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Tennessee court rules secret recording not child pornography

January 10, 2019

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Tennessee Supreme Court has ruled that a man who hid a video camera in the bedroom of a 13-year-old relative while she was in the shower is not guilty of attempting to produce child pornography.

In a split decision filed earlier this week, the court’s three female judges found David Scott Hall’s actions did not meet Tennessee’s definition for production of child pornography, which requires sexual content beyond mere nudity.

According to the an account of events in court filings, Hall briefly lived with a relative and her two young daughters in May 2010 when he was helping the family repair their flood-damaged home. One morning when the 13-year-old was in the shower, Hall hid a camera on top of her dresser under some clothes.

The girl returned from the shower in casual clothes, noticed the red light of the camera almost immediately and grabbed it, taking it to her mother. Hall was 50 at the time.

At a bench trial in 2015, a Nashville judge found Hall guilty of attempted especially aggravated sexual exploitation of a minor. He was sentenced to serve 12 months of a four-year sentence, according to the Attorney General’s Office, and also received four years of probation. The Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals upheld the trial court’s decision. However, the Supreme Court’s ruling Monday overturns Hall’s conviction.

Writing for the majority, Justice Holly Kirby focused on whether images of the girl getting dressed would have qualified as pornography, had they been recorded.

“The evidence presented at trial shows at most that the defendant intended to produce material that would include images of the minor victim engaged in everyday activities ordinarily performed in the nude,” she wrote. She was joined in her opinion by Justices Cornelia Clark and Sharon Lee.

Justice Roger Page disagreed. In his dissent, Page wrote that while it is impossible to know what the video would have shown had the camera not been found, the most important factor was Hall’s intent in trying to make the recording.

Page noted that Hall positioned the camera to show the girl’s torso and upper thighs but not her face. He was joined in his dissent by Chief Justice Jeffrey Bivens.

The state has 90 days to file an appeal.

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