Church Deacon Secretly Records Teenage Girls in His Bathroom

A 10-year sentence at hard labor stands up in court.

Key point. The use of hidden cameras to secretly record minors undressing in a restroom or locker room may result in criminal liability for the felony of video voyeurism.

A Louisiana court affirmed a sentence of 10 years at hard labor for a church deacon who made video recordings of teenage girls with a camera hidden in a bathroom in his home during a church youth retreat.

The deacon (the "defendant") hosted a weekend church retreat at his home. The retreat was for young female church members. Seven girls attended, all under the age of 17. Prior to their arrival, the defendant installed hidden video cameras in the bathroom the girls would be using during the weekend. During their stay, one of the girls discovered the camera and removed it. She alerted her parents. Several images of the girls had been recorded in various stages of undress and nudity. The authorities were notified.

A search warrant was issued for the residence, revealing pornographic material involving juveniles and adults. These images had been transferred to the defendant's personal computer, which had internet access.

The defendant was ultimately charged with a total of 21 counts. He pled guilty to two counts of video voyeurism in exchange for dismissal of the remaining charges. A pre-sentence investigation was ordered and a sentencing hearing was held in which impact statements were presented to the court on behalf of the defendant and the victims. A report by a psychologist stated that the defendant had been in treatment following discovery of the offenses, and that he suffered from severe depression. The defendant was sentenced to 10 years at hard labor. He appealed, claiming that his sentence was excessive and unreasonable.

In support of his appeal, the defendant noted that he was 55 years old at the time of the offenses and had no criminal history; he was active in his church, and gainfully employed; and, he was a full-time husband and father. The defendant claimed that the sentences placed undue hardship on his wife and family, who have forgiven him and have chosen to support him through this traumatic time. He also noted that he never had possession of or viewed the videos because the cameras were confiscated by one of the victims, and therefore the crime of video voyeurism was not completed.

A state appeals court rejected the defendant's claims, and affirmed the 10-year sentence at hard labor. It concluded: "The trial judge carefully considered the defendant's circumstances and mitigating factors presented by his family, including their statements regarding his good character and church leadership activities, as well as the statements from other church members and victims and their families. Considering the position of trust this defendant enjoyed with his fellow church families and their children and the betrayal of that trust as evidenced by statements from the victims' families during sentencing, [the sentence] was well within the trial judge's discretion. These sentences do not shock our sense of justice in this case, nor are they disproportionate to the severity of the offenses. The court noted that "statements made during sentencing referenced other atrocious activities of the defendant. For example, he taped a camera to his shoe at church to photograph up the girls' skirts." State v. Holmes, 130 So.3d 999 (La.App. 2014).

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