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What Is Ohio’s Law on Public Indecency?


Broadly defined, public indecency occurs when a person engages in some type of sexual conduct, which could be seen by others and offend them. Ohio law is specific on the type of acts that are considered sexual in nature and would fall under the public indecency statute. However, before delving into specifics, let's first look at the definitions of the two mental states of culpability attached to the law: recklessly and knowingly.

What Does it Mean to Act Recklessly or Knowingly?

Ohio's public indecency law separates sexual acts considered violations into those done recklessly and those done knowingly.

As defined by ORC 2901.22, recklessly means doing something without caring about the consequences. The person understands that certain risks are attached to carrying out a specific act, yet they disregard those risks and continue to engage in the conduct.

The law states that a person does something knowingly when they are aware that their actions will cause a specific result.

With regard to acts considered violations of the public indecency statute, those done knowingly carry greater consequences than those done recklessly.

Recklessly Engaging in Sexual Acts

Now, we'll take a closer look at the specific acts Ohio law prohibits and considers public indecency if they are carried out.

ORC 2907.09 states that it is illegal for a person to recklessly:

  • Expose their private parts
  • Engage in sexual conduct or masturbation
  • Engage in acts an ordinary person would consider sexual conduct or masturbation

For the behavior listed above to violate the law, they must have been done in a way that others could have seen them and would have been offended by the action. For instance, if a person ran out of their house without clothes on during a neighborhood block party, they could be charged with public indecency because they knew others would be outside and could see their private parts. However, if the individual's swimwear got snagged on a broken fence and exposed their genitals, their actions may not be considered a violation of the law because they did not act recklessly when their body was bared to their neighbors.

Generally, when carried out recklessly, public indecency is charged as either a fourth- or third-degree misdemeanor. It's a fourth-degree when the person exposes their private parts, and a third-degree when the individual engages in sexual conduct or masturbation (or acts that could be considered either).

However, the class of charge increases if the person who saw the conduct was a minor. Then, a fourth-degree charge becomes a second-degree, and a third-degree becomes a first-degree.

Knowingly Engaging in Sexual Acts

The classification of public indecency charges also increases when a person engages in the acts knowingly, and the conduct could be viewed by others.

As with those done recklessly, the following, if done knowingly are prohibited:

  • Engaging in masturbation
  • Engaging in sexual conduct
  • Engaging in acts others would consider sexual conduct or masturbation
  • Exposing private parts for one's own sexual gratification or to entice a minor to participate in sexual activity

If a person knowingly engages in masturbation or sexual conduct (or behavior that would be considered by others as either), they could be charged with a second-degree misdemeanor. If you recall, when it's done recklessly, it's charged as a third-degree misdemeanor.

If a person knowingly exposes their private parts for sexual arousal or to entice a minor, they face a first-degree misdemeanor charge; whereas, recklessly doing this is a fourth-degree misdemeanor. What also increases the classification for this element is that it is carried out for sexual arousal or gratification. Depending on the circumstances, a person convicted of violating this section of the law could be required to register as a tier I sex offender/child-victim offender.

Have you been charged with a sex crime in Union County? Reach out to Bridges, Jillisky, Weller & Gullifer, LLC for aggressive legal defense by calling us at (937) 403-9033 or filling out an online contact form.