May 8, 2018

California Penal Code 653m makes it illegal to contact another person using any mode of electronic communication with the intent to annoy that person. 1 So, is it illegal to make a prank call? In short, the answer depends on the number of calls you’ve made and why you made the call.

Prosecution of Prank Calls under Penal Code 653m PC (a)

Violation of penal code 653m PC
If you annoy or threaten someone over the phone, you may be criminally charged under Penal Code 653m PC

Under PC 653m(a), it is illegal to make any contact with another person that uses “obscene” language or threatens the person, their property or their family. If you do this, you could be guilty of a misdemeanor.

In order to be convicted under PC 653m(a), the prosecution must prove that you:

  • Called someone or made electronic communication to another;
  • By doing so your purpose or objective was to annoy that person; and
  • Either you:
    • Used obscene language during the communication; or
    • Made a threat to someone, their property or their family

Prosecution of Prank Calls under Penal Code 653m PC (b)

Under PC653m(b), it is illegal to make repeated contact intending to annoy another person, whether or not a conversation follows.

In order to be convicted under PC 653m(b), the prosecution must prove that:

  • You made repeated (at least two) calls or electronic communication to another;
  • You intended to annoy or harass that person;

What are Annoying or Offensive Calls?

Obscene language under this law means that a reasonable person would find the language to be offensive. The law doesn’t clearly define what qualifies as “annoying” but the court must consider the caller’s objective when making the call. 2

What about Texting or Emailing?

The law covers any electronic means of communication, including “telephones, cellular phones, computers, video recorders, facsimile machines, pagers, personal digital assistants, smartphones, and any other device that transfers signs, signals, writing, images, sounds, or data.” 3

In today’s terms, that means annoying contact made through texts, emails, Facebook messages, Snapchats or use of any other website or app that can send a message or transmit data can be considered a violation under PC 653(m).

Sentencing and Punishment

A violation of Penal Code 653m PC is a misdemeanor. If you are convicted under this law, you could face up to a $1,000 fine and up to six months in county jail.

Possible Defenses to a Penal Code 653m PC Charge

Our skilled criminal defense attorneys at Wallin & Klarich know the legal defenses to PC 653m violations. Some defenses we have successfully raised include:

  • You did not intend to annoy the other person
  • You made the call in good faith, meaning it was an honest mistake
  • The calls were made in the ordinary course of business
  • The communication was not obscene

Arrested for Making a Prank Call? Call a Criminal Defense Attorney Now

If you or a loved one has been charged with violating PC 653(m), you need to contact an experienced Wallin & Klarich criminal defense attorney immediately.

prank call attorneys
Call our criminal defense attorneys now!

At Wallin & Klarich, our skilled attorneys have been successfully defending clients facing criminal charges for over 35 years. We will meet with you immediately to review the facts of your case, and plan a defense strategy that will help you get the very best outcome possible.

With offices located in Orange County, Riverside, San Bernardino, Victorville, West Covina, Torrance, Los Angeles and San Diego, there is an experienced Wallin & Klarich criminal defense attorney available to help you no matter where you work or live.

Call us today at (877) 4-NO-JAIL or (877) 466-5245 for a free phone consultation. We will be there when you call.


1. [Pen. Code, § 653m]
2. [U.S. v. Jones (9th Cir. 2003) 83 Fed.Appx. 867]
3. [Pen. Code, § 653m(g)]

Author

Author: Paul Wallin

Paul Wallin is one of the most highly respected attorneys in Southern California. His vast experience, zealous advocacy for his clients and extensive knowledge of many areas of the law make Mr. Wallin a premiere Southern California attorney. Mr. Wallin founded Wallin & Klarich in 1981. As the senior partner of Wallin & Klarich, Mr. Wallin has been successfully representing clients for more than 30 years. Clients come to him for help in matters involving assault and battery, drug crimes, juvenile crimes, theft, manslaughter, sex offenses, murder, violent crimes, misdemeanors and felonies. Mr. Wallin also helps clients with family law matters such as divorce and child custody.

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