’s interest in morality and public order. Restrictions must be narrowly tailored, though. For example, a total ban on nudity would likely be unconstitutional.

In Barnes v. Glen Theatre (1991), the US Supreme Court upheld Indiana’s public indecency statute prohibiting totally nude dancing. However, such performances may still be protected if expressing serious literary, artistic, political or scientific speech. Nudity alone does not constitute obscenity.

Public breastfeeding is not indecent exposure, though some nursing mothers have faced charges for it. California law specifically allows public breastfeeding. Indecent exposure requires lewd intent, not just nudity.


Indecent exposure laws aim to prohibit sexually motivated public nudity that offends others. But incidental nudity or obscenity without lewd intent is not necessarily illegal. Defendants have various legal defenses to contest charges of indecent exposure under Penal Code 314 PC. The penalties can be severe, especially for repeat offenses. Anyone charged with indecent exposure should consult an experienced California criminal defense attorney. Counsel can argue to get charges reduced or dismissed where appropriate.