Injuring Wireless Communication – California Penal Code 591.5 PC
People sometimes act out of pure emotion and without thinking of the consequences. However, if you get in a heated dispute with your spouse or other loved one, and you lose your cool and destroy their cell phone, you could be charged with a crime.
In California, it is a misdemeanor if you destroy or tamper with another’s cell phone or other wireless communication device. Penal Code 591.5 PC provides that it is unlawful for you to maliciously remove, injure, destroy, damage, or obstruct1 the use of any wireless communication device with the intent to prevent the use of the device to summon assistance or notify law enforcement or any public safety agency of a crime.2 Here are some examples of situations where you might be charged with Injuring Wireless Communication in violation of Penal Code 591.5 PC:
- You and your significant other get into a domestic dispute, and your significant other reaches for their cell phone in order to call the police. To prevent your significant other from doing so, you take their cell phone and put in your pocket to prevent them from making the call.
- Your significant other finds out that you were involved in a robbery or other crime. She wants to report you and reaches for your phone. Before she can do so, you grab the phone and break it.
In addition, you could be charged with other crimes in connection with injuring wireless communication depending on the facts of your case:
- Damaging Phone or Electrical Line (Penal Code 591)
- Tampering with Evidence (Penal Code 141)
- Vandalism (Penal Code 594)
Prosecution of PC 591.5
In order to be convicted of the crime of injuring wireless communication in violation of California Penal Code 591.5 PC, the prosecution must prove that:3
- You removed, injured, destroyed, damaged, or obstructed the use of any wireless communication device;
- You did so maliciously; AND
- In causing such interference with a wireless communication device, you intended to prevent someone from asking for assistance or notifying law enforcement or any public safety agency of a crime.
A skilled criminal defense attorney may be able to raise several defenses in your case. Some of these defenses might include:
- False allegations: If you did not remove, injure, destroy, damage, or otherwise obstruct another’s use of a wireless communication device, you should not be convicted of this crime. Oftentimes, especially during domestic violence allegations, the alleged victim will falsify the details of the incident to avoid getting themselves into trouble.
- No intent: Even if you interfered with someone’s wireless communication device, if you did not intend to prevent that person from contacting authorities (e.g. you accidentally stepped on the phone), you should not be convicted of this crime.
- You did not act maliciously: If you did not act out of malice when you broke the wireless communication device, you should not be convicted of this crime.
Sentencing & Punishment for Injuring Wireless Communication
Penal Code 591.5 PC is a misdemeanor in California.4 If you are convicted, you can be sentenced to up to 364 days in county jail.
In addition, you may also face additional penalties such as fines, counseling, community service hours, and/or probation. The judge has considerable discretion in imposing any combination of the above possible punishments, which may depend on several factors such as your criminal history or whether or not the incident involved domestic violence.
Frequently Asked Questions
What does it mean to act maliciously?
You have acted maliciously if you intentionally commit a wrongful act or you act with unlawful intent to annoy or injure someone else.5
What if you destroyed your own cell phone but still prevented another from contacting authorities?
The law does not require that you interfere with another person’s cell phone. The statutory definition prohibits interference with any wireless communication device. Thus, even if you break your own cell phone in order to prevent another from reporting you to the authorities, you can still be convicted of injuring wireless communication as long as all the other elements or parts of the crime are met.
What qualifies as a wireless communication device?
Certainly a cell phone qualifies as a wireless communication device, but California law qualifies other wireless communication devices as well.6 In addition, you may be charged with Penal Code 591.5 PC for interfering with an iPad, beeper, or wireless landline phone.
What does it mean to ‘injure’ a wireless communication device?
To “injure” a wireless communication device means to damage or destroy the device.
Contact Wallin & Klarich if You Have Been Charged with Injuring Wireless Communication
If you or a loved one has been charged with injuring wireless communication in violation of California Penal Code 591.5 PC, you need to contact an experienced Wallin & Klarich criminal defense attorney immediately.
Wallin & Klarich has been successfully defending those facing serious criminal charges for over 40 years. We can help you, too.
With offices located in Los Angeles, Sherman Oaks, Torrance, Orange County, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, West Covina and Victorville, 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. Hereinafter referred to as interfering or interference↩
2. Pen. Code, § 591.5 PC↩
6. See People v. Spriggs (2014) 224 Cal.App.4th 150, 164 [168 Cal.Rptr.3d 347, 357]↩