Voyeurism is defined as knowingly observing an unsuspecting individual who is disrobing, nude, and/or engaging in sexual activity without their consent. An individual who engages in voyeurism is known as a voyeur. Generally, the voyeur engages in the observation for the purpose of sexual gratification.

If an individual engages in this activity in Washington State, they can be charged with the crime of voyeurism. Washington State voyeurism laws also include recording an individual without their knowledge or consent, using a video and/or photographs, when the individual being observed has a reasonable expectation of privacy

A reasonable expectation of privacy refers to some areas or aspects of an individual’s personal life in which an individual would expect a level of privacy. Examples of locations an individual has a reasonable expectation of privacy include:

  • Their place of residence;
  • A hotel room;
  • Certain public places, including restrooms;
  • Certain areas of jail houses;
  • A phone booth; or
  • Certain areas of a car, which may vary by jurisdiction.

The voyeurism statute in Washington State covers two situations: 1) where an individual has a reasonable expectation of privacy and; 2) where an individual views the other individual’s intimate areas that are normally covered with clothing. If the individual is in a location where they have a reasonable expectation of privacy, voyeurism applies whether or not the individual undresses and/or engages in sexual conduct. 

Peeping tom laws in Washington State are included in voyeurism laws. A peeping tom is an individual who looks into windows, such as windows of a residence or a vehicle. In Washington States, voyeurism charges can range from the peeping tom level, to much more sophisticated observation, which may include technological devices. 

What does the State of Washington Have to Prove to Convict Me of Voyeurism?

In order to convict a defendant of voyeurism in Washington State, the prosecution must prove:

  • The defendant knowingly viewed photographs and/or films of the victim for sexual gratification; and
  • Viewed intimate areas of the victim’s body without their consent;
  • Viewed the victim when they were unaware;
  • Viewed the victim in an area where they had a reasonable expectation of privacy.

In Washington State, view is defined as intentionally looking at a person for more than a brief period of time or in a casual glancing manner. The defendant can be guilty of viewing the victim by using a device and/or their naked eye.

A location with a reasonable expectation of privacy is a location where an individual can reasonably be safe for outside intrusion and/or public view. Examples include a bathroom, a dressing room, and/or an individual’s bedroom.

What is the Punishment for Voyeurism in Washington State?

In Washington State, voyeurism is classified as a Class C felony. Felonies are divided into subcategories, which vary by state. Some states use a letter system, denoting categories as follows:

  • Class A;
  • Class B;
  • Class C;
  • Class D; and
  • Class E.

Class A felonies are the most serious. Not all states have Class D and Class E felony categories. 

A Class C felony is a crime that is more serious than a citation or a misdemeanor but is less serious than crimes classified as Class A or Class B felonies. If convicted of voyeurism, a defendant may face 5 years in prison and/or fines up to $10,000. As part of the conviction, the court may order the destruction of all films, photographs, videotapes and/or digital images of the victim.

Because voyeurism crimes are crimes of a sexual nature, if a defendant is convicted, they may have to register as a sex offender. This may be required for up to 10 years after the defendant is convicted. 

Registering as a sex offender requires the defendant who is convicted of certain crimes to provide their personal information to a state and/or national database. Sex offender databases are accessible by the public and can be searched by the name of the registered offenders.

Public policy dictates that a community has the right to know of registered sex offenders in the area and should be permitted to look them up if they so choose. An offender who is a registered sex offender is subject to additional requirements and restrictions that do not apply to other offenders. Violating those restrictions may carry additional punishments.

Since voyeurism is a sex offense, a defendant may also face additional restrictions when on parole, or community custody, as it is known in Washington State. This means a defendant may be required to following certain prohibitions, including:

  • Not viewing pornography;
  • Not drinking alcohol;
  • Not living in certain areas of town, including areas near schools, day care centers, parks, and/or playgrounds. 

Penalties for voyeurism charges in Washington State may also be increased under certain conditions. Conditions may include cases where a defendant has committed similar offenses in the past and is a repeat offender. Repeat offender laws are also known as habitual offender statutes and/or three strikes laws. Specifics of three strikes laws vary by state.

Are There Any Legal Defenses for Voyeurism Charges in Washington State?

As with many criminal charges, a defendant facing voyeurism charges may have legal defenses available to them. What defenses are available will depend on several factors, including:

  • The nature of the case;
  • The defendant’s background; and
  • Washington State laws.

Commonly used defenses against voyeurism charges include:

  • Consent;
  • Privacy;
  • Sexual gratification; and
  • Coercion and/or duress.

In order to be convicted of voyeurism, it must be shown that the individual being observed did not consent. Therefore, if the individual observed consented to being viewed, filmed, or photographed, may be a defense to voyeurism charges.

In order for voyeurism to occur, the unwanted viewing and/or filming must occur in a location where the individual observed had a reasonable expectation of privacy. Therefore, if the viewing or filming occurred in a public area, this may be a defense to voyeurism charges.

In order for the offense to be voyeurism, the viewing and/or recording must occur for the defendant’s sexual gratification. If it can be shown that sexual gratification was not the defendant’s purpose, it may be a defense to the charge of voyeurism. This may include if the defendant was filming a documentary or the video was captured on a surveillance camera. However, if the individual being observed was in a location with a reasonable expectation of privacy, the defendant may still face legal issues, such as invasion of privacy.

Coercion and/or duress may be a defense to voyeurism charges if a defendant was forced to commit the viewing, photographing, and/or filming under the threat of harm or injury. For example, if a defendant was forced at gunpoint to film an individual disrobing in a private area, they may be able to raise the defense of duress.

Should I Hire a Washington Lawyer if I’m Facing Legal Issues Involving Voyeurism?

Yes, if you are facing any legal issues involving voyeurism, it is important to contact an experienced Washington criminal lawyer. A lawyer can review your case, determine if any defenses are available to you, and represent you during court proceedings, if necessary. A lawyer will be able to explain local laws, consequences of a conviction, and even attempt to negotiate a reduction in charges, if possible.