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Types of Public Indecency Offenses

You’ve probably heard reports of crimes known as “public indecency,” but what you may not know is that this is actually an umbrella term that encompasses several different acts involving either nudity or sexual activity.

These actions are usually intended to shock, arouse, or offend others through exhibitionism or promotion of obscenity, and are not protected under the right to “free expression” guaranteed by the First Amendment due to their morally reprehensible nature.

Image of young man being put in a police car for possible indecency charge

To help you better understand what actions could land you in trouble with the law, here is a brief explanation of acts that could be considered “public indecency” and what penalties they could carry under Tennessee law.


Tennessee law defines “indecent exposure” as two separate actions. First, intentionally exposing your genitals or buttocks to someone else or touching someone else’s intimate parts with the reasonable expectation that the act is going to be viewed by another.

There’s an important inclusion in this crime: doing so on private premises with the intent of someone else seeing it can still be considered an act of indecent exposure, even though you were technically on private property at the time. In other words, if you plan on exposing yourself, close your windows and shutters or you could find yourself in trouble.

Second, exposing yourself to a child in a private setting by inviting them to your private residence for the purpose of gratification or offense is considered indecent exposure and considered against the law, regardless of the non-public nature of the exposure.

Indecent exposure is considered a Class B misdemeanor for normal offenses, which includes a $500 fine. However, a third or subsequent offense is considered a Class A misdemeanor, which can carry up to a year in prison as a penalty plus a $1,500 fine. Furthermore, if the defendant in this case (the person to who the perpetrator exposed themselves) was under the age of 13, the crime is a Class A misdemeanor.

If the defendant has two prior convictions and the victim was under 13, then the crime is a Class E felony, punishable by one to six years in prison and a $3,000 fine. Three or more indecent exposure convictions will require mandatory lifetime sex offender registration.


Lewd conduct is similar to indecent exposure, but takes things a step further, and therefore is considered a more serious crime. Whereas indecent exposure is simply exposing yourself to the public, lewd conduct includes actual sexual activity, such as engaging in intercourse in public, public masturbation, or displaying genitals in an aroused state.

Like public nudity charges, lewd conduct in its simplest form starts as a Class B misdemeanor, but the nature of the crime can escalate it all the way up to a Class E felony. The circumstances in which the crime occurred, such as doing so while at a public school, daycare facility, or another childcare center can increase the severity significantly, including possibly requiring those convicted to register as a sex offender for the rest of their lives.


Prostitution or patronizing a prostitute are not necessarily public exposure crimes but are often thought of in the same light because of the fact that these transactions often begin in the public sphere.

Prostitution involves engaging in any form of sexual activity in exchange for remuneration in any form, not necessarily for just financial considerations. Promoting prostitution includes seeking individuals searching for a prostitute to patronize and connecting them with individuals to engage with. Finally, patronizing a prostitute is seeking the services of someone engaging in prostitution.

All of these actions could have criminal consequences if convicted. Patronizing a prostitute is perhaps the lightest of the three, considered generally to be a Class B misdemeanor. However, this crime could be bumped to a Class A misdemeanor in certain circumstances, which carries a minimum of seven days of incarceration and a fine of $1,000.

Prostitution itself is also considered a Class B misdemeanor, with the possibility of being bumped to a Class A misdemeanor if the act is committed within a mile and a half of a school (any grade from kindergarten through 12th grade). Finally, promoting prostitution the most serious of these offenses is considered a Class E felony.

If you find yourself facing charges of any of these sex crimes, speak with a Murfreesboro criminal defense attorney from The Clarke Law Firm today! Call us at (615) 796-6299 to request a case evaluation and start developing your defense immediately.