While making multiple telephone calls to someone may start as a funny prank, it may lead to you facing criminal charges, particularly if these calls are threatening. Being convicted of these charges may subject you to time in jail, a criminal record, and hefty fines.

Some of the people accused of making annoying phone calls are not criminals. They are wives, husbands, co-workers, or exes who have merely made bad decisions. Sadly, one poor decision could change your life for the worse.

If you have been accused of making annoying calls, you want to call a skilled attorney immediately for help. At the Restraining Order Law Firm, we have successfully defended people accused of making annoying phone calls and other crimes in Los Angeles. We will advise you on your legal options and develop an aggressive defense against your charges. Contact us for a free consultation and to share your case details. 

Defining the Crime of Annoying Phone Calls

It is illegal in almost all states to make obscene phone calls, but in California, the law extends beyond the mere act of contacting a person and being vulgar. In California, it is unlawful to annoy or harass someone else with repeated, threatening, or obscene telephone calls or electronic communication.

The crime is described under PC 653(m). Just a single case of harassment via phone is enough to support annoying phone call charges under PC 653(m). Still, one instance will not often lead to criminal accusations. If there is repeated harassment or several phone calls, charges can be brought under this penal code.

The crime of making annoying or harassing calls is not restricted to contacting a person from a phone. It also involves sending pesky emails, text messages, or other forms of electronic communication. Charges under PC 653(m) are more serious than those for mere prank phone calls and are often brought in relation to cases involving stalking or domestic violence.

Consider this instance of a PC 653(m) violation: a couple is going through a disputed divorce process and is even residing in separate places. Their arrangement for child visitation has been hotly contested, and things have become uncontrollable. The husband resorts to making repeated, harassing, and threatening calls and leaves voicemails where he has used obscene language.

Unfortunately, determining what form of threats or obscene language can result in criminal liability for a PC 653(m) violation is difficult. State courts are also yet to figure that out. That means it could be challenging for a person to understand beforehand whether whatever they are doing or however they are acting is an offense.

Elements of the Crime

If the D.A. accuses you of placing annoying phone calls under PC 643m, they must demonstrate various facts, known as elements of the crime, for you to be convicted. These facts are:

  • You made or permitted electronic communication or a phone call to someone else.
  • The electronic communication or phone call was repeated, threatening, or obscene.
  • You intended to annoy or harass the person.

Making or Allowing Electronic Communication or a Phone Call

The first component, as far as the legal meaning of annoying telephone calls is concerned, is that you made phone calls to someone you were supposedly harassing or annoying or contacted via an electronic device.

Electronic devices include regular phones, cell phones, smartphones, computers, fax machines, pagers, and video recorders. Therefore, disturbing photographs taken on a phone and sent from it, harassing fax-sent letters, harassing emails, and harassing text messages would all be illegal under PC 653(m).

PC 653(m) also clarifies that you are still guilty even if the person you contact or call does not respond, and when they return your call, you use threatening or obscene language while talking to them. Put otherwise; you can be guilty of violating PC 653(m) by your conduct on a telephone call you did not place, provided you asked that the recipient call you.

It is also still a violation of PC 653(m) whether or not you sent electronic communications or made phone calls yourself. Letting another person use a telephone or communication gadget you possess or control to place an annoying telephone call or make threatening electronic communication suffices.

To be found guilty of annoying phone calls for another person's call or electronic communication using your telephone or gadget, you must have been aware the person was using your device to do so.

Obscene, Threatening, or Repeated Phone Calls or Electronic Communications

Electronic communication or a phone call must be harassing or annoying to violate PC 653(m). California law classifies the following three types of phone calls and communications as criminally annoying:

  • Communications or calls using obscene language.
  • Communications or calls that involve threats to hurt the recipient or their family member or property.
  • Repeated communications or calls, the content notwithstanding.

Of all these, phone calls that use obscene language are the most difficult to identify. People sometimes use the term "obscene" to indicate dealing with sexual acts and sexual-related content inappropriately.

However, courts in California have ruled that an electronic message or phone call does not need to include sexual-related content to be deemed obscene for PC 653(m) purposes. The language only needs to have offensive content or not comply with general standards of what is appropriate and decent for a conviction to occur. So, the language defining graphic violence or profanity, for example, can also be obscene.

The relationship between the party placing the phone call or making electronic communication and the recipient is critical in establishing whether the language used is obscene. If the parties know one another and have used strong words with each other on several occasions, the language that may appear obscene in certain situations may not be sufficient to make electronic communication or a telephone call annoying.

Furthermore, if the phone call recipient holds a public work position, for example, the individual handling a consumer complaint line, it is unlikely that a customer who calls with a complaint can be charged with making annoying telephone calls for utilizing obscene language.

Intention to Annoy or Harass

Finally, you are not guilty of violating PC 653(m) unless the D.A. can demonstrate that you aimed to harass or annoy the recipient. Put otherwise; you have not violated 653(m) PC if you send a message or place a call in good faith or with a legitimate business intention.

Penalties for Violating PC 653(m)

Violating PC 653(m) is considered a misdemeanor. The possible punishment for a conviction includes a maximum of six months of incarceration and a court fine not exceeding $1,000. Sometimes, a person convicted of violating PC 653(m) may be subject to informal probation. If you are subject to probation, the judge might order you to enroll in a counseling program for your probation term.

Crimes Related to Annoying Telephone Calls

Various crimes are closely related to a PC 653 violation because they have similar elements. As a result, the prosecuting attorney can charge you with making annoying or harassing phone calls alongside another violation based on the facts of your case. Or, they may charge you with a different violation instead of the initially intended crime of making harassing phone calls.

Crimes related to a PC 653(m) violation include the following:

PC 273.6, Restraining Order Violation

Often, defendants charged with making harassing phone calls under 653(m) PC have a pre-existing, longstanding relationship with the party they allegedly annoyed or harassed. Usually, it is an ex-spouse, girlfriend, boyfriend, business associate, or friend with whom the defendant has disagreed. In some cases, the recipient of the harassing phone calls or communications may have filed for a protective order against the accused.

If there is a protective order against you requiring you not to contact someone and you go ahead to contact them via text message, phone, email, et cetera, repeatedly or using obscene or threatening language, you may face charges for both violating a protective order under PC 273.6 and making annoying telephone calls or electronic communications under PC 653(m).

To be found guilty under PC 273.6, you must have broken the restraining order’s terms knowingly and willingly. So you must have been aware that there is a protective order against you and know about its terms, for example, the restriction on calling the protected person to be convicted.

Breaking the terms of a restraining order is a misdemeanor. A conviction carries up to a thousand dollars in fines and a maximum of a year in jail.

PC 422, Criminal Threats

Besides making annoying telephone calls, California law criminalizes criminal threats against another person. The crime of making criminal threats is described under PC 422.

Making threats in electronic communication or a telephone call is among the many ways a person can violate PC 643m. Consequently, defendants may be charged under PC 653(m) and PC 422.

You could be convicted of the criminal threats you make verbally, including via the phone, in writing, or via electronic communication such as fax or text message. You cannot be convicted of violating PC 422 unless the prosecutor proves all of these elements:

  • You intentionally threatened to illegally kill or cause significant bodily harm to the supposed victim.
  • You made your threats in writing, orally, or through an electronic communication device.
  • You particularly intended that your words be interpreted as a criminal threat and aimed that it be communicated to the supposed victim.
  • Your threats were so clear, specific, unconditional, and immediate that they passed a serious intent that you would fulfill them.
  • The threats made the victim reasonably scared for their safety or the safety of their family members.

Violating PC 422 is deemed a wobbler offense. That means the prosecution can charge the violation as a felony or misdemeanor based on the facts surrounding the crime and the accused’s criminal history. The penalties for a misdemeanor conviction are one thousand dollars in fines and a maximum of one year in jail. The consequences of a felony conviction are ten thousand dollars in fines and not more than three years in prison.

PC 646.9, Cyberstalking and Stalking

Another offense closely related to making annoying telephone calls is cyberstalking and stalking under Penal Code Section 646.9. PC 646.9 describes stalking as maliciously and willfully harassing someone and making credible threats against that individual, intending to make them reasonably fear for their safety or the safety of their family members.

Cyberstalking is when you stalk somebody using a telephone or an electronic communication gadget. Therefore, if you make a harassing or annoying electronic communication or phone call containing threats that cause the recipient to reasonably fear for their safety or the safety of family members, you may face charges under both PC 646.9 and PC 653(m).

Stalking is considered a wobbler crime. The prosecution can try it as a felony or misdemeanor based on the facts of the case and the accused's criminal history. If convicted of a misdemeanor, you will face up to 12 months in jail and one thousand dollars in fines. Felony penalties upon a conviction are a maximum of five years in prison and one thousand dollars in fines.

Fighting PC 653(m) Violation Charges

A prosecutor bears the burden of proving cases of harassing or annoying electronic communication or phone calls. If the D.S. cannot demonstrate all the elements of the crime, the judge should not convict you. But you want a skilled criminal defense lawyer to help you fight the case against you. An experienced criminal defense lawyer may be capable of successfully arguing various legal defenses, including:

The Insanity Defense

Often, people who use telephones and other electronic communication gadgets to harass, threaten, or annoy others have emotional or mental trouble. In these scenarios, the accused may successfully avoid conviction under PC 653(m) by arguing that they are insane. This defense means the defendant must not be convicted if the following is true:

  • They were unable to know or understand their actions when they were committing the crime.
  • They were incapable of telling what was right and what was wrong when they were committing the crime.

The defendant must demonstrate by a preponderance of the evidence that the above factors are actual. By a preponderance of the evidence, it means the defendant must persuade the jury that it is more likely than not that the above factors are true.

Whether or not the accused successfully demonstrates this, the evidence that makes the case for the insanity defense could be helpful in a different way. Evidence that the accused had mental issues when they made annoying communications or phone calls may persuade the judge to impose a probation sentence against them with counseling as a condition instead of subjecting them to time in jail.

A skilled criminal defense lawyer can assist you in arguing the insanity defense if it applies to your PC 653(m) violation charges.

The Language You Used Was Not Obscene

One of the elements of a PC 653(m) violation is for the prosecutor to prove you used obscene language while making your call or sending electronic communication, contacted the recipient repeatedly, or threatened them. If the D.A.’s angle in your case is that you used obscene language, your lawyer can help you fight the charges by asserting that your content did not meet the definition of obscene language.

Laws that criminalize expressing yourself in a particular way are highly likely to violate the constitutional right of freedom of speech, and PC 653(m) is one of them. Due to this, courts must be careful about letting a defendant be found guilty under PC 653(m).

Judges have therefore ensured to keep the definition of obscene language narrow. That means there are several options for fighting against PC 653(m) violation charges based on the allegations that you used obscene language.

No Intent to Harass or Annoy

Lack of intent to harass or annoy the party you contacted is among the best defenses you can argue against charges under PC 653(m). You cannot be found guilty under PC 653 if the D.A. cannot prove, beyond any reasonable doubt, that you intended to harass or annoy the recipient.

If you contacted the recipient in good faith or had a valid business intention for placing the telephone call or making the electronic communication, the prosecution may be incapable of proving the intent to harass or annoy, resulting in a charge dismissal.

You Did Not Permit Harassing or Annoying Phone Calls

Based on the facts of your case, another element the prosecution will need to prove is that you permitted annoying or harassing phone calls or communications to be sent or made from your gadget. If you allowed somebody to use your electronic device, like your smartphone, yet you were unaware they used it to make annoying phone calls and would have forbidden them from doing so had you known, your lawyer can argue this defense to help your case.

Find a Skilled Criminal Defense Lawyer Near Me

If you have been accused of making harassing or annoying phone calls in Los Angeles, do not record any statements with the police by yourself, or you risk making incriminating statements. Instead, contact an experienced criminal attorney to review the details of your case and advise you on your legal options.

At Restraining Order Law Firm, we are a team of highly skilled criminal defense attorneys with a track record of success defending clients accused of making annoying phone calls and other charges. We will thoroughly review your case and develop a defense strategy to achieve the best possible outcome. Call us at 424-600-7691.