Washington considers voyeurism to be a serious offense and the penalties for a conviction can be harsh. However, voyeurism charges must satisfy certain criteria before prosecution is possible.
To charge someone with voyeurism, the defendant must knowingly view or record someone without their permission for the purposes of sexual gratification or some other sexual aspect. “View” means intentionally observing someone for longer than a brief period, whether it be with technological assistance or the unaided eye.
Charges break down into first- and second-degree offenses.
Voyeurism in the first degree
In a case of voyeurism in the first degree, a class C felony, the defendant must be accused of observing, photographing or videoing an individual in a state of undress without their knowledge, who has a “reasonable expectation of privacy.” Examples would be in their home, a changing room at a clothing store or a locker room.
If convicted of first-degree voyeurism in Washington, the guilty party can face up to five years in prison and/or a fine of up to $10,000.
Voyeurism in the second degree
Second-degree voyeurism, a gross misdemeanor, addresses situations when someone records the “intimate areas” of a fully dress individual with the intent of distributing or disseminating the photo or video. Examples include a camera pointed up someone’s skirt, down their shirt or zooming in on private parts.
Someone convicted of voyeurism in the second degree may face up to one year in prison and/or a fine of up to $5,000.
An example of an exception would be recording someone without their knowledge while making a video about an unrelated topic, like on the street during a parade or inside a venue during a concert. Another exception would be a security camera that happens to record someone doing something private. While the people may be unhappy they were recorded, neither of these examples satisfy the basic criteria of voyeurism as they lack intent or sexual gratification.
However, recording someone without their knowledge can theoretically end in other legal complications.