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Under either the municipal ordinance paragraph 452, 1941 Compiled Ordinances of the City of St. Paul or the statute, Minn. Stat. Ann. § 617.23, before the offense of indecent exposure can be established, the evidence must be sufficient to sustain a finding that the misconduct complained of was committed with the deliberate intent of being indecent or lewd. Ordinary acts or conduct involving exposure of the person as the result of carelessness or thoughtlessness do not in themselves establish the offense of indecent exposure. This would seem to be particularly true where the acts complained of take place within the privacy of a lodging removed from public places and where observation thereof is to some extent an invasion of the rights of privacy ordinarily attached to a home, whether it be a dwelling house or a room in a college dormitory. A mere accidental exposure of the person will not amount to the crime of indecent exposure, but it must appear that the exposure was intentional, at such time and place and in such manner as to offend against public decency. The intent, however, may be inferred from the manner of the exposure or from recklessness.
Situated on the ground floor of his college dormitory, defendant's room afforded a view into his room to passersby and several female witnesses testified that they saw him nude. No evidence was presented that the defendant made any gesture toward the female witnesses or that he noticed their presence. Defendant had been convicted under either a municipal ordinance or Minn. Stat. Ann. § 617.23, both of which related to the charged crime of indecent exposure. On appeal, defendant argued that the evidence failed to establish that his exposure was intentional under either the city ordinance or § 617.23, among other contentions.
Under the circumstances, could the defendant be held guilty of indecent exposure under either a municipal ordinance or Minn. Stat. Ann. § 617.23?
In reversing the conviction and ordering the trial court to dismiss the charges against defendant, the court ruled that the State's evidence supported an accidental exposure, whereas both the ordinance and the § 617.23 required an intent to expose oneself. Further, the court concluded that defendant's character as a veteran of four army campaigns, his exemplary record as a student, the religious and philosophy professor's attestation to his conduct, and the lack of previous charges against him all militated towards an accidental exposure rather than the knowing and intentional exposure required by the law.