On March 30, 2016, the Army Court of Criminal Appeals decided the case of United States v. Specialist Cey Bristol Williams, Army 20140401. SPC Williams was convicted of seven specifications of indecent exposure. Five of the seven were overturned. Of the five that were overturned, there were four specifications of indecent exposure under Article 120c(c), UCMJ (2012), and one specification of indecent exposure under Article 120(n) UCMJ (2006).
For all five overturned specifications, the general nature of the indecent exposure was that SPC Williams showed a digital picture of his penis to a female victim. In one case, he digitally sent the image to the victim. The Court addressed the issue of whether the term “exposed” under Article 120 “encompasses showing a person a photograph or digital image of one’s genetalia.” The Court noted that there is no definition of “exposure” in the manual, and concluded the following:
“Including the display of digital images or photographs of a person’s genitalia within the term “expose” does not clearly support the underlying purpose of criminalizing indecent exposure. We also note that there is an added danger and discomfort when people physically expose in the presence of their victims as opposed to displaying or sending people a pornographic picture. Therefore, we find the term “exposed” is ambiguous under both Article 120(n), UCMJ, and Article 120c(c), UCMJ.”
Based on that analysis, the court said that “violations [of indecent exposure] occur when a victim is present to view the actual body parts listed in the statutes, not images or likenesses of the listed parts.” Accordingly, the five specifications were dismissed because SPC Williams did not expose his actual genetalia to any of the victims.
The court does not conclude that SPC Williams was innocent of all violations of the UCMJ. Certainly, his conduct could have been charged under Article 134. This is an important distinction, however, because it could potentially change sex offender registration requirements for convictions for this type of conduct.