Three male Tennessee judges rule it's okay to film 'private areas' of women in public without their consent

The judges threw out an unlawful photography conviction against David Eric Lambert who admitted to stalking women in retail stores for sexual gratification

                            Three male Tennessee judges rule it's okay to film 'private areas' of women in public without their consent
David Eric Lambert (Kingsport Police Department)

SULLIVAN COUNTY, TENNESSEE: Three male judges in the US state of Tennessee have ruled that it is not illegal to film fully clothed women in public places without their consent. The ruling by the judges came into the case of David Eric Lambert who was convicted of unlawful photography and admitted he stalked women in retail stores and filmed their "private areas" for his sexual gratification around Kingsport in 2016, court records show.

However, the convictions were challenged by the 2nd Judicial District Public Defender's office after Lambert said he did not think he did anything wrong because the photographs were taken in public. And, late in April, the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals Judges D Kelly Thomas Jr, James Curwood Witt Jr, and Thomas T Woodall agreed to this.

Though the three judges wrote three separate opinions, their conclusion reached the same point that people cannot expect privacy in the digital age. “Exposure to the capture of our images by cameras has become, perhaps, unfortunately, a reality of daily life in our digital age,” one of the judges wrote.

“When nearly every person goes about her day with a handheld 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,” the judge concluded.

The trio saw the evidence that showed Lambert’s creepy behavior in public places towards women, they also agreed that the proof showed the Sullivan County man intentionally captured the women in his camera for sexual gratification. They agreed that Lambert took  “close-up” pictures of three women’s “private areas” in three separate stores, tried to hide his filming, and admitted he “crossed moral boundaries.”

The judges also accepted that the women found Lambert creepy even before they realized he was capturing them in his camera. One woman even ran out of the store to avoid the man while another alerted security. Despite acknowledging these facts, the judges said without an “expectation of privacy”, Lambert’s actions cannot be considered criminal.

Lambert was reportedly arrested after Kingsport Police Department Detective Martin Taylor kept receiving calls from multiple women in March 2016. All the women had the same story to tell in which they were stalked by a man with a “creepy grin” on his face and a cell phone in his hand while they shopped at different stores.

Soon, Taylor nabbed Lambert, who had a history of inappropriate behavior toward women in public places. He later confessed that he not only stalked women in stores, like Walmart, Hobby Lobby and the Dollar Tree in Kingsport but also took close-up footage of their buttocks for his own sexual pleasure.

“I like blonde-haired females but have no preference. I did not mean to scare anyone and only filmed the females for my own purposes. I have never posted any of the images I have taken on the internet or shared with other people,” he said.

“I actually did not think I was doing anything wrong because everything was done in a public place. However, I realize this was not a good decision on my part. If it was not illegal, it was definitely crossing moral boundaries,” Lambert added at the time.

He also admitted to Taylor that he took over 20 videos of different women at multiple major retail stores in Kingsport. The detective tried to retrieve those videos but failed, and Lambert was ultimately charged in only three cases.

Later, Lambert was convicted by three separate juries of unlawful photography, a misdemeanor. One of those juries also convicted him of sexual battery for grabbing a woman at the Dollar Tree.

He was sentenced to nearly four years in prison by Sullivan County Criminal Court Judge James F Goodwin Jr, given his prior history of obscene and sexually threatening behavior.

However, the sentencing was challenged arguing Lambert’s behavior was not illegal and the judges agreed as they said: “The (victims were) fully-clothed in full view of any person present in the store. No evidence suggested that (Lambert) attempted to photograph (the victims) underneath (their) clothing. Indeed, a similar image could have been captured by surveillance equipment.”

The judges did not touch the sexual battery conviction. His case has now been sent to a Sullivan County Criminal Court judge for resentencing.

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