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Monday, December 21, 2009

Indecent Exposure: Is it a Crime to be Naked at Home?

A very serious crime in North Carolina is indecent exposure. To prove a basic misdemeanor charge of indecent exposure in North Carolina, the state must show that a person willfully exposed his/her private parts  in a public place while in the presence of another person. I won't go into all the legal definitions of private parts, but I can write that courts have ruled that buttocks are not necessarily a 'private part' (however, I don't encourage anyone to go on a mooning expedition to test the law) and a woman  breastfeeding in public is not a violation. The law is very fact specific. This recent story from Fairfax, Virginia caught my eye; a man was convicted of indecent exposure because he was found walking around his house naked and people saw him through his window. Click here for a link to the story. So, looking at the crime of indecent exposure- is it a crime to be naked at home?

In this story, the defendant Erick Williamson stated that he simply was exercising a "personal freedom" by walking around his house naked. Witnesses for the prosecution stated that he would pose in front of doorways when people walked by. It poses (excuse the pun..) a very interesting legal question of what constitutes a public place. Mr. Williamson's conviction will certainly be appealed. We might also see the Virginia law amended to clarify what constitutes a public place.

 In North Carolina, courts have found that a public place is a place distinguishable from a private place, but not necessarily a place devoted solely to the use of the public. Factually speaking, courts have found that a car in a public parking lot is a public place and a creek embankment adjacent to a backyard was public in nature.

On a side note, you might be surprised to know that  it wasn't until 2005 that North Carolina amended the indecent exposure statute to include people of the same sex. Prior to 2005, the exposure of private parts had to occur in the presence of a person of the opposite sex to be a violation.

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