Las Vegas Criminal Law Blog

What Are the Penalties for Public Lewdness?

“Public lewdness,” like many legal concepts, is a broad and somewhat confusing phrase. If you or someone you know has been accused of public lewdness, indecent exposure, or open and gross lewdness, it is crucial to seek legal advice. If the right law firm handles the case, all parties involved can get the justice they deserve. Read on to learn more about the definitions, examples, and penalties associated with public lewdness.

Differentiating Public Lewdness: Penalties and Definitions

It is important to know that while the phrase “public lewdness” is often used as a catch-all for anything from public urination to serious sex crimes, there is no exact legal charge of “public lewdness” worded as such under Nevada state law. Instead, public lewdness penalties are assessed by dividing the incident into two categories: indecent exposure and open and gross lewdness.

Indecent Exposure

Indecent exposure is defined under Nevada law as exposing the genitalia or anus in public and/or in a private place that is open to public view, regardless of sexual motivation. It can include examples such as:

Removing clothes covering private parts in a public place

In general, taking off clothes in public places can result in penalties for public lewdness if said clothes cover “private parts,” defined in Nevada as one’s anus or genitalia. Note the use of these words specifically because Nevada does not have a law against female or male toplessness. Despite this, exposure of breasts has resulted in public lewdness charges for innocent parties, such as defendants sunbathing with their chests exposed. If this is the case in your situation, and police officers attempt to assess public lewdness penalties, contact criminal defense attorneys ASAP. 

Important note: Nevada prostitution regulations do not imply any increased legality of public or indecent sexual acts. This means that if you visit a legal brothel or use a legal escort service in Nevada, you can still be assessed public lewdness penalties if the actions that take place violate indecent exposure or open and gross lewdness laws.

Private nudity exposed to the public

You’re in your own house, walking naked past a window — but the window is exposed to the street, and you didn’t realize you had an accidental audience. This unfortunate situation is a reality for some defendants because they were naked in a “private place open to public view.” If someone decides the nudity was disturbing or alarming, they can press charges resulting in public lewdness penalties for you. However, judges do take circumstances into account. For instance, someone who strips nude in a local park would probably end up receiving a harsher punishment than someone who accidentally exposes themselves to the public in their private residence. Nevertheless, it’s essential to get in touch with a defense attorney ASAP.

Public urination

Public urination is already illegal under various township and city laws in Nevada. It can also end up causing public lewdness penalties. Public urination can violate indecent exposure laws if done in a public place since many people expose their genitalia when committing the act. Because public urination is handled by local laws, and state laws handle indecent exposure, it’s especially important to speak with a defense attorney if your case is being considered indecent exposure. Public urination cases can be — and historically have been — escalated to the point of landing a defendant on a sex offender registry. Protect yourself, and don’t take the risk.

Open and Gross Lewdness 

Open and gross lewdness refers to sexual acts done in public places or private places open to public view. Examples that fall under open and gross lewdness include:

Purposeful sexual exposure of private parts

Sexually motivated “flashing” or other kinds of displaying one’s genitalia or anus in ways intended to seek sexual stimulation are often classified under open and gross lewdness. These acts can also be prosecuted as indecent exposure, depending on who witnessed them.

Public or semi-public sex or masturbation

Whether you’re in your own backyard or in a public alley, fooling around can get you into trouble, whether you’re engaging in sexual acts by yourself or with another person. Public lewdness penalties can especially apply in cases of couples having public sex. This is because, depending on case circumstances, a defendant can be prosecuted for committing both indecent exposure and open or gross lewdness. If a couple is naked and having sexual relations in public, they are both committing indecent exposure (due to nudity) and open or gross lewdness (due to public sexual acts).

Non-penetrative non-consensual sexual acts

Sexual assault that involves direct sexual contact but no penetration is sometimes lumped in under open and gross lewdness, regardless of public or private status. An example may include a case of groping. If you have been falsely accused of non-consensual sex acts or other forms of sexual assault, or have been a victim of sexual assault yourself, contact sexual assault lawyers in Las Vegas as soon as possible.

Exceptions Apply

While every case is different, it’s important to know these specific exceptions when faced with public lewdness penalties:

  • Full exposure of private parts is legal in specific licensed strip clubs in Nevada. However, employees at these licensed locations need a work card to work lawfully as strippers.
  • Female toplessness already does not violate indecent exposure laws in Nevada, and there is a specific clause permitting public breastfeeding. Many other states also expressly prohibit this kind of prosecution. In fact, under United States law, a public lewdness charge cannot be assessed against anyone breastfeeding on federal property. If you are being threatened with legal action due to public breastfeeding, you may be experiencing unlawful discrimination. Contact our law office right away.

Public Lewdness Penalties

You may be wondering what a charge of public indecency or open and gross lewdness results in, whether or not you or someone you know has been accused of such crimes.

First offense 

Whether defined as public indecency or open or gross lewdness, a first offense violation is classified as a gross misdemeanor, punishable by up to 364 days in jail and/or fines up to $2,000. A gross misdemeanor is a greater offense than a simple misdemeanor but is not classified as a felony.

Second offense (or more)

Subsequent offenses are classified as a Category D felony, punishable by 1-4 years jail time and/or fines up to $5,000, as well as mandatory registration on the sex offender registry under a “Tier I” offense. However, this specific section of the registry is not viewable to the public unless the victim(s) were children.

Involvement of children

While it is important to consider the special sensitivities surrounding the purposeful mistreatment of children, some unfortunate cases involving innocent parties have historically been escalated to land the offender on a more serious sex offender registry or behind bars for a longer period. As mentioned previously, children witnessing an act of indecent exposure or open and gross lewdness can complicate the case, even if the defendant had no intention of exposing children (or anyone!) to genitals or sex. If you’re in this situation, you must contact a defense attorney immediately so that you don’t end up in even more serious legal trouble.

Get Help Today

If you’re facing public lewdness penalties, get help and get justice. Trust The Law Offices of Benjamin Nadig for professional, successful, and swift legal help in Las Vegas and other Nevada areas. We want to help you overcome the obstacles and come out on the other side with a fair ruling. Don’t wait any longer — contact us today.