Updated May 23, 2020
Under NRS 201.210, Nevada law defines open and gross lewdness as either (a) engaging in sexual activity where the public can observe, or (b) sexually touching another person without consent. Depending on the circumstances, this crime can be filed as a gross misdemeanor or a category D felony. A conviction makes a person a registered sex offender.
If there is nonconsensual sexual penetration, the prosecutor would instead bring sexual assault (NRS 200.366) charges.
- Having sex in a public park
- Masturbating on public transportation
- Groping someone’s breasts or behind without their permission
NRS 201.210 states that “the breastfeeding of a child by the mother of the child does not constitute an act of open or gross lewdness.”
Violating this section is typically a gross misdemeanor. The sentence includes:
- Up to 364 days in jail and/or up to $2,000 in fines, and
- Sex offender registration
But open and gross lewdness becomes a category D felony if either:
- The defendant has prior sex crime convictions, or
- The lewdness occurred in the presence of a minor or a mentally or physically incapacitated adult
The punishment includes:
- 1 -- 4 years in Nevada State Prison,
- Up to $5,000 in fines (at the judge’s discretion), and
- Sex offender registration
Judges may dismiss the charges if:
- The police entrapped the defendant,
- The defendant was falsely accused, and/or
- The victim consented (in cases of sexual touching)
In this article, our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys discuss:
- 1. What is open or gross lewdness in Nevada?
- 2. Does it require sex offender registration?
- 3. What are the penalties under NRS 201.210?
- 4. How do I fight the charges?
- 5. Can I seal the case?
- 6. Can I get deported?
- 7. How is indecent exposure different?
1. What is open or gross lewdness in Nevada?
Open or gross lewdness’s legal definition is broad. It comprises either of the following circumstances:
- A sex act in public or in a private place where others could see, or
- A nonconsensual sexual encounter that falls short of rape1
1.1. Sex acts done openly
An NRS 201.210 violation occurs when someone behaves in a sexually explicit way where bystanders can see.
Example: Jason and Sandy go to a bar in the Fiesta. They grope each other in front of the other patrons. After they get home, they have sex in front of an open window. If caught, Jason and Sandy would each face two charges of violating NRS 201.210. One for their sex acts at the bar. And one for their sex acts in front of the open window.
It does not matter in the above example whether anyone saw Jason and Sandy. Nor does it matter if they did not mean to offend anyone. Any sex act done in a place where third parties could see violates NRS 201.210.2
Note that having oral or anal sex in public also violates NRS 201.190. This used to be called the sodomy law.
Also note that breastfeeding in public does not violate NRS 201.210.3
1.2. Nonconsensual sex acts not amounting to rape
An NRS 201.210 violation occurs when someone touches someone else in a sexual way but with no penetration, and that person does not consent to the touching.4
Example: Joshua starts flirting with Susan at a Reno bar. Susan tells him to go away. But Joshua gropes her backside. If caught, Joshua could be charged with open or gross lewdness. This is because he sexually touched Susan without her consent.
An NRS 201.210 violation differs from sexual assault (rape). Sexual assault involves penetration. This includes:
- Sexual intercourse,
- Oral sex,
- Anal sex,
- Digital sex (“fingering”), or
- Inserting an object into a bodily orifice in a sexual way.5
Since there was no penetration in the above example, Joshua should not be prosecuted for rape.
2. Does it require sex offender registration?
Yes. People convicted of open or gross lewdness must register as sex offenders.
For gross misdemeanor convictions, defendants are classified as Tier 1 sex offenders. This is not searchable in a public database as long as the victim — if any — is an adult. And the registration period lasts for 15 years.
For felony convictions, defendants are typically classified as Tier II or Tier III sex offenders. They are publicly searchable. Tier II offenders must register for 25 years. Tier III offenders register for life.6
3. What are the penalties under NRS 201.210?
It depends on the defendant’s criminal history:7
|Open or gross lewdness conviction||Nevada punishment|
|First offense if defendant has no previous sex offense convictions||Gross misdemeanor:|
|First offense if the defendant has a past sex offense conviction||Category D felony:|
|Second or subsequent offense||Category D felony:|
|First or subsequent offense in the presence of a child under 18 or a disabled person||Category D felony:|
The penalties for violating NRS 201.210 are less than those for rape (non-consensual sexual penetration). Rape is a category A felony carrying life with or without the possibility of parole.8
3.1. Plea bargains
It may be possible to get NRS 201.210 charges reduced to a misdemeanor. Examples include simple battery (NRS 200.481) or disorderly conduct (NRS 203.010). They carry lesser penalties. And they do not require sex offender registration.
If the defense attorney can show the D.A. that the evidence is too weak to sustain a conviction, the D.A. may dismiss the case.
4. How do I fight the charges?
Which defenses work best in fighting NRS 201.210 charges depend on the circumstances. The following are three common defense strategies:
- False accusations
Entrapment is when police trick people into committing a crime they were not predisposed to commit. Entrapment is always illegal.9
Police often use lewdness laws to arrest gay men. Las Vegas Metro Police set up undercover sting operations in public restrooms and parks. Decoy officers pretend to be gay men out cruising. They oftentimes will act flirtatious in order to bait unsuspecting men into doing something sexual.
Our Las Vegas Nevada LGBT rights attorneys help fight back in cases of discriminatory policing where “suspects” are targeted based on sexual orientation.
4.2. False accusations
It is not uncommon for people to falsely accuse enemies or ex-partners of breaking the law. Especially sex crimes. Typically, their motivations are anger or revenge.
In these cases, a skilled criminal defense attorney would conduct a thorough investigation. Perhaps there is evidence that would impeach the accuser’s credibility. Examples include angry text messages and voicemails.
4.3. Consent (in cases of sexual touching)
It is also not uncommon for people to regret their decisions to engage in sexual behavior and then to blame their partner for it. But regret does not reverse consent.
In the current socio-political context of #MeToo and Time’s Up, people may be more likely to levy accusations of open or gross lewdness. But in a court of law, the D.A. still bears the very high burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
5. Can I seal the case?
Gross misdemeanor convictions of NRS 201.210 may be sealed two (2) years after the case closes. But felony convictions may never be sealed.10
Note that any lewdness charge that get dismissed may be sealed right away.11 Learn about how to seal Nevada criminal records.
6. Can I get deported?
Violating NRS 201.210 may be deportable.12 The most important step for non-citizens facing lewdness charges to take is to retain an experienced attorney. The attorney may be able to get the charge dismissed or reduced to a non-removable offense.
7. How is indecent exposure different?
NRS 201.210 tends to refer to sexual acts. In contrast, indecent exposure (NRS 201.220) refers to baring private body parts whether or not it is sexually motivated.
In many cases, prosecutors bring NRS 201.210 charges in conjunction with indecent exposure charges. And both offenses have identical penalties.13
Call a Nevada criminal defense attorney
Accused of violating NRS 201.210? Contact our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys. We will fight to get the charges dropped or reduced to keep you off the sex offender registry.
We represent clients throughout Nevada, including Las Vegas, Henderson, Washoe County, Reno, Carson City, Laughlin, Mesquite, Bunkerville, Moapa, Elko, Pahrump, Searchlight, and Tonopah.
¿Habla español? Visita nuestra página web en español sobre leyes de Nevada para deshonestidad manifiesta o macroscópica.
Arrested in California? See our article on California crime of Lewd or Dissolute Conduct in Public | Penal Code 647(a) PC.
Arrested in Colorado? See our article on Colorado lewd conduct laws.
- NRS 201.210 .
- Ranson v. State, 99 Nev. 766, 670 P.2d 574 (1983); Young v. State, 109 Nev. 205, 849 P.2d 336 (1993).
- NRS 201.210(2).
- NRS 201.210; see Fisher v. State (Nev. Ct. App. Feb. 17, 2016).
- NRS 200.366.
- NRS 201.210; NRS 179D.495; NRS 179D.450; NRS 179D.097.
- NRS 201.210.
- NRS 200.366.
- Foster v. State, 116 Nev. 1088, 13 P.3d 61 (2000).
- NRS 179.245.
- NRS 179.255.
- INA 237(a)(2)(A).
- NRS 201.220.