Our last post discussed the case of a local music teacher charged with a very narrow, specific crime: lewdness. Police in this case took the fairly alarming step of announcing — without offering any evidence or explanation — that the defendant had a history of such behavior. This was contrary to his pre-employment criminal background and fingerprinting checks which were completely clear.
So just what, we may ask as we seek to understand such a scenario, is lewdness? The term is defined in state law. In order to be considered a lewd act, the action must entail:
- The exposure of one’s genitals, and
- The intent to arouse oneself or someone else.
If someone commits such an act with a reasonable expectation that it will be noticed by others who did not consent to it and who would be “affronted or alarmed,” then lewdness is charged as a disorderly persons offense.
More serious cases may be charged as fourth-degree crimes if the observer is a child under the age of 13, or the defendant is four years or more older than the child. Charges may also be elevated of the observer cannot understand the nature of the behavior due to “mental disease or defect.”
For reference, a disorderly persons offense is the same level of charge as something like public intoxication. A criminal defense professional will keep this perspective in the foreground of a criminal trial, even if police and prosecutors do not, and will keep the burden of proof on the prosecution.