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Public Masturbation Not a Crime, Italy Supreme Court Rules - What About in the U.S.?

First Posted: Sep 21, 2016 05:17 PM EDT

The Italian Supreme Court has rendered a decision making public masturbation legal, so long as it's not done in the presence of minors.

The ruling stemmed from the case of a 69-year-old man only identified as Pietro L, who was caught pleasuring himself on a park bench by college students in the Catania town east of Sicily.

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The Italian high court has ruled that public masturbation is not a criminal act if not performed in front of a minor.

Guilty Verdict Overturned

Initially, the man was found guilty of the offense in May of 2015, and sentenced to three months in prison and ordered to pay of fine of $3,600. But in June of this year, that verdict was overturned by high court La Corte di Cassazione, and authorities moved to make the decision public earlier this month while citing a recent change in the law that no longer makes just public masturbation a criminal act.

The new iteration of the law now calls for a sentence of nearly five years behind bars if the act is carried out in front of a minor.

The case of the 69-year-old has now been sent back to the lower courts to determine what is an appropriate administrative fine for the man.

Public Masturbation Criminalized in Most U.S. States

Public masturbation remains a criminal offense in many other parts of the world, where it can lead to a jail sentence. Public masturbation in the U.S. relates to indecent exposure laws that criminalizes the "public display of one's genitals in public, causing others to be alarmed or offended," according to Findlaws.com. "Indecent exposure is often committed for the sexual gratification of the offender or committed to entice a sexual response," the site continues. Under this definition, public masturbation would fall under indecent exposure despite not showing the offenders genitals. Some of the toughest domestic laws on the books are in states such as Michigan and Utah, where the public act can lead to jail time.

The Italian ruling immediately sparked criticism from some lawmakers.

"The Renzi government has never given equal opportunities much notice, but to save from the prison cells people who commit obscene acts in front of women is really unjustifiable," said Elvira Savino, a lawmaker from the Forza Italia Party. "The government's law is an invitation to every maniac to molest women."

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