Accused of public indecency in Texas?
Houston sex crimes attorney Matt Sharp explains what penalties you may face and what your legal options are.
Texas has some of the strictest laws in the country when it comes to sex crimes. When an individual or multiple people are caught engaging in sexual activity in a public place, they may face serious fines, jail time and other criminal punishments under the Lone Star State’s public lewdness and indecency laws.
The definition of what’s considered a “public” place varies by jurisdiction. In Texas, these places commonly include parks, roads, stores, parking lots, alleys, restaurants and bars. Jails and hospitals also commonly fall under this category, even though they aren’t open to the general public.
If you’ve been charged with public lewdness or indecency, you should contact a knowledgeable and experienced Houston sex crimes defense lawyer as soon as possible.
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What is Public Lewdness?
According to Section 21.07 of the Texas Penal Code, public lewdness occurs when a person engages in sexual behaviors in any public place. If the location is not public, it can also happen if the alleged perpetrator is “reckless about whether another is present who will be offended or alarmed by his [acts]”.
Lewdness is typically defined as any action involving bawdiness, obscenity, lasciviousness or salacity. In some jurisdictions, however, the term “lewdness” is also used to describe a criminal offense of a sexual nature such as indecent exposure to a child and disorderly conduct. In general, though, public lewdness involves engaging in sexually explicit conduct in public, and therefore the penalties are harsher than for indecent exposure.
Under Texas law, public lewdness is described as an act that involves:
- Sexual contact
- Sexual deviancy (this includes sexual arousal to or interest in prepubescent children, sexual violence, and hypersexuality)
It’s important to note that although public lewdness has a connotation of being an act committed publicly rather than privately, the Texas Penal Code also specifies that this offense may still be committed in a private setting but while in the presence of another who may be offended by the act.
According to Chapter 21 of Title 5 of the Texas Penal Code:
PUBLIC LEWDNESS. A person commits an offense if the person knowingly engages in any of the following acts in a public place or, if not in a public place, the person is reckless about whether another is present who will be offended or alarmed by the person’s:
(1) act of sexual intercourse;
(2) act of deviate sexual intercourse; or
(3) act of sexual contact.
Penalties & Punishment for Public Lewdness Offenses in Texas
Those who are arrested for public lewdness hardly ever pose a threat to the public at large. These individuals likely had a lapse in judgment when they engaged in such behavior. Oftentimes, public lewdness is the result of relaxed inhibitions due to intoxication. These lewd actions are rarely normal behavior for those who are involved.
Section 21.07 of the Texas Penal Code puts public lewdness under the category of Class A misdemeanors. This means that someone who is prosecuted for this crime may face the following penalties:
- Up to 1 year in a state correctional institution
- A monetary fine of up to $4,000
- Community service
- A record in the Sex Offender Registration Program administered by the Texas Department of Public Safety
Juvenile sex offenders: When it comes to registering as a sex offender, it’s important to note that Texas courts may allow juvenile defendants some level of discretion by allowing them to seal or erase their court records once they become adults.
Social Stigma of Public Lewdness & Sexual Crimes in Texas
In addition to criminal prosecution and punishment, a person who is accused of public lewdness in the Lone Star State — even someone who is falsely accused — may face a lifetime of scrutiny, embarrassment and disapproval from others as soon as their charges are made public.
People generally think that public lewdness is a highly perverse offense because it’s a sex-related crime. The defendant may be ostracized by his or her community. Family and friends may assume that they are guilty until proven otherwise. In some cases, they may even be fired from their job and have a hard time finding future job opportunities — all before they’ve had a chance to defend themselves. The overall tarnishing of a person’s reputation could extend to losing child custody or visitation rights and even the loss of a professional license.
Defendants who are convicted of sex crimes in the Lone Star State are likely to experience a considerable reduction in their quality of life, which makes it necessary to contact a criminal defense attorney who can approach the case from various angles.
Public Lewdness Defense Strategies
A public lewdness conviction carries a very negative stigma. If you’ve been accused of this crime, it’s vitally important you beat these charges as soon as possible. An aggressive defense attorney will try to get public lewdness charges reduced to public indecency whenever possible. When it comes to formulating an effective strategy to defend against public lewdness charges, an experienced defense lawyer will first investigate the possibility of getting the case dismissed.
If the state of Texas is unwilling to budge on this matter, a defendant should exercise their right to a fair trial in front of a jury. During the trial, your lawyer will cross-examine the prosecution’s witnesses to see if they can cast doubt on their testimony or motives.
Other techniques may involve looking at the circumstances surrounding the arrest and whether the act in question can really be considered of a sexual nature. Your attorney might try to prove that no arousal or sexual gratification was involved in the action, and that you didn’t intend for anyone else to see you. For example, perhaps you were sunbathing naked on private land and weren’t aware that others could see you.
Or perhaps it’s a case of mistaken identity and you didn’t act lewd in any way. You’ll have to prove that you had an alibi and were in another place at the time of the alleged incident. In some cases, the best outcome may involve negotiating with the prosecution and coming to an agreement that may avert jail time or registration in the sex offender database.
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Talk to an Experienced Sex Crime Defense Lawyer in Houston, TX
The best way to resolve a public lewdness accusation is to hire a criminal defense attorney with extensive experience in sex crimes cases. This is important because a knowledgeable attorney can craft an effective defense strategy.
Matthew Sharp believes that every defendant should be diligently represented, no matter what their charges are. A sex-related crime will not deter him from looking after your best interests in a court of law.