Making Annoying Phone Calls – California Penal Code 653m PC
Before caller ID became a standard phone service feature, making annoying phone calls was just a simple prank kids made with their home phone on a rainy day. Today, annoying phone call laws cover far more means of communication than just a landline phone. In fact, California Penal Code 653m covers just about all forms of annoying, harassing, or threatening electronic communications, including those sent or received by telephone, cell phone, smartphone, computer, fax machine, tablet or any device that “transfers signs, signals, writing, images, sounds, or data.“
Prosecution of Annoying Phone Calls – California Penal Code 653m PC
Some may wonder how you can be criminally charged for such a seemingly harmless prank as making annoying phone calls. However, there are certain elements that must be met in order to constitute a criminal act under California Penal Code 653m PC. In order for you to be convicted of making annoying phone calls, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt the following elements of the crime.
- You permitted, made or sent annoying or harassing calls or electronic communications to someone;
- You intended to annoy or harass the person you called or sent the electronic communications to; and
- You used, made or permitted the use of:
- obscene language;
- threats of injury to the recipient of the call or communication; or
- repeated calls or electronic communications to that person.
Thus, in order for an annoying phone call to constitute a criminal act under California Penal Code 653m PC, you must have used obscene or offensive language, threats, and/or repeatedly called or communicated the alleged victim in a harassing way. A simple prank call where no harassing or offensive words are exchanged does not constitute a criminal act.
Sentencing and Punishment for Annoying Phone Calls Under California Penal Code 653m PC
If you are found to have violated California Penal Code 653m PC by sending, or making (or permitting to be sent or made) phone calls, texts, emails, faxes, photos, or videos to someone with the intent of annoying, harassing, or threatening someone, you are guilty of a misdemeanor. If convicted of this misdemeanor crime, you may face:
- A maximum fine of $1,000;
- Up to a six month sentence in county jail; or
- Both a fine and jail.
Making Telephonic Criminal Threats – California Penal Code 422
If you are found to have made criminal threats to the recipient, you may be guilty of a much more serious crime. You can be charged with making criminal threats under California Penal Code 422 if you use a phone or electronic communication and:
- threaten great bodily injury or death;
- intend your communication to be a threat; and
- cause someone to fear for their safety or the safety of their family or property because of your threat.
Making criminal threats is a “wobbler” offense in California, which means you can be charged with a misdemeanor or felony. If you are found guilty of a misdemeanor count of making criminal threats, you face:
- up to a maximum fine of $1,000;
- a maximum sentence of 364 days in county jail; or
- both fine and jail.
If you are found guilty of a felony count of making criminal threats over the phone or with an electronic communication device under California Penal Code Section 422, you face:
- up to a maximum fine of $10,000;
- a maximum sentence of three years in state prison; or
- both fine and prison.
Possible Defenses to Violations of California Penal Code 653m PC
A prosecutor carries the burden of proof in cases involving annoying phone calls or harassing electronic communications. If the prosecutor cannot prove the elements of the crime against you, you should not be convicted. However, you will need an experienced criminal defense attorney to defend you in your case. A skilled criminal defense attorney may be able to employ several defenses on your behalf. These may include:
- You did not make or send (or permit to be made or sent) any annoying or harassing phone calls or electronic communications to the alleged victim;
- You did not intend to annoy or harass the alleged victim;
- You did not use or permit obscene language, threats or repeated communication with the alleged victim;
- Your identity was mistaken for someone else; or
- The arresting officer did not make a lawful arrest and violated your constitutional rights.
Intent to Annoy or Harass
Intent is a key element in the crime of annoying or harassing phone calls. In order to be convicted, the prosecutor must prove that you intended to annoy or harass. If you did not intend to annoy or harass, your attorney can use this as a valid defense in your case, and you should not be convicted of violating California Penal Code 653m PC.
For example, Terry is a small business owner who uses a new automated telephone service that calls potential customers and plays a recorded message announcing a big sale in his store. The telephone service had a glitch that made it call his customers repeatedly for several hours. Terry should not be found guilty of violating California Penal Code 653m PC because he did not intend to annoy his customers with repeated calls.
Permitting Annoying or Harassing Calls
Another key element of the crime is permitting harassing or annoying communications to be made or sent from your device. If you permitted someone to use your electronic communications device, such as your smartphone, but you did not know they were making annoying calls, or would not have permitted them to do so if you had known, your attorney can use this as a valid defense in your case.
For example, Dan’s brother John borrows his smartphone for the weekend. John told his dad that he needed it because where he was going camping and his own phone would not get reception. However, John actually used the phone to send his ex-wife threatening texts, images, and videos. Dan would not be guilty of permitting annoying or harassing calls because he did not know what John was actually planning to do with the phone, and did not give John permission to use his phone to harass John’s former wife.
FAQs Regarding California Penal Code 653m PC
At Wallin & Klarich, we frequently receive questions from clients who have been accused of this crime. Some of these include:
My dad repeatedly called our cable company support and cussed at them because of their inability to solve our problem. Can he be charged with annoying or harassing calls?
Repeatedly calling a business to convey frustration and dissatisfaction over a product or service is not against the law, even if your father uses foul-language to express himself. While the particular circumstances would need to be reviewed by an attorney, typically a person would not violate the law by calling a business they are dealing with to voice a reasonable complaint.
I played a joke on a friend and sent them threatening text messages from a phone number they didn’t recognize. I was just playing around but my friend is angry. Can I be arrested for harassing phone messages?
Intent is a key element in the crime of threatening phone communications. You could be charged with this crime, however, your attorney may be able to show that you were playing a prank and did not intend to actually threaten your friend.
Charged with Making Annoying or Threatening Phone Calls? Call Wallin & Klarich Today
If you have been charged with making or sending annoying, threatening, or harassing calls or messages in violation of California Penal Code 653m PC, contact a Wallin & Klarich criminal defense attorney immediately. Our skilled attorneys have over 40 years of experience successfully defending those charged with making annoying phone calls and criminal threats. Contact us today. We will analyze the facts of your case and plan a defense strategy that will help you get the very best outcome possible in your case.
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) 466-5425 for a free phone consultation. We will get through this together.