Indecent Exposure in Michigan – “Uncovering” the Truth

Okay, I had to have a little fun with the title of this article, but the reality is that, for anyone facing this charge, it’s really no laughing matter. Indecent Exposure cases are relatively common, and in my practice as a Criminal Defense Lawyer, come up regularly, if not necessarily frequently. In other words, I get my fair share.

Indecent Exposure is a Misdemeanor, but recent changes in the law have created a new kind of Indecent Exposure charge called “Aggravated Indecent Exposure,” which is kind of hybrid crime called a “High Court Misdemeanor .” There is a very small class of Crimes called “High Court Misdemeanors” which are handled and prosecuted as Felonies, even though they are specifically called Misdemeanors in the Law.

Flasher.jpgWhen I say “handled and prosecuted as Felonies” I mean that, unlike typical Misdemeanor cases, which are and must be handled in the local, District Court, these cases start, like all Felonies, in the District Court, but must be finalized in the County’s Circuit Court.

Unlike some Laws, which are complex and difficult, even for a Lawyer, to understand, the Indecent Exposure Law is straightforward and clear, and anyone reading it can understand it. Accordingly, there is no need for me to elaborate on the difference between the basic Misdemeanor and the Aggravated, High-Court Misdemeanor, beyond pointing out that what makes an Indecent Exposure Charge “Aggravated” is that the person charged was somehow “fondling” themselves.

The majority of Indecent Exposure charges involve having some private part exposed. While the name of the Crime itself can sound kind of “trench coat-flasher” creepy, many people are surprised to learn that merely urinating behind a building is an act of Indecent Exposure. Of course, for those who have been caught while relieving themselves, the whole notion of being charged with a sex crime is even more distasteful. It’s probably true that most people would think of the terms “indecent exposure” as a “sex crime” when it involves something like “flashing.” Despite what anyone thinks, and indeed, what anyone intended to do, or not to do, merely having certain private body parts exposed is enough to be charged with indecent exposure. No flashing, and no “audience” are necessary. As long as someone could possibly come upon and see a person who has some private part exposed, then having such a part exposed is Indecent Exposure.

Thus, if a person is walking around in the privacy of their home, unclothed, and that person is, or could be seen by someone outside (I had a case just like this where the Mail Carrier, a woman, saw a nude man inside his home, and it wasn’t that she wasn’t peeking in, either…), then that person has committed and act of Indecent Exposure.

Most often (but not always), these charges involve being “discovered” by a Police Officer. In these cases, the chances of the witness not showing up to Court, since the witness is the Police Officer, is slim to none.

Other times the Police get a complaint from a citizen. If there’s anything like a classic “flasher” case, it frequently involves a man either sitting exposed in a parked car, in a parking lot, around other parked cars, or driving around where his private parts can be seen by other drivers. In the cases I’ve handled where the Complainant is a citizen and not a Police Officer, it has been a woman who has called about a man exposing himself. I’ve never seen a case involving a man complaining to the Police, nor have I ever seen one where the person doing the exposing was a woman.

Usually, these cases are worked out in a way that avoids a conviction for “Indecent Exposure.” This kind of a deal is more likely in Macomb County and any of the Wayne County Courts in which I Practice than it is in Oakland County. That’s not to say that working out this kind of deal in Oakland County is impossible, or even unlikely.

Aggravated Indecent Exposure, because it involves “fondling,” is thought of as more serious. The irony here is that a man, sitting in his car and exposing himself to the driver of a car parked near him is guilty of a less serious crime than a dating or married couple, parked behind some building, who may have gotten a bit too carried away with each other.

In practice, Prosecutors usually recognize the reality of a situation, and a pair of 20 year-old lovebirds who simply got too amorous for their location will not be treated more harshly than the guy with his pants unzipped who smiles at the lady in the next car as he airs out his privates.

It doesn’t take an advanced degree to figure out who the “Aggravated Indecent Exposure” charge was designed for; the guy who wants to put on more of a “show” by fondling himself than the guy who just got caught relieving his bladder behind the dumpster in the alley.

Nor, do I think, should it offend or surprise anyone to use the term “guy.” As I mentioned before, I have never seen or heard of a case of Indecent Exposure involving a woman doing the exposure. I’m sure those cases exist, but when we use the term “flasher,” for example, what comes to mind? Certainly not a woman!

The first order of business for the Defense Lawyer in an Aggravated Indecent Exposure is, assuming that the case cannot otherwise be dismissed or “beaten,” is to get that Felony reduced to a true Misdemeanor. Depending on the circumstances, and if getting this kind of Plea Bargain is possible, this is either done (preferably) at the District Court, which keeps the case from going “upstairs” to the County’s Circuit Court, or, if that can’t be done, then getting it done in the Circuit Court. In my Practice, the Fees are lower if this can be accomplished in the District Court.

Neither Indecent Exposure, nor Aggravated Indecent Exposure requires registering as a Sex Offender. However, 3 Indecent Exposure convictions, or 2 Aggravated Indecent Exposure convictions will require the person to be placed in the Sex Offender Registry.

Beyond that, let’s face it; certain crimes carry a stigma, and are seen as much worse than others. When looking for a job, having a DUI turn up on a background check is not nearly as bad as having an Indecent Exposure conviction show up. That’s why, unless the case can be dismissed or beaten in some way, working out a Plea to a different charge is so desirable.