King seeks stiffer penalty for lewdness

DENVER — Masturbating in public should be more than just a petty offense, Rep. Steve King said Wednesday.

That’s why the Grand Junction Republican introduced a bill into the Colorado Legislature to make the law clear when a person should be charged with public indecency.

King, who said the Colorado District Attorneys’ Council approached him about the matter, said the point behind the measure is to distinguish public indecency from other crimes that are not sexual in nature, such as streaking or urinating in public.

“Urinating in public is not a sexual crime, and it should not be included when it comes to reporting as a sex offender,” he said.

Masturbating in public is considered a class 1 petty offense, punishable by up to six months in jail and a $500 fine.

King’s bill, however, would make it a class 1 misdemeanor, which carries a maximum punishment of up to 18 months in jail and a $5,000 fine.

King said he knows he’s likely to be the brunt of numerous jokes around the statehouse, but public indecency is a serious subject.

“This is a touchy subject,” King said, laughing at his unintended pun. “Because of a focus on sexual crimes of children, it’s important to get the law right. But those who make the bad choice of urinating in public in an alley after a night of drinking, that’s not a sexual crime, and people shouldn’t be charged that way.”

Not everyone, however, thinks King’s bill is necessary.

Grand Junction defense attorney Edward Nugent said laws already cover such offenses, so he sees little reason to increase the punishment for it. “It doesn’t allow any room for a plea agreement to a nonregisterable sex offense,” Nugent said. “What if some kids are parked somewhere and a police officer comes upon them? Is this really behavior that we want somebody to be categorized as sex offenders for? It seems absurd to me.”

Ted Tow, executive director of the District Attorneys’ Council, said the bill actually isn’t something his group proposed, but one pushed by the Colorado Criminal Defense Bar.

Still, he said the council supports it because it will bring some clarity to the law.

“The defense bar came to us with some concerns about the unfair results of the language in some cases,” Tow said. “There are some crimes ... that fall under the sex act, like you couldn’t make it home from the Broncos game and you pulled off to the side of the road.”

He said in most cases, prosecutors deal with such obvious nonsexual offenses through plea bargaining, but occasionally a defendant insists a case go to court. If they lose, sentencing laws require judges to include registering them as sex offenders, even if everyone agrees they really aren’t.

“There are times when things fall under sex registration that probably shouldn’t, and things that fall under public indecency (that) should, like the public masturbation stuff,” he said. “This is a way to provide a little more consistency and logic to it.”


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