After a difficult break-up, it may be tempting to get revenge by making your ex feel some of the pain that you have to deal with. Even if you never mean to do any physical harm, a harassing phone call may be taken seriously by the police. Making harassing or obscene phone calls to another could be a criminal offense in California.
Penal Code 653m PC Text
Under California Penal Code Section 653m, it is a misdemeanor to:
- “With intent to annoy, telephones or makes contact by means of an electronic communication device with another and addresses to or about the other person any obscene language or addresses to the other person any threat to inflict injury to the person or property of the person addressed or any member of his or her family.”
- “With intent to annoy or harass, makes repeated telephone calls or makes repeated contact by means of an electronic communication device, or makes any combination of calls or contact, to another person is, whether or not conversation ensues from making the telephone call or contact by means of an electronic communication device.”
This does not only involve people who are located in California but may be charged if someone out of state calls or harasses someone in the state of California. According to the statute, “any offense committed by use of a telephone may be deemed to have been committed when and where the telephone call or calls were made or received.”
Elements of the Offense
To be convicted of a crime, the prosecutor must prove that the defendant intended to annoy or harass another. To convict a defendant under part (a) of the charge, there must be an intent to annoy, and either:
- Use of obscene language; or
- Threat to inflict injury to the person, property, or member of their family.
Under part (b) of the charge, there must be an intent to annoy or harass, and either:
- Repeated phone calls;
- Repeated electronic contact; or
- Combination of repeated calls or electronic contact.
Domestic Violence and Stalking or Harassment
Relationships can be very emotional. In a volatile relationship or after a bad break-up, people do things they would not otherwise do, including making threats, stalking, or harassing someone. This may include an ex partner, former spouse's new partner, or your child's other parent.
Threats of abuse, harassment, or stalking often occur over time before the police get involved. As a result, there may be multiple charges against the alleged abuser. Related charges in a domestic violence case may include:
- Domestic abuse
- Violating a restraining order
- Making criminal threats
- Harassing phone calls
Protective Orders Against Phone Contact
In California, protective orders are often used in cases of domestic violence or stalking to prohibit contact between parties. Depending on the protection order, the respondent may be prohibited from any contact of the individual or members of the individual's immediate family. This may include phone contact or electronic contact.
Harassing Text Messages
It is not only calling someone that can be considered harassing or obscene. Using your phone to make contact with another person could be harassing. This includes sending text messages, contacting someone through a messaging app, or even using your phone to send an email. The offense includes “contact by means of an electronic communication device.”
Under this law, harassing or obscene messages could include sending messages or commenting through:
- Text message
Messages Aren't Anonymous
Even if you send a message through a throwaway account or email account made with fake information, that message could still be tracked to you. Even if you delete the message or think that it is secure, the police can still get access to your account information from the app companies or your phone provider.
If the police have a search warrant, they may also be able to check your phone or computer for evidence of sending harassing messages. The police may also search your phone if you give consent to a search. Talk to your criminal defense lawyer if you are concerned about the police using your private information to convict you of a crime.
Defense Strategies for Harassing Phone Call Charges in California
There are a number of possible defenses to charges of making harassing phone calls. If a phone call or contact is made in good faith, it may be a defense to charges of making annoying or harassing calls. If the caller did not use obscene language or make threats and there were no repeated calls, the caller may not have committed a crime.
The accuser may have also just made up the threatening phone calls, to try and get back at someone. Just because the police believed the accuser does not mean that you are guilty of a crime. You have the right to defend yourself in court. If you are charged with harassment or domestic abuse in the East Bay, talk to your lawyer about your criminal defense strategies.
Defense Lawyer for Charges of Stalking and Harassing Calls in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties
East Bay attorney Lynn Gorelick has more than 37 years of criminal defense experience and understands how difficult it can be to face allegations of harassment. Representing residents of Alameda County and Contra Costa County, Lynn Gorelick is familiar with the local criminal laws, local officers, and the prosecutors involved. Contact East Bay criminal defense lawyer Lynn Gorelick today.