The Michigan Court of Appeals in the case of People v. Neal answered a pressing question related to the indecent exposure statute: Does the exposure have to be in a public place? The Court concluded that the indecent exposure statute does not require a person be in public for a conviction.
What is Indecent Exposure?
Michigan Law MCL 750.335a is the indecent exposure statute and lays out the penalties upon conviction.
It is against the law for a person to knowingly make an open or indecent exposure of him or herself or of the person of another. This is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 1 year in jail. Further, the penalties are greater if the person during that indecent exposure fondles his or her private parts. This would be a high-court misdemeanor, punishable by up to 2 years in prison.
What Happened in the Case
A minor female was spending the night at the defendant’s home. The defendant showed her his private parts through the opened zipper in his pants. They were not in a public place.
Legal Issues of the Case
The defendant was convicted at a jury trial of indecent exposure. However, the judge granted a directed verdict on the basis that the indecent exposure was not made in public. The trial court reasoned the crime could only be committed by a person who was in public. The defendant in this case was in his home. The prosecution appealed this directed verdict.
The issue before the court then was whether a person could be convicted of indecent exposure when the exposure did not take place in public.
The Court here looked at the case of People v. Hildabridle. This was a 1958 case in which the issue was whether a person could be convicted of indecent exposure in a nudist camp. The Court in that case determined that a nudist camp did not violate the indecent exposure statute. The Court reasoned that the statute had less to do with the location of the exposure but more on the intent of the exposer and the circumstances regarding the exposure. Specifically, what is the intent of the exposer, or reasonably inferred intent, and what is the reasonably to be expected reaction of the person who may witness the exposure.
The Court looked through the past case law and found nothing requiring the exposure must be made in public for a violation of a statute. Also, there is nothing about there being an “in public” requirement in the instant statute. Although there is a disorderly conduct statute prohibiting indecent conduct in a public place.
Takeaways From the Case
For a violation of the indecent exposure statute, a person does not need to be in public. A person could be convicted of indecent exposure even if indoors in his or her own home.
The Court also reviewed past case law that made it clear it is unnecessary that another person actually witness the exposed anatomy. If the exposure was in a public place and not actually seen by another person, the question is whether under the circumstances another person would have been reasonably likely to see it.
Nevertheless, the Court made it clear that it was not saying every open exposure in one’s own home is a violation of the statute. The open or indecent exposure must be knowingly made.
Sam Bernstein is an Ann Arbor Criminal Defense Attorney.
ArborYpsi Law is located at 4158 Washtenaw Ave., Ann Arbor, MI 48108.
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