In Texas, a person who engages in public activities that may be deemed inappropriate or obscene could be charged with public lewdness. In general, this charge is applied in cases that involved one or more people engaging in sexual conduct in a public place. Even though it may not sound like it, this is usually a serious misdemeanor criminal offense and it can lead to arrests, steep fines and a criminal record.
Defining Public Lewdness
There are many different behaviors that can be classified as public lewdness. In many cases, the police officer who is involved in the case will use discretion to determine if a particular act or behavior constitutes public lewdness. Furthermore, officers involved in the case will use discretion to determine if the acts that have occurred are serious enough to lead to an arrest.
Most cases of public lewdness involve activities of a sexual nature. According to Section 21.01 of the Texas Penal Code, a few examples of these behaviors can include:
- Sexual touching or contact, clothed or unclothed
- Public sexual intercourse
- Public intercourse involving anal or oral sex
- Sexual conduct with an animal in a public place
According to the penal code, a person who engages in any of the activities listed above may be arrested and charged with a Class A misdemeanor. However, a person can still be charged with a public lewdness offense even if they are not in a public place. The law states that a person can still be charged with public lewdness if they engage in any of the activities listed above in a non-public place if they are reckless about the presence of other people who may be offended by the behavior.
For example, imagine that a husband and wife decide to have sex in their backyard. If they do so, they are on their own private property and not technically in a public place. However, if they have a chain link fence or a fence that allows passersby to have an easy view, they may be considered reckless about who can see them. In this case, the couple may face charges of public lewdness.
Being arrested and charged with public lewdness can be serious business. Some of the potential legal consequences for this crime include:
- Conviction on a Class A misdemeanor charge
- A fine of up to $4000
- Incarceration in jail for up to one year
- Community service
There may be additional long-term consequences in addition to the direct legal penalties. For example, a person who is convicted of public lewdness may have difficulty obtaining certain types of employment. A person who applies for a job involving childcare, a job at a religious institution or a job in public service may be denied employment if a public lewdness conviction is revealed on a background check.
There are many ways to create a legal defense against public lewdness charges. They usually involve a claim that the person did not actually engage in the behaviors for which they are charged. Alternately, the defense could center on a claim that the defendant did not knowingly commit an illegal act.
For example, in order for a public lewdness charge to lead to a conviction, the prosecution must show that the defendant knowingly engaged in obscene behavior in a public place. The defense could argue that the defendant was merely going to the restroom in a public place because there were no restrooms available. Because using the restroom is not an obscene sexual act, this defense could lead to dropped charges.
The defense could also try to argue that the defendant did not knowingly or recklessly expose others to an obscene action. If a couple has sex in their backyard behind a tall privacy fence and children climbed the fence to look over, the defense attorney could argue that the couple took steps to ensure privacy by building a fence. Therefore, the couple had no way of knowing that anyone could see them and they were clearly not being reckless.
If either of these defenses is successful in court, the court may agree to drop the charges or offer a plea bargain to a less serious charge.
If you’ve been charged with public lewdness, it’s crucial to contact an experienced attorney. Brett A. Podolsky will fight to protect your rights. Call 713-227-0087 or email for a confidential consultation today!