Is a photo of a toddler in a bathing suit in public space child pornography? According to the New Hampshire Supreme Court, the answer is “No.”
A 47 year-old man from Salem, N.H. was sentenced to 15 years (7 years more than prosecution recommended) last year after he was caught taking pictures of children at a public water park with his cell phone.
According to the Eagle-Tribune, David Lantagne confessed to Canobie Lake Park security in 2011 that he has a “problem” and that he had also photographed little girls at a nearby shopping mall. Initially, the charges were violation of privacy and disorderly conduct, but his attorney said that the cell phone photos were obtained illegally. Before incarceration he sought “sex offender treatment,” which impressed the prosecutor, but not the judge.
According to the Associated Press, the N.H. Supreme Court “unanimously ruled that the evidence gathered after Lantagne’s illegal arrest should have been barred.” While Lantagne’s motivations may have been lascivious, the court said that pictures of “properly attired children in an open and public portion of Canobie Lake Park – regardless of whether the photographs were of the children's backsides, were taken surreptitiously or would be uploaded to a computer -- would not have warranted a reasonable belief that the photographer posed a threat of imminent harm to any patrons, including the children.” Lantagne’s attorney argued that his conviction was “an unwarranted tragedy” because he lost his job and had to register as a sex offender.
Still, there is no denying that in the moment, Lantagne knew what he was doing wasn’t “right,” and that alone may be a glimmer of hope. Canadian researchers recently said that pedophilia happens because of cranial “cross-wiring” in the womb, causing sexual responses for things that are meant to inspire a nurturing, protective response. Rather than the threat of severe criminal penalty, they suggest a strategy aimed at treatment and reintegration. Lantagne might have even sought help under a different societal climate, since he was quick to confess to the park security officer.