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Do I need a lawyer to represent me?

Several people complained to the sherrifs that I was offending them by standing at the urinal holding on to my genitals. They claim I was masturbating. I was not. The complaints turned into a formal charge of indecent exposure. I lost my job, and am required to appear in court. If I plead guilty, what chances are there I go t jail? I don’t want to fight it and go to trial. No criminal history whatsoever. No physical contact with anyone. I wasn’t aware of complaints till sherrifs brought it to my attention.

Asked on May 18, 2009 under Criminal Law, California


M.D., Member, California and New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 14 years ago | Contributor

Yes, you absolutely need legal representation.  This is a serious criminal charge.

California Penal Code Section 314 defines the crime of indecent exposure.  The offense is committed when a person exposes himself to a third party who might thereby be offended, when the exhibitionist is seeking to arouse himself sexually or to annoy others by virtue of the attention.

Under California law, conviction of the crime of indecent exposure, Penal Code Section 314, requires registration as a sex offender.

Below is the California Judicial Council's jury instruction defining Indecent Exposure:

The defendant is charged with indecent exposure.

To prove that the defendant is guilty of this crime, the People must prove that:

1. The defendant willfully exposed his genitals in the presence of another person or persons who might be offended or annoyed by the defendant's actions; and

2. When the defendant exposed himself, heated lewdly by intending to direct public attention to his genitals for the purpose of sexually arousing or gratifying himself or another person, or sexually offending another person;

Someone commits an act willfully when he or she does it willingly or on purpose. It is not required that he or she intend to break the law, hurt someone else, or gain any advantage.

It is not required that another person actually see the exposed genitals. 

Indecent exposure is a misdemeanor if the defendant does not have qualifying priors and the alleged event did not occur in an inhabited dwelling. (Pen. Code, § 314.) If the defendant is charged with one of the factors that elevates the offense to a felony, then the misdemeanor is a lesser included offense.

Indecent exposure is typically charged as a misdemeanor, where the maximum penalty is a sentence of up to one year in county. 

You need legal counsel immediately.  Find a criminal attorney in the area where all of this happened.  He will be the most effective advocate for your legal interests.  If money is an issue contact legal aid or the public defender's offce.  

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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