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What Counts as Criminally Lewd Behavior?

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By Daniel Taylor, Esq. on October 01, 2014 1:37 PM

You may have heard the term "lewd behavior" in connection with someone being arrested for doing something somewhat less than decent.

But you may not know what criminally lewd behavior actually is. Lewd is typically defined as involving or being sexual conduct that is considered indecent or offensive. But at what point does someone's sexually indecent or offensive conduct run afoul of state or federal laws?

What actually counts as criminally lewd behavior?

Indecent Exposure

The classic criminally lewd conduct is exposing one's genitals in public. Most states have laws that make this sort of lewd conduct a crime, such as New York's public lewdness statute that makes it a crime when a person "intentionally exposes the private or intimate parts of his body in a lewd manner or commits any other lewd act in a public place or in private premises under circumstances in which he may readily be observed from either a public place or from other private premises, and with intent that he be so observed."

Peeping Tom

Another well-known crime involving criminal lewdness are those committed by so-called "peeping toms," who look through windows or otherwise enter another person's property for a sexual or indecent purpose. These sorts of laws prohibiting lewd behavior are sometimes included in a state's disorderly conduct or disturbing the peace laws. In Illinois, for example, the disorderly conduct law prohibits "entering another person's property to look into a dwelling for a lewd or otherwise unlawful purpose."

Lewd Phone Calls

Making lewd comments over the telephone can lead to arrest for a number of different charges. A Pennsylvania man was arrested and charged with harassment and stalking about making 17,000 lewd phone calls to at least 30 women.

Learn more about the different kinds of criminal charges and the potential criminal penalties for conviction at FindLaw's Learn About the Law section on Criminal Charges.

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