May 13, 2019

A Cup of Joe | Ex’s Sex Videos Used to Force Favors: Is There is a Way Out?

This week’s case brings us to Colgate University in Hamilton, located in central Upstate New York.  Other schools within 50 miles are Syracuse University, the SUNY MorrisvilleCazenovia CollegeHamilton College, the SUNY Cortland, and Hartwick College. What happened at Colgate could happen anywhere.

This week’s case is about trust borne of romantic intimacy and the cruel betrayal of that trust.

Enter:  Colgate University students, Michael, a 23-year-old Dean’s List student Andrea and Brenda, Michael’s “girlfriends.”

In March, Michael and Andrea began a campus romance. Things went very well at first and their relationship became intimate. Michael was a film student.  Andrea knew that. But Andrea did not know that Michael had a camera positioned in his bedroom to secretly record their private encounters. The months passed and the passion of the relationship waned when finally Andrea broke up with Michael. Michael was unhappy. It was August.  The erstwhile couple continued to communicate with each other following their return to school in the fall. Michael was begging Andrea to come back to him. But Andrea was not going back.

In September, Michael instant messaged Andrea through Facebook and informed her that he possessed videos of their encounters. Michael described the video's content and told Andrea that he was going to upload it to a website and identify Andrea by name. Michael messaged, “the video was a fun little side project of mine since I could tell you were preparing to f . . . me over royally and I wanted something hilarious to hold over your head." Andrea was horrified but she would not budge – she was not going back. Andrea asked Michael to delete the videos. Michael refused and demanded that she come to his apartment to talk about the situation.

In the beginning of December, Andrea went to Michael's apartment to discuss their relationship.

Andrea At Trial

Q: When you arrived at Michael’s apartment what happened?

A: I begged him to not show the video and to delete it.

Q: And what did Michael say after you asked him to not show the video and to delete it?

A: He became irate, and then he started berating me. When I told him that I was never going back with him, especially after he was treating me this way, he said that he was going to disseminate the video and humiliate me unless I agreed to have one final sexual encounter with him…while he recorded it.

Q: How did you respond?

A: I could not believe that he was doing this to me. At first I refused. But he said then that I left him no choice and that my parents and friends would be very proud of me.

Q: What happened next?

A: He said the video was all ready to go and had my name as the star on the credits. I asked him to swear that if I went with him and let him it tape it he would not show it to anyone.

Q: What did he say?

A: He became so sincere and he said…he loved me. And that if this was all he could have of me, then he would live with it. He said that he would not share it.

Q: And what did you do?

A: I followed him into his bedroom. Michael began recording as he disrobed me. And then I did what he wanted. I’m so sorry…

Andrea then told the jury that after leaving Michael’s apartment that evening, Andrea disclosed the incident to her roommate and reported it to campus security and to the local police. The police searched Michael's apartment and retrieved a small digital camera, an iPod, an external hard drive and a laptop computer. A search of Michael’s laptop revealed multiple video files, including videos of both encounters with Andrea. One of the files was an edited video with a title that included Andreas's name and included still photographs of Andrea wearing only undergarments.

Brenda – Take One

But a third file was also found, which consisted of a video of Michael having sex with Brenda. After learning the identity of Brenda, a police investigator contacted her and she confirmed that she had a sexual encounter with Michael in November, but denied knowing that he had recorded it.

The Verdict

A jury found Michael guilty of violating New York’s Unlawful Surveillance Statute. A memorandum in support of the legislation described examples of various circumstances that necessitated the enactment of this law, one of them being that

"women throughout . . . New York State have unknowingly been videotaped while engaging in sexual relations. Several women in this category have attempted to file complaints alleging that their partner made these videotapes without their knowledge or permission and are now showing them to friends and others, and even posting the video footage on the Internet. These women were turned away without a remedy" (L 2003, ch 69, Governor's Program Bill Mem No. 12, 2003 NY Legis Ann at 54).

The Sentence

Michael was sentenced to a prison term of 1 to 3 years on the unlawful surveillance conviction relating to Andrea, and three concurrent one-year sentences for the unlawful surveillance convictions relating to Brenda.  The Court also directed Michael to pay restitution to Andrea and Brenda and Michael was certified as a sex offender.

The Appeal

Michael’s lawyers appealed arguing that Andrea and Brenda had no expectation of privacy. The Court disagreed. The Court ruled that “reasonable people expect to be safe from casual or hostile intrusion within a bedroom and, when engaged in sexual relations in a bedroom of a private home, expect to be free from surveillance."  The Court finished, stating: “Where recordings occur in certain places, including bedrooms, it is presumed that there is no legitimate purpose.”

Michael goes to jail and must now register as a sex offender.

It's never OK to make secret recordings of your sex partners.

Here is the case: People v. Piznarski  http://www.courts.state.ny.us/reporter/3dseries/2013/2013_08157.htm?fbclid=IwAR2kZ-2TbS13e43eQhj5Tc5_o5mfnLTgaJRzNcuezdT9qv9L06Sdjth8pwQ

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