Harassment via Telephone or Electronic Device in California

June 16, 2022 by Madison Ferguson in California  Criminal Defense  
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Harassing or Annoying

Harassment is regarded as any behavior, be it physical, written, verbal, or other, that is unwanted and could offend or humiliate another person.

With the mainstream popularity of smartphones and other electronic devices, some individuals have chosen to move their harassment to these popular devices and have a faster way to torture their victim through calls, videos, or written messages.

In California, harassing someone through a telephone or electronic device is a serious offense. If suspected of this crime, you could be charged with a misdemeanor under California Penal Code 653(m). This statute makes it illegal for someone to harass or annoy someone via phone calls or electronic communications. To be convicted of these charges, the prosecution will have to prove without a reasonable doubt the following elements of the crime:

Call or Communication Through An Electronic Device

For this element, the prosecution has to prove that the suspect tried to call or make contact with a person they were allegedly trying to harass through an electronic device. In this case, an electronic device can mean a smartphone, a computer, a fax machine, a telephone, or a video recording. As such, the following actions can be considered a violation of PC 653(m):

  • Repeated phone calls
  • Harassing emails
  • Harassing letters sent through a fax machine or any other electronic device
  • Troubling photos that were taken on and sent via an electronic device like a smartphone

You should also know that one can still be convicted under PC 653(m) even if your initial try to call or contact the victim did not pan out. Provided that the victim tried to reach back after the initial contact, after which you used vulgar or threatening language to humiliate or offend the victim.

You can also be charged under this statute if you did not make the call or try to contact the victim yourself. Provided that you let another person use a phone or electronic device you own or control to call or make the contact with a victim, and you knew the intended purpose of the contact was to harass someone else.

Used Obscene Language, Threats, or Repeated Calls

The California Penal Code Section 653(m) PC is very specific on what counts as harassment. Under this statute, three kinds of electronic communication would count as harassment:

  • Calls or communications that use obscene language
  • Calls or communications that have a threat to injure the receiver, their family members, or property
  • Recurrent calls or communications despite their content

Relating to PC 653(m), obscene language means using language or sending content that a reasonable person would not consider descent or appropriate. However, the relationship between the perpetrator of the phone calls or communication and the alleged victim of harassment needs to be taken into consideration before deciding whether the language was obscene or not. For example, individuals who have a close relationship and are used to using graphic language or language that may be considered obscene in other situations may not be able to bring charges under California Penal Code Section 653(m) PC.

Intent To Harass or Annoy

This is the last element of PC 653(m). To get a defendant convicted under this statute. The prosecution must provide solid proof that the defendant intended to harass another person through phone calls or communication via electronic devices. As such, a person cannot be convicted under this statute if they had a valid reason to call or contact the alleged victim.

What Are The Penalties For Harassing Someone Via Telephone Or Electronic Device?

You should know that if you are suspected of harassing someone via telephone or electronic device, you will likely be charged with a misdemeanor under California Penal Code Section 653(m) PC. If convicted, the defendant could be looking at:

  • Up to six months in county jail
  • A maximum fine of $1000

In some situations, the defendant may also be liable for misdemeanor probation.

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Contact A Lawyer

If you or a person you know has been accused of harassing someone via a telephone or electronic device. We strongly advise you contact an experienced California defense lawyer as soon as possible. We can help you understand the facts of your case and ensure that you get the best outcome possible.

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Seppi Esfandi is an Expert Attorney who has over 21 years of practice defending a variety of cases.

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December 3, 2019
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