Conviction Upheld Over Tragic Bathroom Video

     RIVERSIDE, Calif. (CN) — A California appeals court upheld a misdemeanor conviction Monday in a tragic case where a teen killed himself after another student took a cellphone video of him appearing to masturbate in the school bathroom.
     “I can’t handle school anymore and I have no friends,” 14-year-old Matthew Burdette wrote before taking his own life in November 2013.
     Though the suicide note also said Burdette had “been planning this for months now,” just two weeks earlier the University City High School freshman had been identified in footage that appeared to show him masturbating in the bathroom.
     The footage showed only a closed bathroom stall, but Burdette’s distinctive shoes and socks could be seen in the gap between the stall wall and the floor.
     Burdette had been facing the toilet and was making moaning sounds. A friend of Burdette’s who had been using another stall later testified he believed Burdette had only been joking.
     Matthew “was like that,” the friend said, as quoted in Monday’s ruling. “Like, he would just mess around.”
     But an 11th grader who heard the commotion upon entering the bathroom was not in on the joke.
     M.H., as he is identified in the ruling, whipped out his phone, recorded a 10-second video and uploaded it to his account on the social-media application Snapchat. “I think this dude is jacking off,” the video caption read.
     After Burdette’s death, 16-year-old M.H. told police he felt terrible about what had happened. San Diego prosecutors charged the teen with misdemeanor invasion of privacy, and a court sentenced the boy to probation.
     M.H. faces social-media restrictions, among other conditions, but argued on appeal that the evidence does not support the finding that he invaded Burdette’s privacy.
     A three-judge panel of the Fourth Appellate District affirmed the sentence Monday.
     “A student in a high school bathroom stall reasonably expects he will not be videoed and have that video disseminated on social media,” Acting Presiding Judge Gilbert Nares wrote for the court. “Matthew did not forfeit that right merely because his socks and shoes could be seen and his voice could be heard by others in the bathroom. Matthew may have run the risk that people in the bathroom would tell others what they witnessed there. But that is a far cry from expecting his conduct would be electronically recorded and broadcasted to the student body.”
     The court rejected M.H.’s assertion that Burdette waived his right to privacy by “making loud obscene noises.”
     “There is a vast distinction between being overheard, and being surreptitiously recorded,” Nares wrote.
     Later in the 24-page ruling, Nares says Burdette “did not waive or forgo the right to expect he would not be secretly recorded in a video distributed over social media,” even if he did anticipate that some people would hear or see his shoes in the bathroom.
     “Adolescence was difficult enough before there were smartphones and social media,” the opinion continues. “The last thing a high school student in a bathroom stall should have to worry about is that someone may be secretly recording everything done and uttered there for the possible entertainment of fellow students.”
     The court likewise cut through M.H.’s claims that his recording was “newsworthy,” and protected by the First Amendment.
     “The bathroom, including a public bathroom stall, is perhaps the epitome of a private place,” Nares wrote.Attorney General Kamala Harris’ office did not return a request for comment, nor did M.H.’s attorney, Jared Coleman.

%d bloggers like this: