Breaking it down
Indecent exposure and obscene sexual displays involve behaving in a way in public that is sexually offensive. That might include exposing your private parts or simulating masturbation.
- Indecent exposure and making an obscene sexual display are Class 1 misdemeanors in Virginia with up to a year in jail time and maximum $2,500 fine if convicted
- Conviction also requires you to register as a sex offender
- A prosecutor has to prove your actions were intentionally obscene, so lack of intent may be a defense
Different people have different standards of what it means to be obscene. Obscenity has been a notoriously difficult idea to pin down in the law. Even the U.S. Supreme Court has been challenged to define exactly what it means, with Justice Potter Stewart famously saying, “I know it when I see it” back in the 1960s when the court was wrestling with a case involving pornography.
Because people can think in different ways about sex, sexuality, and what’s OK in public, if you act in public in a way that someone else finds lascivious and offensive, you may find yourself facing a charge of indecent exposure or making an obscene sexual display in Virginia.
Pretty quickly an action you intended as maybe just a bit of raunchy humor can translate into a criminal charge. And if you’re convicted, you’ll not only face jail time, fines, and a criminal record, but the requirement to register as a sex offender.
Virginia Code §18.2-387 defines indecent exposure as intentionally making an obscene display or exposure of your body or private parts in public or in a place where other people are present. The crime also includes getting another person to expose him or herself.
In essence, a public place or place where others are present means any place where you can reasonably foresee that someone who doesn’t consent to seeing your private parts might witness your exposure.
Indecent exposure might include exposing your breasts, buttocks or genitalia in public. It also may include having sex in a public place or where someone might witness.
Indecent exposure is a Class 1 misdemeanor punishable by up to 12 months in jail. The penalty also may include a $2,500 maximum fine.
The statute specifically excludes breastfeeding a child in public from the definition of indecent exposure.
Obscene Sexual Display
Virginia Code §18.2-387 addresses the offense of making an obscene sexual display. This is very similar to the indecent exposure statute, but includes actual or explicitly simulated acts of masturbation in public or in places where other people are present.
Making an obscene sexual display also is a Class 1 misdemeanor.
Defenses Against Your Indecent Exposure Charge
To convict you for either indecent exposure or making an obscene sexual display, a prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that your actions were intentional, obscene, and public.
If you had a reasonable expectation that you were someplace private and could not foresee that anyone might witness your actions, you may have a defense to the charge.
Likewise, if you didn’t intend to do anything obscene —if exposure of your private parts happened by accident or as an act of urination, for example — you may be able to fight the charge.
A Roanoke sex crimes lawyer with experience defending indecent exposure and obscene sexual display charges can evaluate the facts in your case and explain the options available to you. Depending on the circumstances, that may help you avoid not only jail time and fines, but an embarrassing stigma.
How Roanoke Indecent Exposure Defense Attorneys in Virginia Can Help You?
If you’ve been charged with indecent exposure in Virginia, the experienced Roanoke sex crimes defense attorneys at Copenhaver, Ellett & Derrico can help evaluate the details of your case and your options. For an appointment at our Roanoke office, call our local number at (540) 343-9349.