Capturing images or video footage of another person’s private areas without their consent is a crime known as video voyeurism.

In the last few decades, advances in technology that have made the capturing of videos and photos simple and affordable have also made video voyeurism more prevalent. In most cases, defendants are prosecuted by the state in which the alleged act occurred, however, there are some instances in which it may be outside of a state’s jurisdiction.

When video voyeurism occurs on federal land, at sea, or in any other federally controlled location, it becomes a federal offense. Federal crimes are aggressively prosecuted, and a federal video voyeurism conviction could result in hefty fines and up to a year in federal prison. If you’ve been charged with video voyeurism, it’s important that you seek the advice of a federal criminal defense attorney right away. 

Contact the Helfend Law Group today at 800-834-6434 for your free case evaluation.

What is video voyeurism? (18 U.S.C. § 1801)

According to 18 U.S. Code 1801, it is a federal crime to knowingly and intentionally capture an image of someone’s “private area,” without their consent, under circumstances in which they have a reasonable expectation of privacy, in a place that is under the jurisdiction of the United States federal government. In order to better understand the crime of video voyeurism, it is helpful to break down some of the language used in the legal definition.

“Private area” 

A person’s “private area” includes the pubic area, genitals, buttocks, or female breast below the top of the areola. Whether or not a person is wearing undergarments does not affect whether these body parts are considered “private areas.”

“Capture an image” 

It is illegal to use any method of capturing or transmitting an image of someone’s private areas including but not limited to photography, digital video or videotape, a drone, or a cell phone app without their consent, with the intent for someone to view it. 

“Reasonable expectation of privacy”

An individual has a “reasonable expectation of privacy” when they believe that their private areas are not visible or will not be photographed by someone in public.  

“A place that is under jurisdiction of the United States federal government”

While individual states control a large percentage of land in the United States, the federal government has jurisdiction over certain types of spaces and geographical areas. Some types of federally controlled locations include:

  • National parks and forests
  • U.S. registered vessels such as aircraft or ships, including those on the high seas
  • Native American reservations
  • Some foreign embassies and consulates
  • U.S. military bases
  • U.S. territories including Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands
  • Land controlled by the Bureau of Land Management 

The Video Voyeurism Prevention Act of 2004

18 U.S. Code 1801 was codified under the Video Voyeurism Prevention Act of 2004. Advances in technology such as cell phone cameras and small, accessible digital video cameras led to an increase in the capturing of people’s images without their consent. Additionally, many states did not yet have laws outlawing activities like “upskirting,” which involve the intentional capture of a person’s private areas in public. Congress passed the Video Voyeurism Prevention Act in order to address these issues. 

How is ‘video voyeurism’ proven in court?

In order to convict a defendant of committing a criminal offense, the prosecutor must prove all the elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.

In a federal video voyeurism case, the elements of the crime are:

  1. Photo or video imagery of another person’s private areas was captured by the defendant
  2. The imagery was captured without that person’s consent
  3. The defendant did so knowingly and intentionally
  4. The victim had a reasonable expectation of privacy
  5. The act occurred within the territorial or maritime jurisdiction of the United States

Penalties for federal video voyeurism

Federal video voyeurism is a misdemeanor federal offense. Potential penalties include:

  • Fines of up to $100,000 and
  • A federal prison sentence of up to one year

If you’ve been accused of committing video voyeurism, there are a number of defense strategies that you use to fight the charges against you. A federal criminal defense attorney can examine the facts of your case in order to determine which of the strategies is most likely to find you the best possible outcome. Some of the most common defense strategies against 18 U.S. Code 1801 charges are:

  • Consent – If the individual who was photographed or recorded consented to having their image captured, the act cannot be considered video voyeurism.
  • No reasonable expectation of privacy – 18 U.S. Code 1801 only applies if the alleged act took place in a location where the subject of the image would have a reasonable expectation of privacy. The expectation of privacy may be unreasonable in some instances or locations such as private parties.
  • Lack of intent – Accidentally capturing an image of another person’s private areas does not constitute video voyeurism. The elements of the crime require the prosecutor to prove that the images in question were captured intentionally. If your attorney can demonstrate a lack of intent, you may not be convicted of violating 18 U.S. Code 1801.
  • Insufficient evidence – If the prosecution does not present enough evidence to demonstrate, beyond a reasonable doubt, that you violated 18 U.S. Code 1801, your charges may be dropped. 

Expert criminal defense for federal cases 

Federal crimes, including misdemeanor offenses like video voyeurism, are aggressively prosecuted and carry harsh penalties. If you’ve been charged with committing a federal crime, you need a defense attorney on your side who will defend your rights and fight for your freedom just as aggressively.

With strong legal representation, it may be possible to have your charges reduced or even dismissed. As one of Los Angeles County’s top-rated criminal defense attorneys, Robert M. Helfend has successfully defended numerous clients facing California state and federal charges for over four decades. If you’d like to learn more about your legal options, contact the offices of the Helfend Law Group for a free consultation – 800-834-6434.

Published February 13, 2024.