Voyeurism is the act of knowingly observing an unsuspecting person who is disrobing, naked, or engaging in sexual activity, without their consent. The observation is usually done for the observer’s sexual gratification. In Washington State, a person who is caught doing these can be charged with the crime of “voyeurism.”
In Washington, the law also includes persons who record a person without their knowledge or consent, using video or photo, when that person is in a place where they have a “reasonable expectation of privacy”. Washington’s voyeurism statute covers two different situations:
- Where a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy (regardless of whether they actual undress or engage in specific sexual conduct); or
- Where a person views the other person’s “intimate areas” (i.e., areas normally covered with clothing).
To convict a defendant of a voyeurism under Washington laws, the must defendant knowingly views, photographs, or films the victim for sexual gratification and:
- View intimate areas of the victim’s body without their consent;
- The victim has no knowledge they are being looked at;
- The victim is in an area where they have a reasonable expectation of privacy.
In Washington State, “to view” means to intentionally look at a person for more than a brief period of time or casual glancing manner. The defendant can also be guilty of viewing the victim whether they use a device or their naked eye.
A place of “reasonable expectation of privacy” is where a person can reasonably expect to be safe from outside intrusion or public view. Common examples of these include inside a bathroom, dressing room, and one’s bedroom.
In Washington, voyeurism is charged as a class C felony, which means it is a relatively serious crime (more serious than citations or misdemeanors). Voyeurism can be punishable by five years in prison and/or fines of up to $10,000. When the defendant is convicted, the court may also order all films, photographs, films, videotapes, or digital images of the victim to be destroyed.
Due to the sexual nature of voyeurism crimes, a conviction for voyeurism in the state of Washington can also mean that the defendant must register as a sex offender, sometimes for up to ten years after the conviction.
In addition, because voyeurism is a sex offense, the defendant may also face additional restrictive conditions when they are on parole (or “community custody”, as it is referred to in Washington).
This means that they must follow certain conditions, including prohibitions on:
- Viewing pornography;
- Drinking alcohol;
- Living in certain areas of town (such as those that are near schools, day care centers, parks, or playgrounds).
Lastly, penalties for voyeurism charges can increase under certain conditions, such as when the defendant has committed similar acts in the past and is a repeat offender.
As with any other type of charges, a person facing voyeurism charges may have some legal defenses available to them. These will all depend on several factors, including the nature of the case, the defendant’s criminal background, and Washington state laws.
Some commonly-used defenses against voyeurism charges may include:
- Consent: A defendant can only be found guilty of voyeurism if the person being viewed did not consent to the viewing. Thus, if they consented to the other person viewing, filming, or photographing them, it may serve as a defense to voyeurism charges;
- Privacy: In order to be charged with privacy, the unwanted viewing or filming must take place in an area where the victim has a reasonable expectation of privacy. So, if the viewing or filming took place in a very public area, it could serve as a defense;
- Sexual gratification: The viewing or recording must occur for the purpose of the defendant’s sexual gratification. If it can be proven that that was not the defendant’s purpose, it may serve as a defense to voyeurism (such as if they were filming a documentary, or if the video was captured by closed-circuit surveillance cameras). On the other hand, if the person was in an area where they had a reasonable expectation of privacy, then they still might face other legal issues, such as invasion of privacy;
- Coercion or Duress: It can sometimes serve as a defense if the defendant was forced to commit the viewing, photographing, or filming under the threat of harm or injury. For instance, if the defendant was forced at gunpoint to film a person undressing in a private area, then they might be able to raise that as a defense.
Voyeurism is a serious felony charge with possible long-term repercussions. You may need to contact a Washington lawyer to help you fight your voyeurism case. A Washington lawyer in your area will be able to explain the laws of your state to you, and can provide legal representation for you during key court meetings.