I spy: Being charged with unlawful surveillance in New York

I spy: Being charged with unlawful surveillance in New York

In today’s digital era, many of us are under some form of surveillance as we go about our daily business: traffic cameras on the street and security cameras in retail establishments come to mind. Some forms of surveillance, however, are illegal.

Unlawful surveillance takes place when someone installs a hidden camera in a place where one can reasonably expect privacy and uses it to watch or record someone else while they are undressing, using a restroom, or in any situation where intimate parts of their body can be seen. This surveillance occurs without their knowledge or consent and is sometimes done to deliberately abuse or degrade the person.

If you are charged with Unlawful Surveillance in the Second Degree (New York Penal Law 250.45), a class E felony, you could face up to four years in prison should you be convicted. The punishment can be more severe if you already have a criminal record (within the last 10 years) for this offense when arrested: the charge can be bumped up to Unlawful Surveillance in the First Degree, which is punishable by up to seven years in prison.

You could also be charged with Dissemination of an Unlawful Surveillance Image in the Second Degree, which happens if you intentionally broadcast or distribute the intrusive images you took. This is a class A misdemeanor, which could send you to jail for a year or result in a $1,000 fine. If you were already convicted of the same offense within the last 10 years, the charge can become Dissemination of an Unlawful Surveillance Image in the First Degree, a class E felony punishable by a $5,000 fine and up to four years in prison.

Federal law refers to unlawful surveillance as voyeurism, and government authorities may get involved in cases that cross state lines and/or involve more than one jurisdiction. Internet-based offenses usually meet this criteria.  The Video Voyeurism Protection Act of 2004 makes it illegal to record secretly intimate images of people on federal property such as a military base. If convicted, then you could be fined thousands of dollars, sent to prison for up to a year or both.

If you are charged with Unlawful Surveillance, then contact a criminal defense attorney immediately. A conviction has consequences that could impact your life for years. They include prison time, heavy fines and a felony record that bars you from some future opportunities. If the person or people you are accused of recording are minors and you are convicted, then you will be registered as a sex offender in New York State.

A good criminal defense attorney will advocate for you. Depending on your circumstances, they may try to get the charge reduced to a misdemeanor, find grounds to challenge your arrest and the seizure of the recording device, or convince the prosecutor that the case against you is too flimsy to proceed. By hiring an experienced attorney, you are giving yourself a fighting chance. Julie Rendelman is a criminal defense attorney with over 20 years of experience handling cases in the New York City area. If you have been accused of a crime, or are concerned that you may be accused of a crime, then do not give a statement to the police. Instead seek the advice of a qualified lawyer who will work to protect your rights. Call 212-951-1232 to set up a free consultation with Ms. Rendelman. To learn more about the types of cases she handles, visit www.RendelmanLaw.com.