The Michigan Court of Appeals in the case of People v. Vronko discusses the issue of whether an exposure must actually be witnessed by another person fora conviction of the indecent exposure law.
What Does the Indecent Exposure Statute Say?
A person shall not knowingly make any open or indecent exposure of his or her person or of the person of another. This is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail. Further, an indecent exposure where the private parts are fondled is a high-court misdemeanor, punishable by up to 2 years in prison. MCL 750.335a.
The Facts of the Case
Mr. Vronko was in his vehicle, in an area with two elementary schools in the neighborhood. Children walked on either side of the vehicle. At Mr. Vronko’s bench trial, a witness testified that his hand was going up and down in his private parts area “like gangbusters.” The witness did not see what was in Mr. Vronko’s hands, but could see that his legs were bare. The witness never saw what was in Mr. Vronko’s hands nor saw any schoolchildren react to Mr. Vronko.
Legal Issues for the Court
Mr. Vronko was convicted at his bench trial. On appeal he had two arguments.
The first argument was that the indecent exposure statute was unconstitutional because it was too vague. A statute is unconstitutionally vague if the behavior to be criminalized cannot be ascertained by a reading of the statute. The Court went on to breakdown the statute for the defendant. While the statute is referred to as the indecent exposure statute, a defendant can be convicted of either an “open” exposure or an “indecent” exposure.
Open – exposed to general view or knowledge, having no protective covering, and to disclose or expose to view.
Exposure – Disclosure to view, especially of something shameful or criminal
Indecent – grossly unseemly or offensive to manners or morals
Indecent exposure – an intentional exposure of part of one’s body (as the private parts, genitals) in a place where such exposure is likely to be an offense against the generally accepted standards of decency in a community.
The Court did not believe the statute was unconstitutionally vague, and that the meaning of the language within the statute was straightforward and easily ascertained by readers.
Defendant’s Second Argument on Appeal
The Defendant’s second argument was that he was convicted on insufficient evidence. The defendant argued that the witness never actually saw his penis, and there was no evidence that anyone else saw an exposure.
The Court recognized that the issue of whether an exposure must be actually witnessed by another person for a conviction of indecent exposure was an issue of first impression. The Court also recognized that the indecent exposure statute does not contain language regarding a witness to the exposure.
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The Court answered the question with this standard from an older case: An open exposure is one where there is a substantial risk of another person seeing the exposure of the private parts. The question is whether a defendant’s exposure took place in a setting where anyone might have reasonably been expected to observe the exposure, and if so, whether the person seeing the exposure might have been expected to be offended by what was seen.
Takeaways from the Case
The Court’s holding in this case was this: There is no requirement that the defendant’s exposure actually be witnessed by another person in order to constitute open or indecent exposure, so long as the exposure occurred in a public place under circumstances in which another person might reasonably have been expected to observe it.
A reader of the case can learn from the indecent exposure statute that the exact exposure does not necessarily need to be witnessed – the question is whether the exposure could reasonably have been witnessed by someone else. This means we look to the setting of the exposure.
In analyzing an indecent exposure case, it is important to look at the setting to determine what the possibilities and expectations were.
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Sam Bernstein is an Ann Arbor Attorney who specializes in Criminal Defense.
ArborYpsi Law is located at 4158 Washtenaw Ave., Ann Arbor, MI 48108.
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