September 8, 2004

Church Faces Stricter Law

Print More

Landlord David Church faces far more jail time if he is found guilty of video-taping tenants due to a relatively new law that Gov. George Pataki signed into legislation in June of 2003, called Stephanie’s Law.

The law established penalties for the video, digital or mechanical recording of another person in a “place and time when a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy.”

It also made it illegal to disseminate or sell such recorded images or videos.

Second-degree unlawful surveillance, which Church is charged with, involves the recording of private moments for sexual arousal, amusement, entertainment or profit.

Before the law was signed, a person could only be charged with trespassing or with disseminating images, which are small misdemeanors and punishable by fines, possible probation and community service. Prior to passage of this law, the actual act of violating privacy was no crime at all.

“Stephanie’s Law really addressed a gap in the law that hadn’t kept up with the technology,” said Heather Campbell, education director for the Advocacy Center, a domestic violence counseling group.

The law is named after a victim of voyeurism who was videotaped by her landlord. She became the law’s biggest proponent after her landlord, William Shultz, received only a small fine, three years of probation and community service for extensively invading her privacy and videotaping her.

According to Campbell, various organizations such as her own and the New York State Coalition Against Sexual Assault had identified voyeurism as a legislative issue for a number of years prior to its passage in 2003.

The crime of unlawful surveillance is now classified as a Class E felony and those found guilty must also register themselves with the New York State Sex Offender Registry.

Stephanie’s state representative, Assembly member James Conte (R-Huntington Station), was one of the chief state legislators credited with getting the bill signed into law.

In the aftermath of the bill’s passage, Conte stated, “The people of New York have won an important victory. Personal privacy and dignity have been, in part, restored. The new law recognizes surreptitious videotaping and photography as a felony and distinguishes the transgression on our rights to privacy as unacceptable behavior.”

The law is not to be confused with Kansas’ “Sexually Violent Predators Law” first used in 1994, which is named after a victim of a sexual predator, and is also known as Stephanie’s Law.

Church was arrested on Aug. 25, after one of his tenants discovered a video camera in a smoke alarm.

Last week, a spokesperson for the district attorney’s office told The Sun that Church could potentially serve sentences for the 10 charges consecutively, meaning that he faces a maximum of 10 to 40 years in prison.

The Cornell community has been stunned by the event and those of last Saturday, when the Ithaca Journal reported that two members of Delta Phi had been charged with videotaping a couple having sex under Stephanie’s Law. The Sun reported yesterday that both sides are working to drop the charges, but the occurrence of two such incidents in such a short span has still been noted by all.

In response to the Church arrest, President Jeffrey Lehman ’77, stated, “I am deeply troubled and concerned about the allegations that a landlord in Ithaca has grossly violated the privacy of his tenants, a number of whom are Cornell students. The safety and well-being of our students is of the highest importance to us.”

Archived article by Michael Margolis
Sun Staff Writer