Public indecency is a serious but complicated charge, and the conviction, penalties, and other consequences depend heavily on the circumstances surrounding the incident.
Generally speaking, the crime of public indecency is prosecuted as a misdemeanor in Illinois. In the most simplistic terms, public indecency charges allege that you exposed yourself in a public place. If convicted, you could face up to a year in jail and a maximum fine of $2,500.
Most importantly, public indecency is considered a sex crime. In certain situations, those convicted will have to register as a sex offender.
A person under the age of 16 cannot be prosecuted for the crime of public indecency.
However, they may face charges of disorderly conduct for the same behavior.
When either of the following situations occur, a person 17 or older can be prosecuted for the crime of public indecency:
- He or she engaged in sexual conduct in public
- He or she exposed their body in a lewd manner, with the intent to arouse or satisfy sexual desire in public
You do not have to be naked to be charged with public indecency. You could be fully clothed and face this charge if you engaged in sexual conduct in a public case.
One huge exemption from this law is breastfeeding. Though it is frequently a subject of debate in our country, Illiniois law does not consider breastfeeding in public to be public indecency. Mothers who breastfeed their infants in public will not face any criminal charges.
Prosecution of Public Indecency
One thing that you have to understand clearly is that indecent exposure is a crime with specific intent. In order to get a conviction, the prosecution must establish beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused intended the exposure to be for a lewd or indecent purpose.
The prosecution must also establish that the place where exposure occurred was “public.” When dealing with indecent exposure cases, public refers to any place where a person could reasonably expect to be seen.
As with any offense that is sexual in nature, public indecency cases can draw the attention of prosecution and judges. Particularly when there is media coverage, the prosecution of an indecent exposure case can become politically charged. This in turn can encourage judges and prosecution to attempt to punish these crimes more severely.
In addition to criminal penalties, those convicted of public indecency could be required to undergo sex offender evaluation and treatment, even in situations where it may not be the most appropriate course of action. If the convicted person fails to complete their evaluation and treatment, they may be sentenced to jail.
Sex Offender Registration and Felony Charges. Contrary to popular belief, a single instance of public indecency usually doesn’t warrant sex offender registry. Multiple incidents, however, may require you to suffer this penalty. Generally, if you have three or more convictions on your record, you will be required to register as a sex offender.
Also, after you have three or more convictions for indecent exposure, or if the incident occurs on or within 500 feet of elementary or secondary school grounds when children are present on the grounds, it will be prosecuted as a Class 4 felony.
Other Consequences of Conviction. Though public indecency may seem like a relatively minor crime, a conviction for public indecency can have other consequences beyond criminal punishments.
For one, a conviction can severely impact future career prospects for you. This charge cannot be expunged or sealed from your criminal record, and there is a significant stigma attached to sex crimes. Employers and other parties conducting background checks will not look favorably on a public indecency charge. Some employers even conduct background checks on their current employees, so a conviction can result in negative consequences even if you are currently employed.
Fighting a Public Indecency Charge
Though the consequences for a public indecency charge are severe, an arrest does not necessarily mean a conviction. A skilled criminal defense attorney can improve your chances of obtaining a favorable outcome.
There are a number of subjective elements of a public indecency arrest, and it is often left up to the discretion of the arresting officer whether an act of public indecency actually occurred.
Moreover, the prosecution must prove that the defendant’s conduct was lewd or indecent in nature to secure conviction. The language of the law is intentionally broad—it is difficult to specifically define which factors make some behavior obscene. Your attorney may be able to successfully argue that your conduct was not intended to be sexual.
It’s also difficult to define exactly what constitutes a public area. Another effective defense strategy might be to attempt to prove that the area the incident occurred in falls outside the legal definition of “public.” Ultimately, how you fight your charge will depend upon the specifics of the situation.
But you should fight back, because public indecency convictions carry severe consequences in addition to being a significant social stigma. You best chance for a favorable ruling is to consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney.
About the Author:
Andrew M. Weisberg is a former felony prosecutor who now serves as a defense attorney in the greater Chicago area. He has extensive experience in handling all types of criminal cases, from sex offenses and domestic violence to retail theft-related crimes, Murder, and drug crimes.