According to Black's Law Dictionary, the term indecent exposure is defined as simply “to show your genitals in public.” Another common term used is an act of exhibitionism. In New Jersey, these acts are considered to be lewdness, which may be considered as a sex offense of relatively lesser severity. The offense is generally a disorderly person offense but can be elevated to a fourth-degree offense based on the circumstances.
Is it a Public Act of Exposure?
New Jersey law does not specifically state that an act of lewdness is necessarily committed in public. The state's provisions instead seek to determine if the alleged offender knew or could have reasonably expected that they may be seen. Many of these acts are committed by individuals who are heavily intoxicated that otherwise would not expose themselves. It is also possible that a couple engaging in sexual activity may unexpectedly find themselves in the presence of others.
Lewdness (2C: 14-4)
Acts of lewdness are those that occur where a person(s) who is not involved observes an action they deem to be alarming, offensive, or otherwise “flagrantly lewd.” The offender conducts the act knowing that there is a reasonable expectation that they will be seen. The offense is generally a disorderly person offense, which is punishable by up to six months in jail and a maximum of a $1,000 fine.
Upgraded to a Fourth-Degree Offense
There are certain ways that lewdness may be enhanced to a fourth-degree offense as follows:
- The individual exposes themselves for their own arousal or sexual gratification despite knowing that they may be observed by someone under the age of 13 that is four or more years younger.
- The individual's intimate parts are exposed for their own arousal or sexual gratification despite knowing that they may be observed by someone who is mentally impaired and is unable to comprehend the nature of the sexually-based behavior.
- Actions deemed to be lewd may also involve exposure of the genitals for another person's arousal or sexual gratification.
Understanding Levels of Offenses in New Jersey
In the majority of states, the courts typically differentiate criminal offenses as either being a felony or a misdemeanor. The offenses and the potential penalties may further be classified within these two categories such as first degree, second degree, etc. In New Jersey, the two primary categories are indictable offenses and disorderly person offenses. The more serious (indictable) offenses are classified from the first to the fourth degree.
Penalties for Fourth-Degree Offenses
These offenses are punishable by up to 18 months of imprisonment and a fine of up to $10,000. Often these offenders are subject to a period of probation, which is also known as community-based supervision. Generally, those on probation are required to report to their assigned supervisor on some regular basis. Although lewdness may loosely be considered a sexually-based offense, offenders are not subject to requirements for the state's sex offender registry.
Evidence of Victim's Prior Sexual Conduct
In 2C:14-7, the provisions address certain evidence that is not admissible in a trial for allegations of lewdness. The defense generally may not present as evidence or otherwise make reference to the victim's prior sexual conduct when a jury is present. If the defense wishes to present this type of evidence they must file a motion prior to trial. The request may be made during a trial only if the evidence was just recently discovered and would not have been available prior during discovery.
The court will typically not admit such evidence unless the acts of the defendant's sexual conduct are deemed as relevant and that the value of the evidence outweighs the potential for prejudice. If the court decides to admit this evidence, they will clearly specify what may be presented. Evidence of this nature is generally inadmissible if the conduct occurred more than one year ago. Evidence of sexual conduct that did not involve the defendant is generally inadmissible.
Evidence of Victim's Appearance at the Time
The defense generally may not present any evidence that relates to how the victim was dressed when the alleged offense occurred. If the defense believes that this evidence is relevant, the court may consider the evidence in a hearing that is not in the presence of a jury.
Any individual who alleges that they were a victim of a sexually-based offense that is not associated with domestic violence may apply for a protection order with the court. The application may be filed with a court that has jurisdiction where the alleged offense occurred or where either of the parties resides. For the protection of the applicant, the victim's home address may be omitted from any documentation.
If the victim is under the age of 18 or has a mental deficiency or developmental impairment, the application may be submitted by a parent or guardian on their behalf. When the alleged offender is under the age of 18, the victim must apply for a protection order according to the New Jersey Code of Juvenile Justice.
Importance of Retaining Seasoned Legal Representation
Those who are alleged to have committed an act of lewdness may face up to a maximum of 18 months of incarceration, a fine of up to $10,000, and may be placed on probation. A conviction establishes a criminal record that can have some long-term adverse consequences. Many employers conduct pre-employment background screens that may reveal evidence of your conviction. Certain professions also have state licensing boards that conduct background checks.
Your criminal defense attorney will attempt to challenge the allegations. They also may consider negotiating a potential agreement to plead guilty to a reduced charge. Lewdness is an offense that is either a fourth-degree offense or a disorderly person offense. It may be possible for your attorney to consider potential alternatives within the classification of petty disorderly person offenses. Petty disorderly person offenses carry a maximum of a $500 fine and a maximum of 30 days in jail, although incarceration is highly unlikely.
Disorderly Conduct (2C:33-2) is a petty disorderly person offense that stems from various types of improper behavior or usage of offensive language in a public place. Harassment (2C:33-4) is another petty disorderly person offense that results from communication that is “likely to cause annoyance or alarm.”
New Jersey Criminal Defense Lawyer
Joseph D. Lento is an experienced attorney that has been representing clients facing allegations of criminal activity for many years. He employs a comprehensive strategy of defense that seeks positive outcomes. Contact the office today at (888) 535-3686 for a consultation.