Michigan Indecent Exposure and Aggravated Indecent Exposure not “Sex Crimes”

Sometimes, when a person learns that a significant portion of my practice concentrates in Michigan indecent exposure cases and aggravated indecent exposure cases, he or she will say something condescending, or ask how I can deal with “sex offenders.” In this article, I want to make clear how strongly I believe indecent exposure and aggravated indecent exposure (hereafter describes as “IE” to make things easier) are not really true “sex crimes.” Perhaps the strongest way for me to do this is to be clear that I don’t handle sex crimes, but I do handle IE cases.

The term “IE cases” is broad: It can cover a whole range of behavior, from a person just being seen exposing him or herself (sometimes, negligently, or at least not intentionally), to actually intentionally exposing one’s self, as well as being caught getting “frisky,” whether alone or with another person, and a whole lot of stuff in between. At worst, IE charges result from a person wanting to “shock” another with an unsolicited visual. Almost always, there is at least some distance, and usually a physical barrier, between the performer and the audience. At best, the person making the complaint observes something not necessarily done for him or her to see.

Seem 1.2.jpgI’ve been involved with IE cases where the man charged has offered to perform for a willing female audience through an internet listing. I’ve read exchanges of emails between the parties with the man going to great lengths to verify that the woman on the other end is an adult. The only problem in this situation is that the woman on the other end of the computer was a police detective and the agreed upon rendezvous spot was in a parking lot, with the man “performing” in his car.

However you cut it, IE cases do not involve predatory physical contact, or even the imminent threat of physical contact. IE is at the opposite end of the world from a case of groping, or rape. The whole mindset involved is very different. That’s why I don’t handle rape cases, or child molestation cases. I could never imagine trying to help a rapist get away with his crime, nor could I ever imagine defending a child molester.

Typically, a man accused of an IE crime is “acting out” as the result of some kind of pressure in his life. Sometimes, this has to do with sexual frustration at home. Other times, it does not. Whatever else, at least with my clients, an incident of IE is not done with an intent to physically harm someone else. Here, however, is where the rubber meets the road. It’s great that I know this, and that my client knows this, but the real issue is making sure the Judge understands this. And to be clear, he or she most likely will not, at least not without a lot of help from me.

I pride myself on being an honest lawyer. You can snicker about that all you want, but if the size of this blog says anything, it’s that I have a passion for what I do. It’s easy to tell people what they want to hear, but, if you have a real conscience, then you have to live with the damage caused by that. A lawyer friend of mine once joked that being honest cost him a lot of money. It might be funny, but it’s also true. And here is another thing that’s true, although it’s a somewhat cold and kind of ugly truth that most people facing an IE charge already know, or at least feel: There is a pervasive kind of “yuck” or “pervert” factor inherent in these cases, at least as far as the public is concerned. You can bring this point home real fast when you think about your boss or neighbors finding out about the charge, must less learning the underlying facts that gave rise to it. My job is to get rid of that “factor” to the extent humanly (and legally) possible.

Without exception, every person I have ever represented is incredibly remorseful about what’s happened, unless the charge is false. Otherwise intelligent men stammer, and find themselves at a loss for words in trying to explain themselves.

This is precisely where we can see a huge and incredibly important disconnect between how others perceive what happened and what the person doing it was thinking. My job, as an indecent exposure lawyer, is to bridge that gap so that the Judge moves well past that “yuck” or “perv” factor position. This can take a lot of preparatory work, and the opportunity to do it successfully often boils down to mere minutes when you’re in front of the Judge in open court.

My skills as a lawyer with nearly 25 years experience are important in accomplishing this, but not necessarily enough. Things have to be explained to the prosecutor and the Judge from a psychological angle, as well. Here, words and distinctions matter. Beyond my undergraduate degree in psychology, I am actively and formally involved in post-graduate studies, as well. I understand things from the clinical side, and can speak the language of the clinician. This is important because, as the lawyer, I can straddle both worlds, although my role is that of lawyer, first and foremost.

I am not, nor can (or would) I ever play psychologist. However, I know how to use my specialized training to mediate between the clinical and legal worlds. I can make sure that my client isn’t seen, much less treated like some kind of “perv,” and I can also make sure my client isn’t relegated to the status of “sicko.” This is a fine but important distinction, because it’s all too easy to go overboard explaining how what happened is the result of life stressors and then wind up being seen as unable to handle things normally. I have to make sure that my client isn’t seen as damaged, or in need of extensive therapy. In order to do that, I use the finest experts available. Most people are surprised to learn that this is not a set up for some outrageous cost. In fact, the very best in this field charge a reasonable fee, as do I.

Not that long ago, I appeared before a Judge with a client for whom getting wrapped up in all kinds of counseling right out of the gate was not necessary to successfully resolving his case. I was able to get 2 indecent exposure charges dismissed for him (in 2 different cities), but in one of the municipalities, because the Judge knew that the case before him was one of 2 simultaneous charges, he wanted my client to undergo an evaluation as part of his probation, and at first named a psychologist. I recognized the name, and knew that if my client went through that office, he’d get soaked. I know that operation to be run as a very profitable business, and having had contact with it before, know that absolutely no one there specialized in anything like indecent exposure cases. If my client had been sent there, he’d likely have wound up being “counseled” until the end of time, all at his expense.

I got the Judge to allow my client to be evaluated by one of the specialists I use. I knew that an evaluation conducted by someone of my choosing would cost less, be many times better, and that any recommendation made within it would be more beneficial and far less expensive and inconvenient than what the court had at first suggested. In case I’m not being clear enough, I will eschew the niceties of political correctness for a moment and be blunt: The place suggested by the Judge (who didn’t know better, and is not to be blamed) for the evaluation is all about bringing people in through the courts and making money. I have been singularly unimpressed by anything I’ve seen from that office beyond its first-rate skill at making money. Saving my client from that fate was a huge victory, in my mind, and that doesn’t even take into account that I had the 2 IE against him charges dismissed.

And yet for all of these concerns, none of this smacks of “sex crimes.” There is no assaultive behavior here. Sure, the witnesses can sometimes get pretty riled up, but part of what I do is work things out to reduce that anger. Contrary to what some people think, blundering into one of these cases just to “get it over with” is almost always a horrendous mistake. It takes a certain amount of time to let tempers cool and get everyone comfortable with the notion that an IE incident doesn’t represent more than a regrettable bad day for my client, who has takes the appropriate steps to address whatever life stressors caused him to act out in the first place.

There is a certain “sexual” seeming aspect to IE cases because genitals are involved. Beyond that, however, these are not “sex crimes.” No one accused of IE wants to be lumped into a category with child molesters and rapists, and they should not be. That’s why there is no required sex offender registration. Although almost everyone charged with an IE offense knows that he is not any kind of predatory sex offender, it is important to make sure the important parties – meaning the prosecutor and the Judge – are reminded of that every step of the way.