Improper Photography in Texas
Penal Code Section 21.15 outlines instances in which taking a photograph is illegal in Texas. It is illegal to photograph a person with the intent to invade another’s privacy in a changing room or bathroom, an intimate area of another person without their permission while a person has a reasonable expectation that the intimate area is not in public view.
What acts are illegal under the Improper Photography statute?
The statute covers recording, broadcasting, and transmitting visual images and video recordings.
What is an “intimate area” for purposes of Improper Photography?
An intimate area for purposes of this statute includes the naked or clothed genitals, pubic area, anus, buttocks, or female breast of a person.
Defenses to Improper Photography
There are a number of defenses to Improper Photography, including attacks on whether an individual had a reasonable expectation that the intimate area was not in public view and whether the accused took the photograph with the intent to invade the privacy of another.
Voyeurism, Upskirting, and Downblousing under Texas Law
It is no longer a crime in Texas to take “upskirt” or “downblouse” photographs. The Court of Criminal Appeals in Texas voted 8-to-1 holding a portion of the improper photography statute in Texas unconstitutional.
If you will remember, we covered the upskirting issue in our companion blog, Texas Evidence, in March of this year after Massachusetts ruled that it was not illegal to secretly photograph under a person’s clothing.
Texas Penal Code Section 21.15 provides, in pertinent part,
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…a person commits an offense if the person: (1) Photographs or videotape or other electronic means records, broadcasts, or transmits a visual image of another at a location that is not a bathroom or private dressing room: (A) without the other person’s consent; and (B) with intent to arouse or gratify the sexual desire of any person.
As we pointed out in March, the Texas statute appeared to be overbroad. The Court of Criminal Appeals in Ex parte Thompson, PD-1371-13, 2014 WL 4627231 (Tex. Crim. App. Sept. 17, 2014) ruled that the statute violated a person’s freedom of speech to the extent that it restricted their ability to photograph or make video recordings.
The First Amendment prohibits laws that limit a person’s freedom of speech. Prosecutors argued that making a recording or taking a photograph is not something that possesses “communicative elements that bring the First Amendment into play.” The court pointed out that some conduct is inherently expressive, and photographs are inherently expressive because pictures do, by their very nature, tell a story. Yet the question remained whether taking the photographs is inherently expressive. The court likened a camera in a photographer’s hand to a paintbrush in a painter’s hand. The court concluded that a person’s creation of photographs and visual recordings is entitled “to the same First Amendment protection as the photographs and visual recordings themselves.”
As to the intent element of the statute, the court said,
Banning otherwise protected expression on the basis that it produces sexual arousal or gratification is the regulation of protected thought, and such a regulation is outside the government’s power.
Furthermore, when reviewing a content-based restriction, a strict scrutiny standard is applied. Even the State can show a compelling interest to have content-based restrictions, the State must also be able to show that it is the least restrictive means of achieving the compelling government interest. While the court recognized the privacy interests of the individuals being photographed, the improper photography statute is overly broad because it does not include language addressing privacy concerns and it is not the most narrowly-tailored method of addressing situations where a substantial privacy interest is at stake.
As we recommended in March, the Texas Legislature will need to rewrite the language of the Improper Photography statute in order to narrowly tailor the restriction to the interest of protecting the privacy of individuals being photographed.
Is Improper Photography a Crime in Texas?
It is still illegal (and a state jail felony) to take photographs of a person in a bathroom or dressing room without consent and with the intent to arouse or gratify the sexual desire of any person.
If you or a loved one has been charged with Improper Photography in Texas, contact us immediately at (817) 203-2220 or online:
Penal Code Section 21.15: IMPROPER PHOTOGRAPHY OR VISUAL RECORDING.
(a) In this section, “promote” has the meaning assigned by Section 43.21.
(b) A person commits an offense if the person:
(1) photographs or by videotape or other electronic means records, broadcasts, or transmits a visual image of another at a location that is not a bathroom or private dressing room:
(A) without the other person’s consent; and
(B) with intent to arouse or gratify the sexual desire of any person;
(2) photographs or by videotape or other electronic means records, broadcasts, or transmits a visual image of another at a location that is a bathroom or private dressing room:
(A) without the other person’s consent; and
(B) with intent to:
(i) invade the privacy of the other person; or
(ii) arouse or gratify the sexual desire of any person; or
(3) knowing the character and content of the photograph, recording, broadcast, or transmission, promotes a photograph, recording, broadcast, or transmission described by Subdivision (1) or (2).
(c) An offense under this section is a state jail felony.
(d) If conduct that constitutes an offense under this section also constitutes an offense under any other law, the actor may be prosecuted under this section or the other law.
(e) For purposes of Subsection (b)(2), a sign or signs posted indicating that the person is being photographed or that a visual image of the person is being recorded, broadcast, or transmitted is not sufficient to establish the person’s consent under that subdivision.
Portions in red have been rendered unconstitutional.