An appeals court has ruled that a 40-year-old man who followed women around with a camera to shoot creepy images of them did not commit any crime because the photography was done in public places.
The New York Times reports that three women accused 40-year-old David Eric Lambert of following them around large stores (a Dollar Tree, a Hobby Lobby and a Walmart) and shooting imagery of their chest and buttock areas with his smartphone camera.
Lambert was arrested, convicted of unlawful photography in three separate cases, and sentenced to over 3.5 years in prison.
“[E]ven if you’re in public, you’ve got an expectation of privacy that you’re not going to be photographed or filmed in your crotch or your rear end or your breasts,” the trial judge ruled.
Lambert appealed, arguing that the women had no reasonable expectation of privacy in the location the incidents occurred and that the prosecutors hadn’t proved that he shot any photos to offend the women or for sexual arousal or gratification.
“Here we have women who are fully clothed, they’re wearing pants, they’re in the middle of aisles in public stores,” Lambert’s attorney, Lesley Anne Tiller, tells the NY Times. “They were not in restrooms. They were not in dressing rooms. He wasn’t convicted based on the law. He was convicted based on somebody’s perception.”
But those three convictions were just each separately tossed last month by the Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee in Knoxville. The three male judges ruled that photography in a public place is not a crime, even if the photos being taken are of this distasteful nature.
“Exposure to the capture of our images by cameras has become, perhaps unfortunately, a reality of daily life in our digital age,” writes Judge James Curwood Witt Jr. in one of the three rulings. “When nearly every person goes about her day with a hand-held device capable of taking hundreds of photographs and videos and every public place is equipped with a wide variety of surveillance equipment, it is simply not reasonable to expect that our fully clothed images will remain totally private.”
“No evidence suggested that the defendant attempted to photograph the victim underneath her clothing,” writes Judge D. Kelly Thomas Jr. in another ruling. “Indeed, a similar image could have been captured by surveillance equipment, although the Dollar Tree had none. Consequently, we conclude that the victim did not have a subjective expectation of privacy.”
In one of the cases, Lambert also pinched a woman’s buttocks, which led to an additional conviction of attempted sexual battery. That conviction was upheld by the appeals court.
After Lambert’s initial convictions in 2016, lawmakers in Tennessee voted two years later to modify the state’s unlawful photography laws to extend a person’s reasonable expectation of privacy to public places. It’s now a crime to shoot a photo that “would offend or embarrass an ordinary person” and “was taken for the purpose of sexual arousal or gratification” of the picture taker.
“William B. Harper, a prosecutor with the Sullivan County District Attorney’s Office, said his office was discussing whether to appeal the decision to the State Supreme Court, a call that is ultimately the Tennessee attorney general’s to make,” the NY Times reports.
Image credits: Header illustration based on photo by Skica911