Sometimes prosecutors demonstrate a somewhat over-abundance of vigilance when making the decision to prosecute an alleged sex crime. Unfortunately, that sometimes means attempting to put someone behind bars for perfectly ordinary behavior. Luckily, a San Francisco Superior Court jury acted just as one might hope — as an appropriate check on prosecutorial excess.
“It was a public park, and it was a mom with a 4-year-old,” a spokesperson for the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office said, “That’s why we took it to trial. But we respect the jury’s decision.”
The DA decided to bring misdemeanor charge of indecent exposure against a homeless man because he happened to be noticed relieving himself in Franklin Square Park in August. The man was on the streets due to a recent job loss, and he didn’t mean to expose himself to anyone, his defense attorney said.
There was a soccer game going on at the time, and the 38-year-old man was preparing to void himself when shouts and cheers erupted. He turned to see who had scored — and happened to flash his private parts at a 29-year-old woman and her small child.
The woman apparently thought the man had an erection and had intentionally flaunted it in her direction. She summoned police, who arrested him at the outraged mother’s direction. He, however, testified that thought everyone present was caught up in the soccer game, so he didn’t expect to disturb anyone. When police arrived, he was innocently watching the game.
This week, a jury acquitted the man of the indecent exposure charge — and that’s important. Like it or not, people have been relieving themselves in places other than those designated from time immemorial — but this indiscretion could have put an innocent man on the sex offender registry.
He “may have made an unwise decision about where to urinate,” said his public defender in a statement, “but that innocent mistake should not brand him for life as a sex offender who preys upon women and children when it simply isn’t true.”
If we’re going to have a sex offender registry with real-world consequences, it’s in everyone’s interest for it not to include innocent people and low-level, nonviolent offenders. Yet even though the outcome of this case avoided a meaningless addition to those rolls, the trial took two days. Is that justice?
Source: SFGate, “Prepping to pee in park wasn’t perverted, jury says,” Kevin Fagan, Nov. 22, 2013