Many people believe they have a firm grasp on what constitutes indecent exposure. The fact is that the laws governing what is considered lewd or indecent activity in Brooklyn are more complex than most realize. Learning more about those laws and how they apply within New York City or any of the surrounding areas makes it easier to act within the limits of the law. Here are some essentials that every citizen should know.
The Basis for Public Indecent Exposure Laws
In Brooklyn and other areas of New York, the laws governing indecent exposure are spelled out in what is known as Article 245 of the state penal code. Rather than providing a broad definition, the law includes details that make it possible for the public as well as law enforcement officers to determine when any type of bodily exposure can be considered legally indecent.
The law begins by defining what constitutes public lewdness. As many would understand, this definition focuses partly on exposing the intimate portions of the body in a public place while performing actions that are later identified as lewd.
There’s another portion of that definition that may come as a surprise to some people. Article 245 also defines public lewdness as exposure of private parts while engaging in certain activities in a private setting. The key is what sort of visual access those outside of that setting may have to the individual’s conduct.
For example, an individual who chooses to disrobe and stand by a window facing a public street while engaging in intimate actions alone or with another person would be considered to be “readily observed from…a public place.” The same would be true if the individual stands at a window or doorway and can be easily observed by someone across the street who happens to be looking out of his or her window.
Under current laws, activity that is defined as public lewdness is considered a Class B misdemeanor.
What About Public Lewdness in the First Degree?
The contents of the law also recognize degrees of public lewdness. Those typically involve bodily exposure that involves appearing disrobed in front of minors. The current laws focus on people who are 19 years or older intentionally choosing to disrobe in settings so that they will be seen by persons who are 16 years of age or younger.
In this scenario, the intent behind disrobing and exposing the intimate areas of the body is to intimidate, alarm, or annoy the individual who is 16 or younger. These laws would not apply to someone over the age of 19 who is unaware of being observed, or is in a private facility where nudity is considered acceptable. This means that a 19 year old individual who has disrobed in order to take a shower at a health club would not be guilty of public lewdness in the first degree if observed by a person 16 years of age who also happens to be using the same locker room or shower facility.
Public lewdness in the first degree is considered a Class A misdemeanor. Along with the provisions noted above, there is another stipulation that could lead to this type of charge. If an individual has been previously found guilty of a Class B misdemeanor involving public lewdness within the last calendar year, the second offense charge will be as a Class A misdemeanor.
What About Baring the Chest?
There are no provisions within this and other laws in Brooklyn or other parts of New York that prevent men from appearing in a public setting without a shirt. For a number of years, women who appeared in public without some type of blouse or shirt were considered to be in violation of lewdness laws and thus guilty of indecent exposure.
In recent decades, that interpretation of the law has been challenged and rulings have determined that women who appear in public with bare chests are not guilty of indecent exposure. This includes women who are breastfeeding a child, sunbathing in a public space where such activity is permissible, or who happen to be walking down the street.
Retail and other establishments may post what is sometimes known as “no shoes, no shirt, no service” rules that apply to both males and females. When such a posting is present, there is some possibility of legal issues if the individual is advised of the policy and refuses to comply or leave the premises. In matters of this nature, the posting must apply to all genders.
The right to appear in public settings bare-chested is based on the assumption that the action does not include any additional behavior that is intended to intimidate or offend the general public. For example, fondling male or female breasts in a public place, even one where going shirtless is considered legally acceptable, could lead to charges of public lewdness.
When allegations of indecent exposure are made, the accused party should retain legal counsel as quickly as possible. The legal counsel will evaluate the circumstances leading up to the arrest carefully and compare them to the provisions found in current laws. Once the events surrounding the arrest are fully understood, the lawyer will prepare a defense and use every legal means available to protect the rights of the client.
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