Video voyeur penalty too light, House panel is told

March 12, 2003|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

The penalties for violating Maryland's 3-year-old video voyeurism law are too lenient given the seriousness of the crime, which leaves victims feeling "violated" and "dirty," lawyers and one Howard County victim told a House committee yesterday.

Learning that she had been videotaped while using a bathroom at a North Laurel school left Amy Hudak with "lifetime scars" and changed the way she looked at the world around her, the Phillips School employee told members of the House Judiciary Committee.

"Since this incident occurred, I've had countless sleepless nights due to nightmares," said a tearful Hudak, who urged legislators to create a "necessary and fair punishment."

Hudak was one of three people testifying in favor of a bill that would make video peeping a felony and raise the maximum sentence from six months to five years - the same penalty in the state's wiretapping statute.

The bill was introduced at the behest of Howard's state's attorney's office, which has won two convictions in the past 18 months using the existing law.

In both cases, District Court judges imposed consecutive sentences, then suspended a portion to allow for probation, said Assistant State's Attorney Lynn Marshall, the prosecutor.

Increasing the penalties would go a long way toward recognizing that hidden cameras used to tape people during their most private moments is at least as criminal as listening in on their conversations, Howard State's Attorney Timothy J. McCrone told the legislators.

Videotaping "is certainly as egregious an intrusion ... as anything that could be obtained with a wiretap," he said.

The stiffer sentence would also allow prosecutors to introduce the cases at the Circuit Court level, where there are more resources for victims, and the felony designation would eliminate the one-year statute of limitations for filing misdemeanor cases, said Democratic Del. Neil F. Quinter, a Howard legislator who sponsored the bill.

Members of a trade group for private detectives and security guards said they believe the bill's purpose is "laudable" but asked the committee yesterday to add to the bill protections that would limit liability for the work they do.

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