Legal Dictionary

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Peeping Tom

A "Peeping Tom," also known as a voyeur, is a person (usually a man) who secretly watches the occupants of a house, room, or other private place, especially through the windows at night, for sexual gratification purposes. Peeping Tom refers to the man who watched Lady Godiva riding nude through the streets in Coventry, England and was, according to the legend, struck blind. Peeping Toms can be charged and prosecuted under two different Disorderly Conduct laws in California:

Peeking While Loitering /Prowling / Wandering

Under California Penal Code section 647(i) it is unlawful for a person to linger, loiter, prowl, or wander into another's property and peek in the window or door of an inhabited building or structure without any visible or lawful business with the owner or occupant. "Loiter" means to delay or linger without a lawful purpose for being on the property and for the purpose of committing a crime as opportunity may be discovered. This offense is a misdemeanor and punishable by a fine of $1,000 and up to 180 days in county jail.

Invasion of Privacy

Invasion of Privacy is defined as any offensive intrusion into a person's private life or personal activities. California Penal Code section 647(j)prohibits non-consensual viewing, filming, photographing, videotaping, or recording of persons in private areas, where the person has an expectation of privacy. The law also prohibits using any concealed means of photographing or video-tape recording of a person's body or through the person's clothing for sexual gratification purposes or otherwise and without the person's knowledge and consent. Invasion of Privacy may be charged and prosecuted under the following circumstances:

  1. When a person looks through a hole or any opening or uses any visual or recording device to view into a bathroom, bedroom, changing or fitting room, dressing room, tanning booth or the interior of any other area in which a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy, with the intent to invade the privacy of the person or persons inside. This may be accomplished with the naked eye or by use of an instrument including but not limited to, periscope, telescope, binoculars, or cameras (film camera, video camera, or mobile phone). Penal Code section 647(j)(1). This crime is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 6 months in county jail.
  2. When a person uses a concealed camcorder, film camera, mobile phone, or photographic camera of any type, to secretly videotape, film photograph, or record by any electronic means another person under or through the person's clothing, for the purpose of viewing the person's body or undergarments. It is done without the person's knowledge, for the purpose of sexual arousal and with the intent to invade the person's privacy, under circumstances in which the person has a reasonable expectation of privacy. Penal Code section 647(j)(2). This offense is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 6 months in county jail.
  3. When a person uses a concealed camcorder, film camera, or photographic camera of any type, to secretly videotape, film, photograph, or record by electronic means, another person who may be in a state of partial or full undress, for the purpose of viewing the body of, or the undergarments worn by the person, without the consent or knowledge of the other person, in the interior of a bedroom, bathroom, changing room fitting room, dressing room, tanning booth, or any interior location that a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy, with the intent to invade the privacy of that other person. Penal Code section 647(j)(3).

Peeping Tom charges should not be taken lightly. Even if the actual offense was an innocent mistake, or the offender was ignorant of the law, a conviction can result in jail time and a permanent criminal record. There is no requirement for sex offender registration if you are convicted of any of the above offenses. If you or someone you know is facing Peeping Tom charges consult with an experienced sex crimes defense attorney to learn all about your rights, defenses, and any and all available legal options.