Texas has had peeping tom laws since 2015 when the state created the crime of voyeurism. Previously, peeping toms could only be prosecuted for disorderly conduct. Now, in cases where there’s evidence that someone spies on others to satisfy a sexual urge, a prosecutor may bring voyeurism charges.
If you’re accused of violating the state’s peeping tom laws, contact a criminal defense lawyer from The Law Offices of Ned Barnett at (713) 222-6767 to schedule a free and confidential case consultation. Hiring an attorney immediately could be the difference between clearing up a misunderstanding, avoiding charges, and dealing with the situation the right way.
Texas Voyeurism Laws
Texas Penal Code Section 21.17 defines voyeurism as observing, with the intent to gratify a sexual desire, another person without their consent while they’re in a dwelling or structure where they have a reasonable expectation of privacy. Therefore, watching people sitting around a public swimming area might not meet the level of criminal voyeurism. However, spying on others in a changing room or peering over a fence would likely meet this threshold.
Example of Voyeurism in Houston Peeping Tom Cases
Some time ago, a Harris County woman suffered repeat visits by a man in the middle of the night. She eventually caught him on camera, and the footage showed him exposing his genitals and attempting to get a good view inside. Here, the sexual intent behind his behavior is pretty clear, so a prosecutor would likely charge the suspect with voyeurism.
On the other hand, the Houston Chronicle previously reported that a man had been caught spying on another man sleeping on his couch inside of his home. Security footage shows him riding his bicycle through the victim’s yard, approaching a window, and tapping it gently. Unlike the other case, this suspect does not clearly appear to be gratifying a sexual urge, so disorderly conduct might be more appropriate.
Peeping Tom & Voyeurism Penalties in Texas
Like disorderly conduct, voyeurism is a Class C misdemeanor punishable by a $500 fine. However, a second offense is treated as a class B misdemeanor. This carries a maximum sentence of six months in jail and $2,000 in fines.
In cases where the victim is a minor under the age of 14, voyeurism is a state jail felony punishable by up to two years in state jail and $10,000 in fines. Notably, a voyeurism conviction does not require registration as a sex offender.
What’s a Reasonable Expectation of Privacy
This is the legal element that determines which places and which activities a person has a legal right to keep private. The most common example of where you have a reasonable expectation of privacy is in the home, but can to extend places where the average person would be offended at being intruded upon.
To be convicted of criminal voyeurism, the victim must have had a reasonable expectation of privacy in addition to the prosecutor proving that you acted with sexual motives. For instance, looking over a fence into a private swimming area may not be considered voyeurism if the suspected perpetrator was reacting to calls for help.
Peeping Tom or a Misunderstanding?
The facts surrounding voyeurism cases aren’t always so clear-cut. Many times, allegations are made against people who were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
There may not be clear proof that you acted out of lust, but a prosecutor may push that conclusion. For example, if the victim was nude and you allegedly watched them for a significant time, the jury might conclude that you had sexual intent.
Accused of Violating Peeping Tom Laws? Call Us.
If you or a loved one have been accused of violating Texas peeping tom laws it is important to remain silent and contact a lawyer right away. Often people in these situations make statements they think will help, but typically do more harm than good. They may make comments to the police that could be used as evidence of their sexual intent.