Damaging Phone or Electrical Lines in California – Penal Code 591 PC
California Penal Code 591 PC makes it a crime to intentionally damage a phone line and this statute is often related to domestic violence.
A PC 591 charge is frequently connected to an intimate couple in an argument when one grabs and damages their cell phone to prevent them from calling 911 or others for help.
Penal Code 591.5 damaging a communication device to prevent help is a closely related statute. It's described as maliciously damaging any communication device to prevent a person from seeking help.
In a situation where a victim of a Penal Code 591 PC damaging a phone line is connected to a domestic violence crime, then a defendant will face mandatory sentencing provisions described under California Penal Code 1203.097 PC.
Anyone can be charged with violating PC 591 damaging a phone line, regardless of relationship status with the victim.
However, this statute is mostly connected to incidents where a man in a relationship intentionally damages a phone line during an act of domestic violence against their spouse, family member, or cohabitant.
In other words, the primary purpose was to stop them from calling for help.
This law has been broadly interpreted by judges to include incidents of domestic abuse. For instance, if someone knocks a cell phone out of the victim's hand or throws it against the wall, then they could be charged with Penal Code 591 PC damaging a phone or electrical line.
Our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers are providing more detailed information below.
What is the Definition of Damaging a Phone Line?
Damaging a phone or electrical line is defined under California Penal Code 591:
- “Any person who maliciously takes down, disconnects, cuts, or obstructs a telephone line, or a line used to conduct electricity, including backup battery or other power supply, or severs any wire used to conduct electricity.”
Elements of the crime
The prosecutor has to prove several different factors in order to convict someone of damaging a phone line in violation of Penal Code 591.
These factor are known as the “elements of the crime” and listed under CALCRIM 2902 Criminal Jury Instructions, that the defendant:
- unlawfully took down, removed, severed, or obstructed a telephone line or equipment;
- created an unauthorized connection to an electrical line;
- acted intentionally and maliciously when performing this conduct.
In order to be held liable under PC 591, it must be proven you acted “maliciously,” which means your conduct was intentional and had the intent to annoy or cause injury.
Example of damaging a phone line
A common example of damaging a phone line charge under Penal Code 591 PC includes a scenario where a husband and wife become involved in a domestic argument.
During the heated debate, she tells him she is calling the police. Immediately, the husband snatches the cell phone out of her hand and throws it against the wall.
In this example, a prosecutor can charge the husband with Penal Code 591 PC damaging a phone or electrical line due to the fact he intentionally destroyed her cell phone to prevent her from calling 911. Aggravated trespassing is defined under Penal Code 601 PC.
What are the Penalties for Damaging a Phone Line?
Damaging a phone or electrical line under PC 591 is a California “wobbler” meaning the case can be filed as either a misdemeanor or felony crime. The filing deputy will normally base their decision on the circumstances of the case and your prior criminal history.
A misdemeanor Penal Code 591 conviction is punishable by:
- up to one year in a county jail,
- a fine up to $1,000, and
- summary probation.
A felony Penal Code 591 conviction carries the following penalties:
- two or three years in a county jail under AB 109 Realignment in California,
- a fine up to $10,000, and
- formal probation.
In a situation where the victim is considered part of a domestic violence incident, such as a spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend, or a member of your family, then your criminal exposure will include sentencing requirements under California Penal Code 1203.097 PC.
Terms of probation
If sentenced to probation:
- you will be ordered to serve a probation period of three years, and;
- protective order will be issued against you prohibiting any contact with the victim, and;
- complete a 52-week domestic violence batterers' program and pay a $500 fine.
It's also possible that the judge will order you to complete some community service hours.
What Are the Related California Crimes for PC 591?
Penal Code 243(e)(1) PC – domestic battery,
Penal Code 273.5 PC – corporal injury on spouse,
Penal Code 368 PC – elder abuse,
Penal Code 422 PC – criminal threats,
Penal Code 273.6 PC – violation of a restraining order,
Penal Code 273d PC – child abuse,
Penal Code 136.1 PC – dissuading a witness.
How Can I Fight Damaging a Phone Line Charges?
If you were arrested and charged with damaging a phone line in violation of California Penal Code 591, our criminal defense attorneys will review the details to develop a strategy against the charges.
Perhaps we can make a reasonable argument the damage to the phone line was an accident. Remember from the factors listed above, a prosecutor has to prove you acted intentionally with intent to cause harm.
If we can cast some reasonable doubt that the damage to phone was not done on purpose, then you have a better chance at avoiding a conviction.
We might be able to negotiate with the prosecutor for reduced charges.
Clearly, every PC 591 case is unique and we must take a close examination of the evidence to determine an appropriate defense.
Cron, Israels & Stark is a highly experienced criminal defense law firm representing people in all Southern California courts from our two office locations in Los Angeles County. Call our firm for a free case evaluation at (424) 372-3112, or contact us online.