Gunnison Beach Topless Sunbathing: Illegal for Women at Most New Jersey Beaches

With the exception of Gunnison Beach, all of New Jersey’s public beaches prohibit nudity. More often than not, these nudity restrictions apply to female breasts as well as to more intimate body parts, even though many women prefer to sunbathe topless and many people find the practice non-offensive.


Being arrested for topless sunbathing is no day at the beach, but a New Jersey Public Nudity Defense Attorney can help you understand the legal process you’re facing, how to move forward, and the best ways to protect your rights and reputation. To schedule a free and confidential legal consultation in your case, call me, Anthony N. Palumbo, Monmouth County Criminal Defense Lawyer, at 908-337-7353.


Public Nudity Ordinances vs. Lewdness Charges

New Jersey municipalities have the authority to enact their own public nudity laws banning women from exposing their breasts in public and providing penalties such as fines and community service. While local public ordinances may come into play, however, New Jersey’s lewdness law generally won’t be implicated in cases brought against topless women. That’s because the statute defines “lewd acts” very specifically as “the exposing of the genitals,” without any inclusion of other possibly-erotic body parts such as breasts. The statute also provides that lewd acts must have a primarily sexual motivation, and topless sunbathing, which has various non-sexual motivations (e.g., comfort, prevention of tan lines) will rarely meet this test.


No Equal Rights to Sunbathe Topless

Although the New York courts have held that women have a right to appear topless wherever men can do so, People v. Santorelli, 80 N.Y.2d 875 (1992), similar equal protection arguments were rejected by the New Jersey Appellate Division in State v. Feeley, 2011 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 2402 (Sep. 14, 2011).


The defendant in State v. Feeley was arrested when she removed her bathing suit top while sitting on a public beach in Monmouth County. She was charged with violating the borough’s public nudity ordinance and was taken to police headquarters, where she was processed and given a shirt to wear. She abandoned this shirt shortly after being released, however, and was arrested again after the police received a call about a topless woman walking near the station. (Her shirt was later found hanging from the door of the station building.)


At trial, the defendant argued that the public nudity ordinance violated her rights to equal protection because men were allowed to appear topless at the public beach but women were not. The Appellate Division rejected this argument and affirmed the $750 fine in her case, relying on an earlier New Jersey case, State v. Vogt, 341 N.J. Super. 407 (2001). As the court explained in that case, there is no constitutional right in New Jersey for a woman to appear topless on a public beach, and restrictions on the exposure of the female breast, even if based on gender distinctions, are supported by the important governmental interest in safeguarding the public’s moral sensibilities.


No First Amendment Right to Sunbathe Topless

The First Amendment freedom of speech is another defense sometimes raised in challenges to public nudity laws. In New Jersey, however, Tri-State Metro Naturists v. Lower, 219 N.J. Super. 103 (1987), established that there’s no freedom of expression inherent in the act of topless sunbathing. “While there may be an element of nonverbal expression inherent in nude sunbathing,” the court explained, “its communicative character is not sufficiently distinct to warrant constitutional protection.” The plaintiffs in this case, nudists who had been arrested for being topless in a state park, had succeeded in overturning their convictions under the state’s lewdness law, but their challenges to the local public nudity ordinance did not fare as well. In addition to throwing out their First Amendment challenge, the court rejected their arguments based on the right to privacy, the freedom of association, vagueness, nudity as a protected liberty, state preemption, and state sovereignty over state lands.


Exception for Breastfeeding Mothers

One notable but narrow defense to local public nudity laws is available for breastfeeding mothers. Under state law, these women are entitled to nurse their children in any place of public accommodation, resort, or amusement. N.J.S.A. 26:4B-4. While this right may not allow nursing mothers to sunbathe topless under the pretext of breastfeeding, it does allow them to expose their breasts to a larger extent than permitted under many local ordinances.


A Public Nudity Defense Lawyer Can Help in Your Case

Despite the reluctance of New Jersey courts to recognize equal protection or free speech challenges to public nudity ordinances, a strong legal defense can still undermine the prosecution’s case by challenging the admissibility of evidence or raising procedural errors. And even if you were caught in the flesh (pun intended), your attorney may still be able to get your charges reduced by negotiating a favorable plea deal.


For more information or to speak with an experienced New Jersey Public Nudity Defense Lawyer, contact the law firm of Palumbo & Renaud at 1-866-664-8118. Lead defense attorney Anthony N. Palumbo has nearly four decades of experience handling public nudity and indecent exposure cases, and he’s often able to help clients get their charges reduced to minor violations or even get them dismissed altogether. Palumbo & Renaud also treats their clients’ privacy with the highest level of respect and discretion, taking every precaution to ensure that clients’ reputations are protected from potentially embarrassing charges such as public nudity.