Defending Against Charges of Indecent Exposure in the Military

Facing charges of indecent exposure under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) can be overwhelming for service members. Just what is indecent exposure, how severe are the punishments, and what defenses are available? The information here should provide everything you need to defend yourself against this accusation.

The Definition of Indecent Exposure Under the UCMJ

Indecent exposure falls under Article 120c – other sexual misconduct. It includes intentionally exposing one’s genitalia, anus, buttocks, or female areola or nipple in an indecent manner that was done intentionally in the view of people other than the individual’s family.

The Legal Process and Your Rights

When accused of indecent exposure, service members are subject to a military judicial process that includes investigation, potential charges, and a court-martial if the case proceeds. It’s crucial for the accused to understand their rights throughout this process, including the right to legal representation, the right to remain silent, and the right to present evidence in their defense.

Elements of Proving Indecent Exposure in the Military

For a guilty verdict to be possible, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused is guilty of the following elements:

  • Act of exposure: The accused must have exposed a private body part as defined by Article 120c. This physical act is at the forefront of an indecent exposure charge and must be clearly identified.
  • Indecent manner: The exposure must have been done in an “indecent manner,” which implies a level of sexual impropriety or offensiveness to decency. This is subjective and often depends on the context and perceived intent.
  • Intentionality: The prosecution must prove that the accused intentionally committed the act. This element distinguishes deliberate actions from accidental exposures, which do not violate Article 120c.
  • Public nature or potential for observation: Although not explicitly stated as a separate element, the circumstances surrounding the exposure are significant. The act must occur in a public setting where it could be observed by others.
  • Absence of consent: In situations where the exposure could be construed as part of a consensual encounter, the lack of consent from those witnessing the act becomes a pertinent factor.

Maximum Punishments for Indecent Exposure

The consequences of an indecent exposure conviction can be severe and career-altering. The UCMJ outlines specific punishments to deter such conduct, including:

  • Dishonorable discharge: For enlisted personnel, a conviction can lead to a dishonorable or bad conduct discharge, stripping them of military honors and veteran benefits.
  • Dismissal for officers: Officers may face dismissal, the equivalent of a dishonorable discharge, which ends their military career and results in the loss of benefits.
  • Forfeitures: Convicted service members may be required to forfeit all pay and allowances.
  • Confinement: Indecent exposure could result in up to one year of confinement.
  • Reduction to the lowest enlisted grade: Service members may also be reduced to the grade of E-1, impacting pay grade, responsibilities, and respect within the military.

One Officer’s Consequences for Indecent Exposure

A notable case from 2014 involved an instructor pilot trainee who faced serious repercussions after being convicted of indecent exposure. Second Lt. Benjamin Sears of the 459th Flying Training Squadron was found to have exposed himself intentionally on two separate occasions at Midwestern State University’s Clark Student Center in April and October 2013. His punishments included 30 days of confinement and dismissal from Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas.

The conviction followed testimony from six current and former students over two days, supported by video footage and witness accounts. On these occasions, Sears wore Air Force-issued physical training shorts without the inner liner, deliberately exposing himself to students. After being positively identified in one instance by the MSU chief of police following a report from witnesses, another group of students later reported a similar incident involving Sears. The panel of Sheppard officers deliberated for 45 minutes before finding Sears guilty and doling out his sentence.

Defending Against Charges of Indecent Exposure

Defending against an Article 120c accusation requires a strategic approach that challenges the prosecution’s ability to prove all elements of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt. Here are some potential strategies a military defense attorney may pursue:

  • Accidental exposure: Arguing that the exposure was not intentional can be a powerful defense. This requires demonstrating that any exposure of private parts occurred without the accused’s knowledge or intent, possibly due to wardrobe malfunctions or other unforeseen circumstances.
  • Private setting: Demonstrating that the exposure occurred when the accused had a reasonable expectation of privacy and did not anticipate observation can negate the public exposure element.
  • Cultural or contextual arguments: What is considered indecent in one context may not be in another. Perhaps the act did not rise to the level of indecency required for conviction under Article 120c because of cultural norms or the specific context of the event.
  • Disputing observers’ perception: This defense involves challenging the claim that the exposure was offensive or alarming to the observers, suggesting that those present had consented to the act and there was no intent to provoke or shock.
  • Positive service record and character evidence: Presenting evidence of the accused’s exemplary military record and disposition can aid in their defense, suggesting that the accusation is inconsistent with their conduct and character.
  • Mental health defense: It might be relevant to introduce evidence regarding the accused’s mental health or capacity, arguing that they were not fully aware of their actions or the implications of exposing themselves.

The Importance of Experienced Legal Representation

Given the potential consequences of a conviction, including dismissal, confinement, and a tarnished military record, securing experienced legal counsel should be your highest priority. A military defense attorney can help you navigate the complex military justice system and advocate effectively on your behalf to achieve the best possible outcome.

Joseph L. Jordan, Attorney at Law, is ready to defend you against charges of indecent exposure. With over a decade of experience, a background as a former enlisted soldier and Army JAG officer, and a proven track record, Mr. Jordan brings unparalleled expertise to the defense of military personnel stationed worldwide. If you’re facing charges under the UCMJ, contact us toll-free at 800-580-8034 or 254-221-6411 to discuss your case directly with Mr. Jordan and explore your defense options.

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