January 23, 2006
A bill to toughen laws against peeping toms past one hurdle this morning. A house subcommittee unanimously approved a bill that would charge peepers with a felony on their third offense.
Today crime fighters from Charlottesville including Charlottesville Police Chief Tim Longo and Asst. Commonwealth Attorney Ron Huber traveled to Richmond to lobby in support of the bill.
It was proposed by 58th District Delegate Rob Bell. The bill amounts to a 'three strikes and you're out' bill for peeping toms. Peepers right now face a misdemeanor and a one year jail term. This bill would force tougher penalties for third time offenders.
It's aimed at cracking down on people like James Stearn. He's had eight peeping convictions in the last ten years, and prosecutors would like to see criminals like Stearn convicted of a felony on their third offense.
"Keep the people off the streets. Keep them from looking into the homes of our wives and our daughters," said Huber.
The felony conviction holds a five year jail term and it would force repeat peepers to register as sex offenders. Something Stearn's neighbor would like to see.
"It's obviously an ongoing problem and I think that neighbors should be well informed of who is in their neighborhood," said one witness.
Especially since most peepers don't just peep said prosecutors.
"Most experts would tell you that peeping is a gateway offense. That is people who peep certainly who peep repeatedly are likely to upgrade to more serious offenses," said Huber.
Criminal profilers even predict that our long sought after serial rapist is a peeper. But even so defense attorneys say you can't punish someone for something you fear they'll do.
"The intent of this bill is 'let's punish somebody for what they might do based on these misdemeanors rather than wait till something happens later,'" said Charlottesville defense attorney Scott Goodman.
Prosecutors disagree. They point to laws that charge petty thieves who steal cigarettes and candy bars with a felony on a third offense.
"So why on earth should not a third offense of something arguably much more serious--that is peeping--why should that not be a felony as well?" said Huber.
A crime and courts House sub-committee passed the bill unanimously this afternoon but it still will face an uphill battle before it can become law.
The bill will soon face the appropriations committee--the same committee that killed a similar bill in 2004. They said there wasn't enough money to support the increase in prison inmates that the bill would cause.