In Texas, sex crime laws are there to stop illegal sexual behavior including sexual misconduct and illegal forms of pornography. One crime that falls under broad sex crimes is public lewdness. If you find yourself facing public lewdness charges, The Law Office of Paul Schiffer can help you navigate your way through these rough times and help you come out the other side with as little trouble as possible. Our talented staff will work hard to put you first and put together a case to prove your innocence or at least work out a deal with a lenient penalty.
What is Public Lewdness in Texas?
To generalize the law, public lewdness is performing sexual acts in public.
Public lewdness falls under section 21.07 of the Texas Penal Code. It states that public lewdness is when a person knowingly engages in a sexual act in a public place or in front of someone who is offended by the behavior. For example, if you’re engaging in a sexual act thinking you’re in private but someone sees you and is alarmed or offended, you can be charged with public lewdness.
The penal code defines a sexual act as:
(1) sexual intercourse;
(2) deviate sexual intercourse; or
(3) act of sexual contact.
Under the law, sexual intercourse is defined as the penetration of the female sex organ with the male sex organ while deviate sexual intercourse is defined as any kind of contact between the genitals of a person with the mouth or anus of another. Penetration of the mouth or anus with an object other than a sex organ also falls under deviate sexual intercourse. Sexual conduct is touching the genitals, breasts, or anus with the specific intent to arouse and/or gratify sexual desire. Section 21.07 also covers contact between an individual person’s mouth, genitals, or anus with the anus or genitals of an animal or fowl.
Public Lewdness vs. Indecent Exposure
While similar, public lewdness shouldn’t be confused with indecent exposure as they’re different crimes with their own definitions and, more importantly, their own penalties. Basically, public lewdness is when you knowingly commit a sexual act in public while indecent exposure—as defined in section 21.08 of the Texas Penal Code—is exposing your genitals for sexual arousal or gratification. Both may go together in terms of charges, but they are still two separate offenses under Texas law.
Proving Public Lewdness in Texas
In order for a prosecutor to have a public lewdness case against you they have to have proof that you knowingly committed one of the following in public:
- Sexual contact; or
- Sexual intercourse; or
- Deviate sexual intercourse; or
- Contact between an individual’s mouth, genitals or anus with that of an animal or fowl.
Public lewdness can also be proven based on a statute enacted in 1970. While the penal code focused only on the location of the sex act, after 1970 the audience witnessing the act came into play. Furthermore, in 1974, that statute was amended so the law would include elements related to both the location of the act as well as the audience. Hence, the penal code now stating that public lewdness can be committing a sex act recklessly where someone may witness the act and be alarmed or offended.
This means that prosecutors actually have two ways to prove guilt in a public lewdness case. They can prove that the sexual act was done in public or they can say that the defendant acted recklessly in regards to another person who was offended by their actions. Here, documentation has to state what you, the defendant, did that is being deemed as reckless.
If you’re found guilty of public lewdness, you’re guilty of a Class A misdemeanor. Under section 12.21, anyone guilty of a Class A misdemeanor is subject to up to one year in jail, a $4,000 fine or a combination of both. Probation and community service are also possible punishments for public lewdness.
Further Ramifications for Public Lewdness
Besides, the punishment, being convicted of public lewdness in Texas can have other ramifications. For example, there is a chance that your conviction will prohibit you from legally obtaining a License to Carry for up to five years.
You may also face problems getting a job especially if you’re looking for employment involving children or with a religious institution. This is because you’ll have a criminal record and a public lewdness conviction will come up on a background check done by a potential employer. With a permanent criminal record, you can also have issues with visitation or custody of your own children as well as problems renting property. In some cases, you can lose a professional license, or have it temporarily suspended.
Here is a non-exhaustive list of rights or opportunities that could potentially be lost if you are found guilty of public lewdness:
- Gun Rights
- Child Custody
- Professional License
This is why it’s important to have a good defense attorney who can work hard to help you battle back against this charge. Even if the evidence against you is strong, the Law Offices of Paul Schiffer will put together a case to help you work out a deal to limit these additional ramifications as much as possible.
Registering as a Sex Offender
Generally, No. While most sex crimes will require you to register as a sex offender, public lewdness isn’t considered a reportable conviction according to Article 62.001(5) of the Code of Criminal Procedure.
The only exception here is if you’re convicted of public lewdness involving someone under 17 years of age. In that case, you would have to register as a sex offender.
Defenses of Public Lewdness
Usually, if a prosecutor is confident enough to pursue a public lewdness case, it means that they have clear evidence of the crime. While it’s difficult to get around this, all is not lost if you’re facing public lewdness charges.
For example, you have to knowingly be in public in order to be guilty of public lewdness. There is a chance that you believed you were on private property when engaging in a sexual act. In this case, a good defense team, like the Law Office of Paul Schiffer, can help prove your innocence or at least have your charges lowered.
A defense could also be made if you weren’t actually engaging in a sex act. For example, maybe you were actually relieving yourself in the absence of an available restroom and someone mistakenly claimed you were engaged in a sex act. Or maybe you were playing a prank on a friend that was taken out of context or went too far. In that case, there was no intent for sexual arousal or gratification. In these examples, you could face reduced charges that carry less severe punishments.
Based on the part of the public lewdness law regarding the audience of a sex act, a proper defense can be made saying that you assumed you took precautions to ensure privacy for said acts. For example, if you and your partner engaged in a sexual act outside on your property and were behind a privacy fence on your property and someone climbed up to look over the fence and claimed you were reckless in your acts, your defense attorney can make the case that you took steps to ensure privacy and were, therefore, not being reckless in your acts.
In any of these circumstances, the chances of you being able to work out a plea deal or having the charges dropped altogether are better than they’d be if you were facing a felony charge. Prosecutors are more willing to work out deals for misdemeanors and retaining a good attorney can help improve your odds even more.
The Importance of a Good Defense Team
As your defense attorney, it’s our job to do everything in our power to help you fight the charges against you. While sex crimes, including public lewdness, can carry a certain stigma with them, we always put our clients first and treat everyone with dignity and respect. No one will judge you here or think you’re unworthy of our help.
Even if you believe your defense is hopeless, we’ll work hard around the clock to make sure that you avoid the maximum penalties. We can also try to work out pleas that will limit any ramifications after a conviction. For example, we can aim to resolve the case so that your record will be expunged or that the crime won’t be disclosed. Everything will be done so that this charge won’t negatively impact your life in the future.
If you find yourself facing public lewdness charges, don’t hesitate. Call the Law Offices of Paul Schiffer to discuss your case. With over four decades of experience, our team is fully prepared to help you get through this tough time. Call us or use our contact form so we can discuss the facts surrounding the case, give you professional advice, and begin to work up a defense to help you get your life back on track.
Texas Penal Code Section 12.21
Texas Penal Code Section 21.07
Texas Penal Code Section 21.08