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The Naked Truth: Fairfax man charged with indecent exposure in private home
Suspect showed naked self to woman, boy, Fairfax police say

Atchuthan Sriskandarajah
Attorney, SRIS Law Group
Monday, October 26, 2009 1:30 PM

The way Eric Williamson tells it, he might have been making coffee or flipping eggs or taking a picture down from the wall when a woman and her 7-year-old son walked by his Springfield house and saw him, through the window, naked. He says he never saw them and never knew they'd seen him -- until the police showed up.

In a case that gained international attention last week, hitting a nerve for anyone who has ever dashed from the bedroom to the laundry room in the buff, Williamson was charged with indecent exposure.

There are conflicting accounts of what happened Monday morning, but everyone agrees on this: The 29-year-old was naked and home alone, and he could face up to a year in jail.

Atchuthan Sriskandarajah, attorney in the Fairfax offices of SRIS Law Group, was online Monday, Oct. 26, at 1:30 p.m. ET to discuss the case, the issue of home being a 'sacred place' and and where the case may go from here.

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washingtonpost.com: Man disputes indecent-exposure charge (Post, Oct. 26)

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Atchuthan Sriskandarajah: Hello, my name is Atchuthan Sriskandarajah. I am a practicing criminal defense attorney in Fairfax. I am here to chat about the Fairfax man indecent exposure case.

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Chantilly, Va.: It's true that the home is a sacred place, but it's also true that the sidewalk is a public place, and the two frequently coincide. I've got no problem with anyone walking around naked at home. But if you know that people are going to be walking along outside, and can look right into your windows, then why on earth wouldn't you keep the blinds at least partially closed? It just seems to me like he was asking for a confrontation; surely he knew that sooner or later it was going to happen.

Atchuthan Sriskandarajah: Based on the facts known so far, there were no curtains on the window. He was in his home and the issue that the prosecutor is going to have to deal with is "whether the man did anything obscene?"

Unless one has reason to believe that he can be seen by someone outside the home, there is an expectation of privacy within your own home.

Thank you for your question.

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Mitchellville, Md.: What specific Virginia or federal law is the basis for the arrest and does it or does it not address nudity in one's house.

Atchuthan Sriskandarajah: The indecent exposure law in Virginia is somewhat vague.
The statute states:

§ 18.2-387. Indecent exposure

Every person who intentionally makes an obscene display or exposure of his person, or the private parts thereof, in any public place, or in any place where others are present, or procures another to so expose himself, shall be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor. No person shall be deemed to be in violation of this section for breastfeeding a child in any public place or any place where others are present.

How the law is interpreted is what the court will have to deal with in this case.


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Bala Cynwyd, Pa.: Are the prosecutors likely to prevail in their case?

Atchuthan Sriskandarajah: Based on the facts known so far, in my opinion, not likely. Unless the prosecutor can show he did something obscene per the statute, this is not a very strong case since he was inside his house.

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Olney, Md.: Because my bathroom window is sometimes open in the summer, and is on the first floor, does it mean that I have to undress in the shower after I pull the shower curtain, and dry off and dress before pulling open the shower curtain?

This is how ridiculous all of this seems to most people. What is legal within the confines of the house, as far as the dress code?

Pity people who have a front dining room with a window with the drape pulled on Thanksgiving. The fashion police will be checking to see if everyone is properly dressed.

I am pointing out extreme situations to make a point. How far do you think this will go?

Atchuthan Sriskandarajah: Because the man was inside of his own home, I think the prosecutor has to really decide whether he/she has a case they can prosecute. Keeping in mind that the law requires not only the exposure, but the exposure be obscene.

That does not appear to be the case.

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Miami, Fla.: Aloha Atchuthan,

I was first alerted to this by friends in Europe who laughed at the charges, then went into a discussion of the ridiculousness of the U.S. thinking it's the beacon of freedom when we allow prosecution of things like this. My question is why the plaintiff was looking at the defendant and should she not be charged with peeping? As an FYI, the consensus seems to be that if she wasn't married to an officer, this charge wouldn't have made it this far. Thank you.

Atchuthan Sriskandarajah: Depending on how far the person was from the window, certainly one could allege that the person was peeping. But again, simply looking into a window as you walk down the street is not peeping. More is required. Below is the statute for peeping in Virginia:

§ 18.2-130. Peeping or spying into dwelling or enclosure

A. It shall be unlawful for any person to enter upon the property of another and secretly or furtively peep, spy or attempt to peep or spy into or through a window, door or other aperture of any building, structure, or other enclosure of any nature occupied or intended for occupancy as a dwelling, whether or not such building, structure or enclosure is permanently situated or transportable and whether or not such occupancy is permanent or temporary, or to do the same, without just cause, upon property owned by him and leased or rented to another under circumstances that would violate the occupant's reasonable expectation of privacy.

B. It shall be unlawful for any person to use a peephole or other aperture to secretly or furtively peep, spy or attempt to peep or spy into a restroom, dressing room, locker room, hotel room, motel room, tanning bed, tanning booth, bedroom or other location or enclosure for the purpose of viewing any nonconsenting person who is totally nude, clad in undergarments, or in a state of undress exposing the genitals, pubic area, buttocks or female breast and the circumstances are such that the person would otherwise have a reasonable expectation of privacy.

C. The provisions of this section shall not apply to a lawful criminal investigation or a correctional official or local or regional jail official conducting surveillance for security purposes or during an investigation of alleged misconduct involving a person committed to the Department of Corrections or to a local or regional jail.

D. As used in this section, "peephole" means any hole, crack or other similar opening through which a person can see.

E. A violation of this section is a Class 1 misdemeanor.


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Alexandria, Va.: I understand from reading about this case previously that the prosecutor must prove that he knew that people were watching for him to be guilty of any crime. Even if the prosecution is unable to prove such a thing, could he be given an official warning to keep his blinds closed? And if that is the case, does that warning extend to anyone else to which this might apply or will everyone get a free pass for the first time simply because it is difficult to prove a person's intent?

Atchuthan Sriskandarajah: The statute requires a second element. The exposure must be obscene. If that cannot be proven, then the indecent exposure charge cannot stick.

§ 18.2-387. Indecent exposure

Every person who intentionally makes an obscene display or exposure of his person, or the private parts thereof, in any public place, or in any place where others are present, or procures another to so expose himself, shall be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor. No person shall be deemed to be in violation of this section for breastfeeding a child in any public place or any place where others are present.

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Washington, D.C.: Mr. Sriskandarajah:

In your considered opinion: is this the type of case our already-overburdened judicial system really needs to take on?

For goodness sakes; what utter foolishness on the part of the Fairfax police.

Atchuthan Sriskandarajah: I have to agree with you. This is not the strongest case for the Fairfax County prosecutor to take on.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Doesn't indecent exposure require both "exposure" AND "indecency," in other words some lewd intent? When I lived in Wisconsin years ago I seem to remember a judge ruling that way in the case of a sunbather who was on her own property. Are there laws against peeping toms (or tomasinas?) that the complaining woman ought to beware of?

Atchuthan Sriskandarajah: For a peeping to occur, it must be furtive. Below is the statute for peeping. For an indecent exposure case, the prosecutor must prove that the act was obscene. So you are correct, that mere exposure is not sufficient.

Peeping statute in Virginia:

§ 18.2-130. Peeping or spying into dwelling or enclosure

A. It shall be unlawful for any person to enter upon the property of another and secretly or furtively peep, spy or attempt to peep or spy into or through a window, door or other aperture of any building, structure, or other enclosure of any nature occupied or intended for occupancy as a dwelling, whether or not such building, structure or enclosure is permanently situated or transportable and whether or not such occupancy is permanent or temporary, or to do the same, without just cause, upon property owned by him and leased or rented to another under circumstances that would violate the occupant's reasonable expectation of privacy.

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Charlottesville, Va.: How will you distinguish between innocent/unintended exposure and intentional exposure? Clearly intentional exposure should receive no special protection simply because it was behind a thin piece of clear glass. On the other hand, a person should not have to worry about the observations of a passerby when in their own home.

Atchuthan Sriskandarajah: The distinction rest on the word obscene in the statute.

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Lewes, Del.: Isn't there a second test for indecent exposure being the ability of the offended to avert their eyes?

Given that the women and child were walking by couldn't they simply turn their heads. If the "offended" parties were in a situation where they couldn't avoid the situation (the indecent act occurring on the hood of her car while she was in it for example or that the man was literally placing himself in the window "on display") wouldn't this be the true measure of indecent exposure?

Atchuthan Sriskandarajah: Certainly, the most commonsense way to have handled this situation is to simply turn one's head and walk away.

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Reston, Va.: Is it common in cases like this to have 5 police officers arrive at the scene? That seems like overkill.

If this is indeed found to be excessive, could there be repercussions for the police officers/husband of the wife for abusing their authority and wasting county resources?

Atchuthan Sriskandarajah: It is uncommon for five police officers to show up on a charge like this.

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Washington, D.C.: It seems from the article in the Post that the woman saw the man twice. If she knew he was naked in his home why would she look again when she rounded the corner of his house? Also, was she trespassing through his yard the first time she saw him?

Atchuthan Sriskandarajah: Good point. If she knew a naked person was inside of a house, then the best step is to quickly walk away. I don't believe she was trespassing based on the facts. She was using a trail that cut through common property.

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Rhode Island: One detail I find interesting is the mother's claim that a noise drew her attention to Williamson's house. In fact, that seemed to be a common denominator in the similar cases summarized in the Post story: making some kind of noise to draw attention to yourself if no one notices you're naked.

Even if he did make some noise to draw attention to himself, though, he really wasn't doing anything obscene, correct? You said that being naked is not enough; obscene behavior has to accompany the nudity? Sounds like case closed to me.

Atchuthan Sriskandarajah: Yes. Some obscene act is required. So far, no mention of an obscene act has been made. I am not sure that this case will be prosecuted ultimately.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Do you think if the sexes were reversed (she was naked, he was looking in the window)that the charges would be the same?

Atchuthan Sriskandarajah: Technically, yes. Reality is, not likely.

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washingtonpost.com: Man disputes indecent-exposure charge (Post, Oct. 26)

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Fairfax, Va.: There was a question on how the police handled the arrest. Were they rough, mistreating the suspect. Do you think that the complaint was generated by a police officer's wife might have influenced their reaction?

Atchuthan Sriskandarajah: I am not clear as to exactly how the police handled this arrest. However, I have had a case where the "victim" was an off duty police officer who was intoxicated and my client was treated poorly by the police. So it is possible that the contact might have been bit excessive.

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Atchuthan Sriskandarajah: Please be advised that I am not Mr. Williamson's attorney. I am criminal defense attorney in Fairfax who has handled indecent exposure cases and other sex crimes in Virginia.

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Bowie, Md.: You keep reiterating that the prosecutor needs to "show he did something obscene per the statute".

The facts presented in this article indicate that he was doing something obscene. The man has no curtains drawn, and walks near windows so that others can see him naked from the street naked... Those do not seem like the actions of an innocent man.

Atchuthan Sriskandarajah: Being naked in one's own home is not obscene. Walking naked from one part of your home to another is not obscene. The case law in Virginia is very clear about this.

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Washington, D.C.: The news accounts claim that a child and an adult allegedly saw Mr. Williamson without his clothes on. Does the child's presence have any weight as to whether Mr. Williamson violated the law in this case? Thanks.

Atchuthan Sriskandarajah: Not according to the indecent exposure statute.

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Minneapolis, Minn.: Good afternoon. My understanding is that was still dark outside when this occurred and it would actually take some effort to look into the windows. Could not the woman be guilty of violating a law, herself? Why was she looking into the window in the first place? Thank you.

Atchuthan Sriskandarajah: Based on all the information known so far, this occurred around 8:30 AM. So it was not dark as far as I know.

If this lady had hidden herself and was trying to look into the window, this might have resulted in a different charge.

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Atlanta, Ga.: Does Potter Stewart's "I know 'obscenity' when I see it" community standard apply here? Wouldn't that lead to inconsistent results in different legal jurisdictions within the state -- depending on the local community's religious/social ethos?

Atchuthan Sriskandarajah: Your position is correct. However, we are in conservative Virginia.

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Woburn, Mass.: If the woman came back by the naked man in the window with her child, isn't she clearly guilty of intentionally exposing her child to nudity at least? It seems to me if the man is convicted of a obscene act, then it's pretty much proof the woman is guilty of a felony for corrupting her child, if not engaging her child in sex crime.

Atchuthan Sriskandarajah: Your theory has some merit. But the woman has not been charged with a crime.

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Bala Cynwyd, Pa.: The law says it has to be "intentional," and the burden of proof is on the prosecution. So the guy should not be convicted based on the facts as reported. Your thoughts?

Atchuthan Sriskandarajah: Yes, unless it can be proven that he committed an obscene act and the exposure was done with an intent to be seen, then the prosecution is not likely to prevail.

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Atlanta, Ga.: Can he counter-sue the woman for peeping?

Atchuthan Sriskandarajah: Based on the facts in this case, it is not likely that an allegation of peeping can be made.

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Tampa, Fla.: Why can't the mother and child be charged or sued for invading his privacy? How is looking into a window at a naked man that doesn't know he's being watched anything but classic Peeping Tom behavior?

Atchuthan Sriskandarajah: The peeping statute in Virginia requires a number of elements:

§ 18.2-130. Peeping or spying into dwelling or enclosure

A. It shall be unlawful for any person to enter upon the property of another and secretly or furtively peep, spy or attempt to peep or spy into or through a window, door or other aperture of any building, structure, or other enclosure of any nature occupied or intended for occupancy as a dwelling, whether or not such building, structure or enclosure is permanently situated or transportable and whether or not such occupancy is permanent or temporary, or to do the same, without just cause, upon property owned by him and leased or rented to another under circumstances that would violate the occupant's reasonable expectation of privacy.

B. It shall be unlawful for any person to use a peephole or other aperture to secretly or furtively peep, spy or attempt to peep or spy into a restroom, dressing room, locker room, hotel room, motel room, tanning bed, tanning booth, bedroom or other location or enclosure for the purpose of viewing any nonconsenting person who is totally nude, clad in undergarments, or in a state of undress exposing the genitals, pubic area, buttocks or female breast and the circumstances are such that the person would otherwise have a reasonable expectation of privacy.

C. The provisions of this section shall not apply to a lawful criminal investigation or a correctional official or local or regional jail official conducting surveillance for security purposes or during an investigation of alleged misconduct involving a person committed to the Department of Corrections or to a local or regional jail.

D. As used in this section, "peephole" means any hole, crack or other similar opening through which a person can see.

E. A violation of this section is a Class 1 misdemeanor.

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Indecent Question: If the naked guy was masturbating and continued to do so after he made eye contact with mother and son, would that be grounds?

Atchuthan Sriskandarajah: That would most likely lead to a successful prosecution of the case.

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Washington, D.C.: You suggest that there needs to be exposure and indecency for the case to stick. What constitutes an indecent act by the statute?

Atchuthan Sriskandarajah: The case law in Virginia is varied as to what is obscene. Committing an act of exposure with the knowledge that you are going to be seen and then perhaps touching your private parts... will usually be sufficient.

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Atchuthan Sriskandarajah: Thank you for all your questions. In the very end, a Fairfax County Judge will have to decide if the Fairfax County Prosecutor has proven their case. Based on the facts we know as of now, it is not likely the man is going to be convicted of indecent exposure.

Goodbye and thank you for joining us at Washingtonpost.com.

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