Posted on September 11, 2015

California Penal Code § 653m(a): Annoying Phone Calls

In California, Penal Code § 653m(a) defines the law making an annoying phone call which provides, “Every person who, with intent to annoy, telephones or makes contact by means of an electronic communication device with another and addresses to or about the other person any obscene language or addresses to the other person any threat to inflict injury to the person or property of the person addressed or any member of his or her family, is guilty of a misdemeanor.”

This charge is applicable to an individual who is accused of only making one single phone call and not multiple. Under this section, the prosecutor must prove that you harbored the intent to make an annoying phone call and that you used obscene language to the recipient or that you made a threat to inflict great bodily injury or death. In the event you threatened to commit great bodily injury or death, the prosecutor may elect to charge you with conveying a criminal threat in violation of P.C. § 422.

The term “obscene language” is a question of fact for the jury to determine. In particular, obscene language, within a constitutional meaning, are words that would be offensive to the reasonable person. Sometimes a viable defense can be made under the First Amdenment in that you were freely exercising your free speech right within the legal guidelines of the U.S. Constitution.

At the first court appearance, the judge usually imposes a protective order barring all communications with the individual you are accused of making the phone call to. If subsequently convicted, you could face custody time in the county jail, fines, probation, and the court usually imposes anger management classes.

As an example, suppose you make a phone call to someone you dislike and leave a message for them saying, “Watch Out!” Phone records track your number as the caller and you’re subsequently arrested by police. A viable defense would be that you made no threat to use great bodily injury. However, the real question will turn on whether a reasonable person would find the message of “Watch Out!” as obscene language. Because the words “Watch Out!” could have multiple interpretations, it’s possible a jury could find those words not annoying and acquit you on that basis.

If accused of committing this violation, normally you receive a phone call from a detective questioning you in regards to making the call. It would be in your best interest not to make any statement and contact a lawyer right away. If you have been accused of committing a violation of P.C. § 653m(a), contact Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney John Rogers for a free confidential consultation concerning your rights and defenses.

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