A unique and specialized part of my criminal practice involves handling Michigan indecent and aggravated indecent exposure (IE) cases in Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties, as well as a few surrounding areas. I make no secret that my interest in this area springs from my undergraduate background in psychology and my post-graduate work in the field of addiction studies. Combined with my role as a criminal lawyer, I work hard in IE cases to make sure the court perceives my client as neither a dangerous criminal nor some kind of mentally unstable, mad flasher. It is very easy to go one way or the other with this; keeping the balance, however, requires a certain amount of deftness and skill, but it is absolutely necessary to produce the best outcome in any IE case.
As a general rule, most people will “over-pathologize” indecent exposure situations, especially where a man has exposed himself in order to be seen. You can get a good idea of how nearly instinctive this is if you simply describe a situation where a guy in a car exposes himself to someone (usually, but not always, a woman) and wait for someone to say “That’s sick,” or something similar. If I only had to worry about how outsiders perceive the situation, however, my job would be ridiculously simple. Instead, the most important task I have is to manage the perception of those who matter most; the prosecutor and the Judge. As I have pointed out in other articles, having a thorough knowledge of the facts of a particular case and knowing the relevant law are mere starting points for a lawyer.
In a criminal case, the best result is achieved through combining knowledge of the facts and the relevant law with the careful management of perception, science and time. This is a universal truth, and applies in every criminal case that has ever taken place and will ever take place, whether the case is resolved by a plea, a jury trial, or is thrown out of court by the Judge. To that end, it seems rather fundamental that a lawyer trying to bring about the best result in any kind of IE case needs to understand, before anything else, what underlies the behavior at issue. How can a lawyer effectively communicate to others his or her client’s situation unless he or she understands it in the first place? This is not to suggest that a lawyer should “play doctor,” or, in this case, psychologist, even if he or she is trained in that field. However, it is equally troublesome for a lawyer to simply “punt” and send the client to be evaluated by some therapist. To really make things better, knowing exactly what therapist to employ is critically important…
In my practice, I have developed a working relationship with several specialists who assess people in IE cases and also treat any problematic issues that may underlie these behaviors. If there is one key point to be made here, it’s that not every, nor even most, IE offenders have a problem that needs treatment. For all the expertise we can slather onto this, the reality is that I have worked with countless clients who have just become so stressed out in life, that, for whatever reason or reasons, they act out in this way. In other words, and despite all the response that “it shouldn’t happen that way” it does just happen that way. In a perfect world, everyone would have a convenient and healthy release to employ when life just gets to him or her, but this isn’t a perfect world and people sometimes do things they later regret.
It has always been the case that humans “act out” in various, and sometimes non-productive ways, and it is usually the case that these things don’t happen because things are going too well. And it does not matter if, from the outside looking in, it appears that someone’s life is just fine. Instead, what matters is how the person, him or herself, perceives things. As the saying goes, “feelings are facts.”
Key here is the ability to demonstrate that whatever feelings led to an IE situation, you have now learned how to handle them more productively (or have fixed the source of the problem) and therefore pose little or no risk of doing this again. As I have noted elsewhere, there is a certain, undeniable “yuck” factor in these cases. Consequently, as important as it is for me to negotiate the case relying on a certain amount of pathology, it is likewise important to present a client whose “lesson” from the whole experience is an appropriate blend of embarrassment, remorse and a new understanding of what led to this situation and how to make sure it doesn’t happen again. You won’t do very well by showing up in court and simply promising, “It won’t happen again, your Honor.” This is where a referral to the right counselor makes all the difference in the world.
The notion of a psychological pathology is, of course, just one of many issues at play in an indecent or aggravated indecent exposure case. There is a lot more to this, and you probably have all kinds of concerns and questions to address. If you’re facing an IE charge and you need to hire a lawyer, do your homework, read what all the other lawyers have written on the subject and then pick up the phone and call around. When you want to know how I’d approach your situation, call my office anytime Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., at (586) 465-1980. We’re here to help.