Indecent Exposure Laws in North Carolina

There are certain actions that some people may consider harmless that can get you in trouble with the law. Indecent exposure, also referred to as “lewd conduct” or “public indecency”, is one of such actions. Just getting arrested for the crime of indecent exposure is embarrassing enough and can have repercussions in your personal and professional life, and conviction can result in serious criminal consequences too.

If you have been charged with indecent exposure in North Carolina, you will need the help of a skilled attorney. The indecent exposure lawyers at Tarlton | Polk have the experience needed to help you navigate these charges and defend your rights and freedom. You do not want to let dire consequences from a misunderstanding or harmless act follow you for life.

woman witnessing indecent exposure, in shock

Indecent Exposure Laws in North Carolina

North Carolina law, under statute N.C.G.S § 14-190.9 defines indecent exposure as when a person:

shall willfully expose the private parts of his or her person in any public place and in the presence of any other person or persons, except for those places designated for a public purpose where the same sex exposure is incidental to a permitted activity. . .

Essentially, any act of exposing one’s “private parts”in a public place in the presence of others, unless exposure is otherwise permitted, is a crime. The law goes on to include that it is also a crime to aid somebody in doing such an act, or for somebody to manage a property for the use of such purpose without lawful permit by local government.

The term “private parts” here refers only to the genitalia and anus, but not a person’s breasts or buttocks. The law goes on to explicitly state that breastfeeding in any public or private location where a woman is authorized to be is not a crime, regardless of whether the mother’s nipple is visible to others.

As for sexually-oriented businesses, the law states that local governments may regulate their location and operation, and prohibit lewd activity to the extent that is consistent with the constitutional protection of free speech and expression.

Penalties for Indecent Exposure

The penalties for indecent exposure are determined by various factors and can be a misdemeanor or felony.

Misdemeanor Indecent Exposure

A person is guilty of misdemeanor indecent exposure if they willfully expose their private parts in a public place and in the presence of another person. A conviction of this crime is punished as a class 2 misdemeanor.

There are some important elements to understand about this crime. First, the term “willfully” means that the act was done without legal excuse or justification, or deliberately in violation of law, so an accident should not be punished under this law. Second, it is not necessary for another person to have actually seen the defendant’s genitalia, just for the genitalia to have been exposed in their presence. Finally, as this is the misdemeanor version of this offense, any additional circumstances that make matters worse may result in charges under a harsher law.

Misdemeanor indecent exposure does not require registration as a sex offender.

Use of Property for Indecent Exposure

It is also a class 2 misdemeanor crime to knowingly hire, lease or permit a premises to be used for indecent exposure.

As mentioned earlier, adult-oriented businesses are subjected to local regulations on any nudity or sexual activity. This means that some parts of the State may permit nudity in certain areas, while others do not. If you are planning to establish a nudity or sexually-oriented business in North Carolina, it is best to understand the local ordinances on public nudity first.

Felony Indecent Exposure

An indecent exposure crime advances from a misdemeanor to a felony under the following additional circumstances:

  • The defendant is at least 18 years old
  • They committed the act of indecent exposure for the purpose of arousing or gratifying sexual desire
  • The person in their presence was less than 16 years of age.

A conviction of this aggravated form of indecent exposure is punished as a class He felony. In addition to the harsh penalties of a felony conviction, this crime is considered a sexually violent offense, which means it requires sex offender registration.

Defending Against Indecent Exposure Charges

If you are dealing with charges for indecent exposure or any related crimes, our Raleigh based indecent exposure defense attorneys can be a great asset to you.

The defense strategy taken will depend on the facts of the case. Some cases may be rather frivolous, as the act was either not done in a public place or was not in the presence of anybody. However, these charges will typically come down to the issue of “willfulness”, which means without justification or in deliberate violation of the law. Your defense can be that it was an accident or a consequence of excusable behavior. For example, a person could have been changing we clothes in a park and made their best attempt to be modest and hide, but another person caught them. Another possibility is that if a person was intoxicated or disabled and exposed themselves, they may use that to drop or reduce the sentence.

For felony crimes, prosecution additionally needs to prove that the act was done with the purpose or intent to arouse oneself or get sexual gratification. This is a much greater burden of proof, so you can once again challenge evidence they present. For example, if they only present evidence of nudity but nothing sexually explicit (e.g. masturbation), they may not be able to prove felony indecent exposure.

At Tarlton | Polk we tailor our defense strategy to account for every detail of the case. We have the experience of both working with prosecutors to get charges dismissed pretrial, or fighting in trial to reduce or drop charges against our clients.

If you are facing an investigation or have been charged with indecent exposure or any other obscenity crime or sex crime, give our dedicated team a call or leave us a consultation request.

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