Defendant was charged with and found guilty of a violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:33-4(c).
The essence of the charge was that on September 18, 1986 he was discovered peering into the apartment of a tenant in a garden apartment complex in Scotch Plains. According to the state's witness the occupants of the apartment were watching television when they noticed a shadow at the window. They pulled up the curtain and saw a person, later identified as the defendant, peering at them through the window. When the witness ran outside to confront the individual, he ran off.
At the trial in the municipal court, the primary issue was one of identification. The court below found against the defendant and held that the offense came within the purview of 2C:33-4(c), which reads as follows:
A person commits a petty disorderly persons offense if, with purpose to harass another, he:
(c) engages in any other course of alarming conduct or of repeatedly committed acts with purpose to alarm or seriously annoy such other person.
Prior to the effective date of the Code of Criminal Justice in 1979, the offense involved herein (generally referred to as "peeping Tom") was governed by N.J.S.A. 2A:170-31.1 which reads as follows:
Any person who trespasses on private property and surreptitiously or sneakingly invades the privacy of another by peering into the windows or other openings of dwelling places located thereon for no lawful purpose shall be adjudged a disorderly person.
This statute was repealed with the adoption of the new code. The present statute, upon which the State herein relies, requires that the offense be committed with "purpose to harass another". It would seem that almost by definition a "peeping Tom" has no purpose to harass those he wishes to observe. He does not want to alarm or annoy them; to the contrary, his purpose is to observe his "victims" and in so doing to remain undetected. Such was the case here. The individual was
detected inadvertently, and, after he was detected, made no effort to annoy or alarm the individuals in the apartment. He simply fled when he was discovered and challenged. There is no evidence that the defendant was guilty of harassment within the language and meaning of the statute.
Further it would appear that a "peeping Tom" is no longer subject to ...