By Jed McKeehan

In my years in the legal profession, there are some laws for which I have never seen someone arrested.  The “Peeping Tom” statute is one of them.

Tennessee Code Annotated 39-13-607, titled, “Observation without consent,” states:

(a) It is an offense for a person to knowingly spy upon, observe or otherwise view an individual, when the individual is in a place where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy, without the prior effective consent of the individual, if the viewing:

(1) Would offend or embarrass an ordinary person if the person knew the person was being viewed; and

(2) Was for the purpose of sexual arousal or gratification of the defendant.

(b) It is not a defense to a violation of this section that the defendant was lawfully on the premises where the offense occurred.

So let’s break this down, you can be charged with being a Peeping Tom even if you’re somewhere that you’re allowed to be.  That means that you could be charged if you’re standing in your own house!

Not only that, who determines whether someone is offended or embarrassed by someone viewing them?  According to the language of the law, the person doesn’t even have to be undressed, they can be completely clothed.  They could say they were offended or embarrassed that you saw them watching old rerun tv shows.

But wait!  It has to be proven that the Peeping Tom observed the person for the purpose of sexual arousal or gratification.  I will try to keep this PG rated, but how in the world could this be proven unless there is VERY clear evidence?

So, for those who have seen Back to the Future, Marty McFly goes back in time and finds his dad up in a public tree watching his mom through a window.  Could he be charged with a crime?  I simply do not know how you would PROVE that he received any gratification or arousal from such, even if he did.  That may be part of the reason why no one ever gets charged with this crime.

Jedidiah McKeehan is an attorney practicing in Knox County and surrounding counties.  He works in many areas, including criminal, personal injury, landlord-tenant, probate, and estate planning. Visit for more information about this legal issue and other legal issues.