Local representative seeks stiffer punishment for peeping

Steve Garrison The Daily Times
The Daily Times

FARMINGTON — State Rep. Sharon Clahchischilliage has pre-filed legislation that she said will help strengthen New Mexico's voyeurism laws.

The bill by the Kirtland Republican would change the criminal statutes governing voyeurism to allow prosecutors to charge individuals who attempt to view or record the intimate areas of a child of another person without that person's consent.

Under current law, there is no penalty if a person attempts to peep on an adult without their consent, and attempting to record or view a child's intimate areas is only a misdemeanor offense.

Clahchischilliage's bill would make attempted peeping on an adult a misdemeanor. Attempted peeping on a child would be a fourth-degree felony offense, punishable by up to 18 months in prison and $5,000 in fines.

Clahchischilliage said in an interview that she worked with the New Mexico Children, Youth and Family Department to craft the bill.

A similar bill was introduced at the last legislative session. It passed the House by a unanimous vote, but died in the state Senate.

"There have been instances where a person has been watching an adolescent, and the law is not tight enough to punish those people," she said.

Eric Hansen, a father of two young girls, spoke on behalf of the bill in the last legislative session because of his own experiences with what he called a "weak law."

He said in an interview that in March 2010, his 13-year-old daughter was wearing nothing but a towel when she spotted someone staring through her bedroom window.

He said he went into her room and saw his next-door neighbor "pressed against the glass with his eyes cupped by his hands."

He chased the neighbor off and called Las Cruces police.

They investigated, but determined that the only law the neighbor violated was a trespassing ordinance.

Hansen said officers determined that since the neighbor had not actually viewed the girl's intimate areas, the state's voyeurism law did not apply.

"My daughter had just stepped out of the shower, and she was wrapped in a towel," he said. "But for the fact that she put on a towel, that was the only thing that kept him from being a felon. If I had not intervened, he would have completed the felony offense."

CYFD spokesman Henry Varela said in an email that his department became involved in the issue as a result of Hansen's case.

"Trying to look at a naked child in the privacy of their own home through a window is clearly a sexually motivated offense and should be treated as such," Varela said.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Dustin O'Brien of the San Juan County District Attorney's Office said in his experience local prosecutors have not had many issues with the current voyeurism law.

He said District Attorney Rick Tedrow recently met with lawmakers to discuss other potential changes to criminal statutes, including the laws governing drunken driving and felony murder.

Clahchischilliage said she was receptive to increasing the penalties for drunken driving.

"It is a big issue right now," she said. "We are going to work with the DA more on this to see what we can do."

Steve Garrison covers crime and courts for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644 and Follow him on Twitter @SteveGarrisonDT on Twitter.