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Utah woman might have to register as sex offender after kids see her topless at home

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SALT LAKE CITY – A Utah woman charged with a crime after her stepchildren saw her topless in her own home is fighting the case that could force her to register as a sex offender.

Now a judge is considering whether to strike down a portion of Utah's lewdness statute dealing with topless women.

Tilli Buchanan is facing three misdemeanor charges of lewdness involving a child stemming from an incident in her home.

Buchanan, 27, said she and her husband had taken off their shirts to keep their clothes from getting dusty while they hung drywall in their garage in a Salt Lake City suburb in late 2017 or early 2018.

When her husband’s three children, ages 9 through 13, walked in, she “explained 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,” her lawyers said in court documents.

That ultimately led to the criminal charges being leveled against her earlier this year. Child welfare officials began an investigation involving the kids that wasn’t related to Buchanan.

The children’s mother reported the topless incident because she was “alarmed,” authorities said.

Buchanan's attorney argues she did nothing wrong.

"If we are to lose this, she’s on the sex registry with child rapists and things of that nature. The magnitude of the penalty on this is enormous," Buchanan's attorney, Randy Richards told KSTU.

On Tuesday, her attorney and the ACLU of Utah asked for the case to be dismissed and a portion of Utah's lewdness statute to be struck down citing a recent ruling by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that found anti-topless laws discriminated against women.

Buchanan left court saying she felt "hopeful" that Judge Kara Pettit would side with her.

"Especially with, given it was in the privacy of my own home, my husband was right next to me, in the exact same manner that I was and he’s not being prosecuted," she told reporters.

The ACLU of Utah has also intervened in the case on Buchanan's behalf. In court on Tuesday, ACLU staff attorney Leah Farrell argued that a particular portion of Utah's lewdness statute discriminates against women.

"There’s part of it that says this part of a woman is found inherently obscene and this part of a man isn’t," she told reporters outside court. "That really sets up an unequal and unfair dichotomy. And Tilli’s case is something none of us would expect to happen."

The ACLU cited the "Free the Nipple" ruling that found anti-topless ordinances violated the 14th Amendment right of equal protection under the law. The ruling, which generated headlines nationwide, has slowly started to be utilized in Utah.

Attorneys with clients facing lewdness charges are citing it. KSTU recently documented a group of women in St. George who went topless and faced no criminal repercussions from local authorities.

West Valley City prosecutors argued to the judge that the "Free the Nipple" ruling was much more narrow than the ACLU would like it to be. They also insisted that the legislature has a right to make laws based on a morality.

"We see our job is to represent the laws of the state of Utah and we’ve made our argument that’s now on the record," chief West Valley City prosecutor Ryan Robinson told reporters as they left court. "We’re looking forward to seeing what the judge decides."

Judge Pettit said she expected to issue a ruling within a couple of months.

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