Monday, September 8, 2008

Iowa: Exposure, but not indecent

Iowa's highest court overturned an indecent exposure conviction last Friday in State v. Isaac (PDF), based on a strict reading of a narrowly worded state law. It's a strange tale that exposes the odd intricacies of indecent exposure laws, the possibly perverted workings of the judicial mind, and the question: why is this case before a state supreme court, by golly?


Residents of an apartment building in Ankeny, IA complained of a man talking lewdly outside their windows - but they didn't look outside. When a police officer arrived, he called out to Isaac, who turned to face him, then made a quickly aborted retreat, all before putting away his baby-oiled penis. Under Iowa law, indecent exposure is exposing your "genitals or pubes" to another person, with the intent to arouse or satisfy the sexual desires of either party, if you (ought to) know this will be offensive. Unless it's your spouse. Expose your pubes to your spouse all you like, even if they can't stand it. And yes, that statute says "pubes" - classy folks, Iowa lawmakers.

But back to Isaac: It was a classic case of the "concurrence" problem in criminal law: the defendant committed the requisite act and had the requisite intent, but not at the same time or toward the same person. It was pretty clear that what he was originally up to outside those windows was sexual in purpose - but the court said there were no facts to show his exposure to the officer was anything but inadvertant. (Isaac didn't contest whether the "offensive" part.) Saith the court, Isaac's sexual motivations apparently "evaporated" in the glare of the Law, leaving him simply panicking. Ergo, the crime never occured.

Two dissenting judges had a very different view:
The majority analyzes the facts through the lens of a reasonable person unaffected by the prurient thoughts and desires of a sexually deviant person. In doing so, it forecloses any possibility that someone who would engage in such behavior could also derive sexual gratification from exposing himself to a police officer and running from a pursuing officer with his penis protruding from his pants. Yet, the actions of Isaac in this case were not those of a reasonable person, but a person with a sexually perverted mind....It is a fundamental tenet of law enforcement investigation that it is sometimes necessary to think like a criminal to catch a criminal.
And it's about time to apply that adage to judging. Let's get creative, folks: anything could've turned this weirdo on!! Gee, three guesses which way these two judges are going to vote in the pending Iowa same-sex marriage case.

Naturally, the prosecutor wants the law changed to close this loophole. (Gotta love Iowa: the local paper is called the Nonpareil!) Here's hoping they don't overcorrect and make it sex crime for the desperate to piss in alleyways. Yes, indecent exposure is a crime requiring sex offender registration, which is presumably why Mr. Isaac was determined enough to fight this relatively minor conviction all the way.

And don't worry: he was also convicted of harassment and interference with official acts - which goes to show you that when prosecutors push an expansive interpretation of the law, they oftentimes could simply be content to focus on more appropriate charges.

H/t to How Appealing.

1 comment:

Aviva said...

"Pubes"? Really? Is that the technical term these days?

I'm kinda loving this decision. Thanks for sharing! (And good point at the end there! It's not like they were grasping for something to charge this guy with, they had other more reasonable options.)