Houston Criminal Defense Blog

What is Public Lewdness?

streaker being arrested for public lewdness

A Public Lewdness Charge Has Serious Long-term Consequences

If you were arrested by a Houston police officer for urinating in public, don’t be so quick to plead guilty. You might not think of it as a big deal, but Texas penal code makes it a prohibited act classified as public lewdness and a class A misdemeanor. Public lewdness is a serious criminal offense for which you could go to jail or, depending upon the circumstances, be forced to register as a sex offender.

One reckless or indiscrete act has the potential to ruin personal relationships you have with family and loved ones, and it can irreparably damage your career. Depending on the type of work that you do, a public lewdness conviction could result in termination from your job. Finding a new job could be difficult because a class A misdemeanor will leave you with a criminal record.

What is public lewdness?

Generally speaking, acts of indecency or obscene behavior that you might commit in a public place or in a setting that makes you visible to the public could fall within the conduct made criminal by state law in Houston. The statute makes it a crime to knowingly commit any of the following behaviors in a public place:

  • Engaging in a sexual act: This includes acts of sexual intercourse or deviate sexual intercourse.
  • Engaging in an act of sexual contact: Touching the genitals or other parts of another person’s body that are specified in the statute with the intent to cause sexual arousal or sexual gratification in either of the participants.
  • Bestiality: The statute refers to both animals and fowl in prohibiting certain conduct.

Any of the prohibit forms of conduct might still be a crime even if not committed in a public place. The law in Houston criminalizes reckless conduct that places another person in a position to be alarmed or offended by seeing it.

For example, a couple engaging in sexual intercourse in a car might be charged with public lewdness even though they did not intend to have other people see what they were doing. The fact that they parked in a location where pedestrians walked passed it could qualify as reckless and result in their arrest.

Public places and reckless behavior

What comes under the definition of a public place might not be as obvious as you might believe. Locations that are not freely accessible to the general public, such as hospitals, courthouses and jails, might still qualify as public places if the activity is visible to other people who might be offended or alarmed by it.

Even standing conduct you engage in while in your own home could be construed as public lewdness. This is because of the part of the law that refers to reckless conduct. You act in a reckless manner when you are aware of a risk, such as being seen by other people, but you choose to disregard or ignore it. What you do in your own home might not be criminal, but it could become public lewdness if you are doing it in your living room with the window curtains open.

Penalties and serious consequences of Houston public lewdness

Public lewdness is a class A misdemeanor. This makes it the most serious misdemeanor charge available under the law in Houston. The penalties for conviction of a class A misdemeanor include:

  • Up to 12 months confinement in jail
  • Fines up to $4,000
  • Probation supervision
  • Community service
  • Mandatory counseling

Depending upon the facts and circumstances surrounding the charges filed against you, a conviction could require you to register with the state as a sex offender. The social stigma associated with being labeled a sex offender can have long term implications for your personal life and career.

A conviction, even without the requirement of registering as a sex offender, will leave you with a criminal record. A criminal record could make it difficult for you to obtain a job. An employer might not tell you that the job went to someone else because of your conviction, but if there are two applicants for a job with similar experience and skills, employers might favor the one without a criminal record.

Defenses to a public lewdness charge

A Houston criminal defense attorney could focus on the element of intent required under the statute. Depending upon the evidence gathered in a particular case, a defense strategy might focus on the fact that the witnessing of your activities by members of the public was inadvertent or unintentional.

Regardless of the defense strategy your attorney develops in your case, the main thing to remember about a public lewdness charge is that it is a serious criminal charge with long-term consequences. Fighting the charge with a Houston criminal lawyer is the best way to protect your rights.


If you’ve been arrested for public lewdness, do not hesitate to get the protection of an aggressive, experienced lawyer. Contact the Law Offices of Billy Skinner at 713-600-7777 today.

Photo Jonas Bengtsson | Used under Creative Commons image attribution license 2.0