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Indecent Exposure, Open and Gross Lewdness in Massachusetts

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Attorney Jason Chan

244 Brighton Avenue, Suite 105
Allston MA 02134


Phone: 781-343-1DUI (781-343-1384)
Fax: (617) 254-8001

Indecent Exposure and Open and Gross Lewdness Nationwide

Both of these terms refer to behavior that is considered sexual in nature in the US.  Indecent exposure generally refers to exposing the genitals, buttocks or breasts in public in a manner that would offend or is intended to offend the general public.  Gross lewdness refers to engaging in various forms of sexual behavior in public, including touching or sexual acts including sexual intercourse, that are generally considered to be acceptable only in private.  Some states make it as specific as being nude in the presence of someone other than a spouse.  The details of statutes with these terms in them vary so much by state that it is difficult to make generalities.  See Indecent Exposure Laws by State

Gross lewdness and various similarly applicable statutes have similar variety of scope and nature.  (They are accessible through the same link by state, above)

Indecent Exposure in Massachusetts  Mass. General Laws c. 272 s. 53

In Massachusetts, indecent exposure and open and gross lewdness are crimes involving exposure of the genitals, or for women, breasts, in a way that is intended to cause arousal, fear or discomfort of others in a public space.    

Indecent exposure is a misdemeanor.  It is primarily about the behavior the defendant engaged in, rather than the impact on others.  It does require that there be a likelihood that others would find the exposure to be offensive.  The parts of the body that are described by the law are genitals or women’s breasts.  Indecent exposure is a misdemeanor which can carry a wide array of penalties up to six months in jail as well as fines up to $200 for a first offense.  It is possible that in addition to jail time or fines individuals found guilty of this offense may be required to register as sex offenders.

Common circumstances that lead to arrests and prosecution for indecent exposure in Massachusetts include public urination, various types of nudity and more minor public sexual acts. 

Open and Gross Lewdness Mass. General  Laws, c. 272 s.16 

Open and gross lewdness and lascivious behavior is a crime perpetrated on another by intentionally exposing genitalia, female breasts or buttocks to that other and/or the public with the intention of shocking and upsetting another, and that other is actually shocked or upset.   It is noteworthy that while the statement of the law in Mass. General Laws does not provide definitions of the relevant terms open and gross lewdness and lewd and lascivious behavior.  The definitions for these terms are described in key cases which are discussed below.

Common circumstances that lead to arrests for gross lewd and lascivious behavior include public sexual acts including masturbation.  If there is a reasonable expectation of privacy in the location regardless of whether someone witnesses the act, the law does not apply.  In addition, the public described in the act only requires others.  It does not require a completely public venue. 

Open and Gross Lewdness is a felony and punishment may be as much as three years, with fines up to $300.  Often individuals convicted under the statute are required to register as sex offenders as well. 

Relevant Case Study

There are two key cases that discuss the differences between open and gross lewdness and lewd and lascivious behavior.   

A 2010 case in Massachusetts discussed the definitions of these terms.  Commonwealth vs. Raymond L. Blackmer, III. 77 Mass. App. Ct. 474. (2010) The Court found there was no need for actual nudity to engage in lewd and lascivious behavior. Unexposed public masturbation was considered sufficient to violate the statute for the misdemeanor form of lewd wanton and lascivious behavior but not for the felony of open and gross lewd behavior.  The case described a man who appeared to be masturbating in public while fully dressed and shocking and repulsing women on the campus of Smith College.

A separate related case from 2003 found that exposure of the genitalia is not required for open and gross lewdness, buttock exposure was enough, along with the other elements of the crime.  The court did find that for open and gross lewdness there must be exposure of some sexual element. Commonwealth v. Quinn, 439 Mass. 492 , 495 (2003).


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