With Mardi Gras rapidly approaching it is likely a good time to discuss public indecency laws within the state of Texas. It is hard for some people to understand why a behavior that is encouraged during this event could be punishable under the law. It is a well-known fact that people are encouraged to expose themselves during a Mardi Gras celebration. However, it is imperative to understand the legal ramifications of making the decision to expose yourself in public during that Mardi Gras party. 

Within the state of Texas, it is a crime to expose oneself in public. There is a distinction that needs to be made, however. Many people refer to this crime as public lewdness. However, there are two separate crimes under the Texas Penal Code: public lewdness and indecent exposure. Both are crimes. Both require different elements to prove. Both carry different punishment ranges. Therefore, it is important to draw a distinction between the two. 

Public lewdness is defined under the Texas Penal Code as knowingly engages in any of the following acts in a public place or, if not in a public place, he is reckless about whether another is present who will be offended or alarmed by his: (1) act of sexual intercourse; (2) act of deviate sexual intercourse; (3) act of sexual contact; or (4) act involving contact between the person’s mouth or genitals and the anus or genitals of an animal or fowl. This crime is punishable as a Class A misdemeanor. A Class A misdemeanor carries with it a punishment range of up to one year in county jail and up to a $4,000.00 fine. It is important to point out that a crime under this section does not require a defendant to register as a sex offender.

Indecent exposure, on the other hand, is a separate and distinct crime within the Texas Penal Code. The difference between the two lies in the intent requirement found within the code. Public lewdness requires a mental state of knowingly exposing oneself where indecent exposure states that a person must expose their genitals with the intent to arouse or gratify. Meaning, indecent exposure requires the State to know someone’s thoughts. As in previous posts, when a mental state required under the law is one of intentionally engaging in a crime, it is of the upmost importance to not say anything to the arresting officer. It is very difficult to prove intent without the person actually stating they intended to do something. It is not impossible to show intent in other ways but a confession makes the State’s job that much easier in building a case against a criminal defendant. Further, indecent exposure is only punishable as a Class B misdemeanor which is a lesser charge than that of public lewdness. 

It is important to approach any event with knowledge on what could happen if one choses to engage in what could be considered “accepted behavior.” If you decided to expose yourself at that next Mardi Gras event please keep in mind that you could in fact face charges for that decision. It is a fair assessment to say that during Mardi Gras there may be a spike in these charges. If you are faced with a charge of either of these crimes contact a criminal lawyer in Arlington, Texas immediately.

Thanks to Brandy Austin Law Firm for their insight into criminal law and Mardi Gras actions.