Judge Upholds 'Lewdness Law' Against Stepmom After Stepkids See Her Topless in Their Home

Tilly Buchanan
FOX 13/YouTube

A Salt Lake City, Utah, judge has upheld a statute related to the case against 27-year-old Tilli Buchanan, who faces three counts of lewdness. The original case was brought to court last year after Buchanan allegedly walked around topless in her home -- in full view of her stepchildren, who include a 13-year-old boy, a 10-year-old girl, and a 9-year-old boy. Facing the possibility of having to register as a sex offender, Buchanan's lawyers recently argued that the lewdness law was unconstitutional, because the incident took place in her home. It appears, however, that a judge did not agree.

  • According to Buchanan, the incident happened after she and her husband spent a day putting up drywall in their garage.

    Hot and dusty from a hard day's work, the pair stripped down to their underwear before stepping back inside the house, the New York Times reported. But Tilly went one step further, removing her bra. 

    The children noticed -- but when they questioned why she was topless, Buchanan reportedly told them that if their father could walk around bare chested, then why was she different?

    In fact, therein lies the crux of Buchanan's argument: As her lawyers told a Utah courtroom in November, “she considers herself a feminist and wanted to make a point that everybody should be fine with walking around their house or elsewhere with skin showing." 

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  • “This isn’t a sexual thing,” she claims to have told the children. “I should be able to wear exactly what my husband wears."

    "You shouldn’t be embarrassed about this,” she added, in an interview with the Salt Lake Tribune in the fall. 

    To Buchanan, she was merely trying to explain the double standard that exists between men and women when it comes to public exposure. It wasn't sexual, she argued; it was a teachable moment. 

    However, the children's mother -- who was later informed of what happened -- didn't see it that way. She reported the incident to police, which is ultimately what led to Buchanan's arrest.

  • The case is ongoing, though Buchanan's lawyers have been fighting it tooth and nail -- especially because of the consequences it could bring.

    The stepmom faces three counts of lewdness involving a child, which is a class A misdemeanor. If she's convicted, the 27-year-old could see jail time and be forced to register as a sex offender for the next 10 years.

    Even her lawyers are shocked by the steep penalty she could face.

    “If we lose this, she’s on the sex offender registry with child rapists and things of that nature,” her lawyer Randy Richards told CBS News. “The magnitude of the penalty on this is enormous.”

    It's for this reason that Buchanan's lawyers pushed to get the charges dismissed.

  • But on Tuesday, Judge Kara Pettit of the Third Judicial District Court in Salt Lake County ruled against the mom's latest motion.

    “The Court finds the government has an important interest in enacting laws to protect the health, safety, welfare, and morality of children, and to prevent them from being exposed to lewdness,” Pettit wrote in her ruling.

    The judge agreed with prosecutors’ argument that the law’s description of female breasts (and not male breasts) as lewd “reflects contemporary community standards as to what constitutes nudity,” according to the New York Times. 

  • Buchanan's lawyers argued that the law violates her 14th Amendment rights, and that what's OK for a man should be OK for a woman.

    After all, Buchanan's own husband -- the children's father -- was also topless as the pair dashed into the house to take a shower. It looks like her lawyers will have to further argue that point at her trial.

    "We support the court’s finding in this case that ‘the government has an important interest in enacting laws to protect the health, safety, welfare, and morality of children, and to prevent them from being exposed to lewdness,” prosecutor Ryan Robinson wrote in a statement obtained by Fox 13.

    “We also highlight from Judge Pettit’s order: ‘The Court also agrees with WVC that the legislature’s express inclusion of female, but not male, breasts in the acts enumerated as lewd in reflects contemporary community standards as to what constitutes nudity,'" the statement continued. "Her order cited other cases nationwide that have found that ‘public indecency laws do not serve to perpetuate stereotype, but simply recognized physical difference between the sexes which has implications for the moral and aesthetic sensitivities of a substantial majority of the country.'”

    Now that the court has upheld the lewdness statute as constitutional, Robinson said prosecutors are expecting to move forward with the litigation portion of the case in the coming months.