18-7-301 CRS - Public Indecency Law in Colorado

CRS 18-7-301 is the Colorado statute that defines the crime of public indecency. The law prohibits exposing your genitals or your intimate body parts. It also prohibits having sex in public. Public indecency is a Class 1 petty offense in Colorado. Convictions carry up to 6 months in jail. Multiple convictions can force you to register as a sex offender.

Public indecency is different from indecent exposure. Indecent exposure is the crime of knowingly exposing your genitals to someone else to satisfy sexual desire.

The statute against public indecency is CRS 18-7-301. It prohibits doing any of the following in a public place or anywhere it is reasonably expected to be seen:

  • An act of sexual intercourse,
  • A lewd exposure of an intimate body part, not including the genitals, with intent to arouse or to satisfy someone's sexual desire,
  • Lewdly fondling or caressing someone else, or
  • Knowingly exposing your genitals to someone else in a way that is likely to cause affront or alarm.

Examples

  • Jack and Mary have sex while on a picnic in the park.
  • As a joke, Hank waits for his wife to return home from work. He stands by the mailbox, naked.

Legal defenses

People who have been accused of public indecency in Colorado have several legal defenses to use. If successful, these defenses keep you from being held liable for the crime. Some of the most common include:

  • The accusations are false or have an ulterior motive,
  • The exposure was an accident or was not intentional,
  • It was not you,
  • There was no exposure of your intimate parts or genitals, and
  • The exposure was not likely to cause affront or alarm.

Penalties

The penalties of a conviction for public indecency depend on your criminal history.

If the offense is your first for public indecency, it is a Class 1 petty offense. The penalties include:

  • Up to 6 months in jail, and
  • Up to $500 in fines.

If you have a prior offense for public indecency or something similar, the new charge is a Class 1 misdemeanor. The penalties for a conviction include:

  • Between 6 and 18 months in jail, and
  • Between $500 and $5,000 in fines.

You could also have to register as a sex offender.

In this article, our Colorado criminal defense attorneys will explain:

public indecency

1. What is public indecency under CRS 18-7-301?

In Colorado, CRS 18-7-301 sets out what it means to commit an act of public indecency. It prohibits the following courses of conduct:

  • Sexual intercourse,
  • Exposing an intimate body part, other than your genitals, in order to arouse or satisfy a sexual desire,
  • Knowingly exposing your genitals in a way that will likely cause affront or alarm, and
  • Lewdly fondling or caressing someone.1

1.1. What constitutes an “intimate body part”?

Many charges of public indecency in Colorado involve exposing an intimate body part. These include your:

  • Breast,
  • Butt,
  • Anus, and
  • Pubic area.2

Under CRS 18-7-301, your intimate body parts are different from your genitals.

1.2. Do you have to intend to arouse someone else by exposing yourself?

CRS 18-7-301 only criminalizes the exposure of an intimate body part if it is done for the purpose of arousing or satisfying a sexual desire.

However, it does not matter whose sexual desire is at issue. You can commit public indecency if you expose an intimate body part for your arousal or someone else's.

Exposing your genitals does not require this intent. Instead, you only have to cause affront or alarm if you expose your genitals.

1.3. What does it mean to lewdly fondle or caress someone?

CRS 18-7-301 forbids fondling or caressing someone in a lewd manner.

This kind of contact has to be overtly sexual in order to be considered lewd under CRS 18-7-301. It has to be offensive and lustful.3

Example: At an adult movie theater, Gary rubs someone else's genitals.4

The following kinds of contact are not considered lewd:

  • Holding hands,
  • Hugging, or
  • Kissing.5

A mother breastfeeding her child in public is also not considered lewd conduct.6

1.4. What is affront and alarm?

Public indecency includes exposing your genitals in a way that is likely to cause affront and alarm.

Courts in Colorado have equated this to scaring or offending someone.7 To commit public indecency in Colorado, you do not have to intend to scare or offend. All that matters is that a reasonable person would be scared or offended.

Example: Paul urinates against a telephone pole.

1.5. Where can you commit public indecency?

In Colorado, you can commit public indecency in 2 places:

  • A public place, or
  • Where you may reasonably be expected to be seen by members of the public.8

A public place is anywhere that members of the public can access.9 It includes:

  • Highways,
  • Transportation facilities,
  • Schools,
  • Places of amusement,
  • Parks,
  • Playgrounds, and
  • Common areas in both public and private buildings.10

Example: Gil is riding in a car on the highway. He exposes himself to passing vehicles.11

You can also commit public indecency anywhere you can reasonably be expected to be seen. If a reasonable person would have known they could be seen in a certain spot, you can be liable for public indecency if you expose yourself, there.12

Example: Stanton is in his room at a detoxification facility. His room has a window in it so counselors can check on him. He exposes himself, not knowing that a counselor is looking through the window.13

1.6. Do you have to know you are in a public place to commit public indecency?

You do not have to be aware that you are in a public place to commit public indecency. All that matters is that you should have known that someone else could see you.

CRS 18-7-301 prohibits public indecency in public places or where you could reasonably be expected to be seen. This means the prosecutor does not have to prove that you knew you could be seen. It only means that a reasonable person would realize that they could be seen at the time.14

attorney hard at work

2. Defenses to a charge of public indecency in Colorado

People who have been accused of public indecency have legal defenses at their disposal. The specific facts of the case will determine which defenses will be the most effective.

Some of the most common legal defenses to a charge under CRS 18-7-301 include:

  • The accusations that led to the charge are false,
  • The exposure was not intentional,
  • You were not the one who exposed themselves,
  • There was no exposure of your intimate parts or genitals, and
  • The exposure was not likely to cause affront or alarm.

2.1. False accusations

You can defend against a charge of public indecency by showing the accusations against you are false.

Some people accuse other people of crimes out of revenge or to manipulate them. Charges of public indecency are no exception. When someone accuses you of exposing yourself, you can show that the accusation is false by pointing out that they have an ulterior motive for making the allegation.

2.2. The exposure was not intentional

Some allegations under CRS 18-7-301 require prosecutors to prove that your conduct was knowingly done. If you can prove that you exposed yourself by accident, it can be a strong defense.

2.3. Mistaken identity

Prosecutors have to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that you were the one who committed public indecency. Proof that you were somewhere else can be a strong defense. Evidence that someone else was the one who committed public indecency can also defend against a charge.

2.4. There was no exposure

You can also defend against a charge of public indecency by showing you did not expose your intimate body parts or genitals. This proof eliminates an element of the crime. If prosecutors cannot prove that you exposed yourself, you cannot be held liable for public indecency.

2.5. The exposure was unlikely to cause affront or alarm

Exposing your genitals has to cause affront or alarm for you to be liable for public indecency. It is up to the prosecutor to prove that it would. Challenging their evidence that it would cause affront or alarm can be an effective defense.

man behind bars
A violation of this law can result in a fine and/or jail time

3. What are the penalties for a conviction for public indecency?

The penalties for public indecency depend on whether you have prior convictions for a similar crime.15

If you do not have prior convictions for public indecency, it is a Class 1 petty offense. A conviction can carry up to:

  • 6 months in jail, and
  • $500 in fines.16

If you do have prior convictions for public indecency or a similar offense, it becomes a Class 1 misdemeanor. Convictions carry:

  • Between 6 and 18 months in jail, and
  • Between $500 and $5,000 in fines.17

You may also have to go through a period of probation.

3.1. Do you have to register as a sex offender?

First-time offenses for public indecency do not require registration as a sex offender. However, subsequent offenses can require you to register as a sex offender if:

  • You are convicted for public indecency for the second time in 5 years, or
  • You are convicted for a third or subsequent offence of public indecency.18

Failing to register as a sex offender is a crime. So is providing false information on the registration form. They are both Class 1 misdemeanors in Colorado.

3.2. Does a conviction come with consequences for your immigration status?

A conviction for public indecency under CRS 18-7-301 can impact your immigration status if you are not a U.S. citizen. This is especially true if it is not your first conviction for public indecency.

A criminal conviction can lead to deportation. Even if you plead guilty to avoid jail or to use a diversion program, it can constitute a “conviction” under federal immigration law.

3.3. Can you seal your record after a public indecency conviction?

You can seal your first offense for public indecency in Colorado because it is a petty offense. You can also seal your conviction if you were a juvenile or a victim of sex trafficking.

Adults who were only convicted for 1 offense of public indecency can seal their criminal record by:

  1. Waiting 3 years from the date of the last day of probation,
  2. Paying all restitution, court costs, or fines associated with the conviction,
  3. Paying the $200 filing fee to seal your record, and
  4. Filing the appropriate paperwork.

You also cannot have been charged with a crime or misdemeanor traffic offense during those 3 years.

If you were a juvenile when you were convicted for public indecency, you can have your record sealed without waiting 3 years.

If you were the victim of human trafficking or sex trafficking, you can also have your record sealed more easily.19

4. Crimes that are related to public indecency in Colorado

Some offenses in Colorado are related to public indecency. Other charges are often filed alongside an accusation of public indecency.

4.1. Indecent exposure (CRS 18-7-302)

Indecent exposure (CRS 18-7-302) is the crime of knowingly exposing your genitals for the purpose of sexual arousal or satisfaction. It is a slightly more severe offense than public indecency because it requires the exposure of someone's genitals. Exposing your intimate body parts is not enough to constitute indecent exposure.

Indecent exposure is a class 1 misdemeanor in Colorado. A conviction can carry up to 18 months in prison and a $5,000 fine. A conviction for indecent exposure may also force you to register as a sex offender.

4.2. Sexual contact (CRS 18-3-404)

Public indecency charges can be filed along with charges for sexual contact (CRS 18-3-404).

Sexual contact is the crime of touching someone else's intimate body parts without consent. Charges for sexual contact can be filed with public indecency charges if you lewdly caress or fondle someone in public.

Sexual contact is a Class 1 misdemeanor, but is also an extraordinary risk crime. Penalties for a conviction of sexual contact are as high as:

  • 2 years in jail, and
  • $5,000 in fines.

4.3. Disorderly conduct (CRS 18-9-106)

Disorderly conduct (CRS 18-9-106) is the crime of breaching the peace in Colorado. It is a “catch-all” offense that can be used to criminalize a lot of vague things. Prosecutors often file charges of disorderly conduct alongside charges of public indecency.

Call us for help…

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Call us for help at (303) 222-0330

If you were accused of public indecency, contact our lawyers for help. Our Colorado criminal defense lawyers have years of experience representing clients in the state. Reach out to us today to get your defense strategy started.


Legal References:

  1. C.R.S. § 18-7-301(1).

  2. C.R.S. § 18-3-401(2).

  3. People v. Graves, 368 P.3d 317 (Colo. 2016).

  4. People v. Graves, Supra.

  5. People v. Graves, Supra.

  6. People v. Graves, Supra, and C.R.S. § 25-6-302.

  7. People v. Randall, 711 P.2d 689 (Colo. 1985) (interpreting “affront and alarm” under Colorado's indecent exposure law).

  8. C.R.S. § 18-7-301(1).

  9. C.R.S. § 18-1-901(3)(n).

  10. C.R.S. § 18-1-901(3)(n).

  11. People v. Naranjo, 405 P.3d 279 (Colo. App. 2015) (reversed on other grounds) (defining “public place” under C.R.S. § 18-1-901(3)(n) in the context of disorderly conduct with a deadly weapon).

  12. People v. Hoskay, 87 P.3d 194 (Colo. App. 2003) (the issue “depends not on what a particular defendant actually knew, but on what a reasonable person in the defendant's position should have known”).

  13. People v. Hoskay, Supra.

  14. People v. Hoskay, Supra.

  15. C.R.S. § 18-7-301(2).

  16. C.R.S. § 18-7-301(2)(a).

  17. C.R.S. § 18-7-301(2)(b).

  18. C.R.S. § 16-22-102(9)(z).

  19. C.R.S. § 24-72-706.

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