Vista Criminal Attorney is a prominent criminal defense law firm with over 60 years of combined experience in Criminal Defense. The Vista Criminal attorneys are well-versed in California Criminal Law and can handle criminal charges for damaging phone lines or equipment for their clients.
People depend on functioning telephones, electrical, and utility lines to stay connected with each other and ensure that emergency response services are never far away. As a result, the act of maliciously injuring the phone, electrical, or utility wires or lines under California Penal Code 591 is a serious criminal offense. If convicted, it can result in hefty fines and lengthy sentences in a state penitentiary or county jail. This offense is often associated with the charges of domestic violence, however, it can also be committed by someone trying to illegally acquire electricity.
How to Define the Violation of Penal Code 591 PC?
Under California Penal Code Section 591 PC, an individual is found guilty of violating this law if they unlawfully, illegally, and maliciously:
- Took down, removed, cut, obstructed, disconnected, or injured a telephone line, cable service, telegraph, electric lines, or mechanical equipment connected to the line
- Made an unauthorized connection with a line used to conduct electricity or mechanical equipment connected to the line
A telephone is considered to be mechanical equipment. A person acts maliciously when they willfully perform a wrongful act with the criminal intent to upset or harm someone else.
This crime is punishable by imprisonment in the state prison, or imprisonment in the county jail not exceeding one year or by a fine not exceeding $500.
In California, damaging phone or electric lines belonging to somebody else is a serious crime. In most cases, the crime of damaging phone, cable or TV lines is associated with domestic disputes. Even though this crime is considered a misdemeanor, certain situations make it a felony offense.
- Removing batteries from a portable phone in order to prevent someone else from using the phone;
- Cutting someone’s cable line for revenge or out of spite;
- Injuring the phone lines with criminal intent, i.e. in an attempt to commit abuse, assault, battery, burglary, abuse, murder, or some other crime
If someone attempts to steal power from electrical wires in their neighborhood to save on electricity bills, they could be prosecuted for maliciously damaging the electrical lines or making an unlawful, unauthorized connection to the lines.
On the other hand, if a person attempts to repair their cable since the cable company failed to provide proper assistance, and the person accidentally damages a line leading to loss of cable connection in the entire neighborhood, it wouldn’t be charged as a criminal offense. The person did sever the line but their intent was not malicious therefore they are not criminally liable under California Penal Code 591.
Similar Offenses to the Crime of Damaging Phone Lines
California Penal Code Section 631: Wiretapping
It is illegal to tap or wiretap an individual’s phone line without their consent unless the person tapping the phones is a law enforcement officer.
California Penal Code Section 594: Vandalism
It is illegal to maliciously and willfully damage or destroy someone’s property or defacing it with markings or graffiti.
Related Offenses to Damaging Phone Lines
Following offenses may be associated with the crime of damaging phone or electric lines:
California Penal Code Section 459: Burglary
Under Penal code 459, it is a crime to enter the premises of commercial or residential property with the intent to commit a felony or a theft while inside. Even if the theft or felony never occurred, simply entering the premises with criminal intent is construed as burglary.
California Penal Code Section 422.55: Hate Crimes
California defines hate crimes as harassing, threatening, or causing harm to a person simply because of their race/ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, disability, or religion. Depending on the specifics of the case and the defendant’s criminal history, this can be considered a stand-alone crime or include sentencing enhancements.
California Penal Code Section 646.9: Stalking
It is illegal to continuously follow, harass, and/or threaten an individual to the extent that they fear for their safety and/or the safety of their family members.
California’s Domestic Violence Laws;
There are several criminal offenses that are covered under the domestic violence statutes of California. Here are two examples of domestic violence offenses that are generally associated with damaging a phone or electrical line:
California Penal Code Section 243(e) (1): Domestic Battery
According to this statute, it is prohibited to unlawfully and willfully touch another person in a harmful way and the alleged victim of the crime is a fiancé, former or current spouse, girlfriend, domestic partner, cohabitant, or the fellow parent of your child.
California Penal Code Section 273.5: Corporal Injury to a Spouse
This statute defines a corporal injury as deliberately causing bodily injury – minor or extreme – to another individual. This penal code is often referred to as spousal abuse. Under this statute, it is illegal to purposely inflict corporal injury on a fiancé, former or current spouse, girlfriend, domestic partner, cohabitant, or the fellow parent of your child.
What the Prosecutor Must Prove for a Conviction?
In order for there to be a conviction under California Penal Code 591, it must be established that the act of damaging phone, utility, or electrical lines was committed in a malicious manner. This crime is a more serious offense than violating the Penal Code 594, the crime of vandalism, which is of similar nature.
The act of maliciously injuring phone, electrical, or utility lines are deemed to be a serious offense worthy of severe sentences upon conviction. The reason is our heavy dependence on phones and electricity to communicate and connect with each other on a daily basis.
If you remove, disconnect, obstruct, or injure wires for phone or cable services, you can be charged and convicted of this crime. In many cases, a Penal Code 591 offense is charged in combination with other related offenses such as burglary, abuse, or domestic violence.
In order to prove the defendant committed the crime of damaging a phone, utility, or electrical lines, the prosecution must prove the following elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt:
- The defendant willfully took down, removed, disconnected, obstructed, injured, or cut another individual’s telephone hard-line, cable lines, electrical lines, telegraph, cordless telephone, or any other equipment connected to these lines.
- The defendant committed these acts maliciously, unlawfully, and without the express permission of the alleged victim.
- The defendant made an unauthorized, illegal, and malicious connection in order to obstruct phone, cable or electrical lines.
When a person commits an act willfully, it means they did the act on purpose. However, it doesn’t mean that the person had the intention to hurt someone or break the law.
Under the code, “maliciously” means the intention to commit a wrongful act or hurt someone else. If the person does not act with malicious intent, they cannot be convicted of violating Penal Code 591 damaging phone or electrical lines.
It should be noted that if a person cuts the telephone and internet lines while inside someone else’s property with the intention to commit theft, they would be charged with violating Penal Code 591 as well as Penal Code 459 (residential burglary). This is a strike offense and a felony.
If someone connects an illegal cable line from their home to a neighbor’s without the permission of said neighbor, they can be charged with Penal Code 591, damaging cable and phone lines. If the amount of damage done to the cable lines was extensive or if significant damage was done to the property, the offense charge can be increased to a felony.
If there’s an instance of abusing a child while disconnecting the phone and internet lines to make sure the child is unable to call for help, in addition to the charges of child abuse, Penal Code 591 may apply.
If an individual breaks into their landlord’s property with the intention of vandalizing it and cuts the electrical and phone lines while inside, they will be charged with cutting phone lines under Penal Code 591, in addition to Penal Code 594, vandalism, and Penal Code 459, residential burglary.
Common Legal Defenses for the Charges of Violating Penal Code 59, Damaging Phone Lines
It could be difficult to beat the charges for violating California’s Penal Code Section 591. The offense of injuring phone or electrical lines carries stringent consequences. If you or a loved one has been charged with this crime, it is crucial to consult with a knowledgeable attorney. An experienced criminal defense attorney is aware of the most common legal defenses to fight against these charges.
One of the most important characteristics of damaging a phone line charge is the establishment that the defendant acted with malicious intent. If the defense attorney successfully proves that the act was not committed maliciously, the defendant will not be found guilty of damaging phone or electric lines. Even though the defendant may be found negligent of cutting the lines, it doesn’t automatically raise the conduct to a crime in violation of Penal Code 591.
Another common defense is that the incident was just an accident. California’s Penal Code 591 states that in order to be successfully convicted of the crime, the person must have acted willfully. If the incident was actually an accident, then the person did not act willfully, therefore, they did not commit a crime. If someone is driving on an icy, slippery road and the car spins out of control, resulting in them hitting a telephone pole and damaging the phone lines, they cannot be charged with a Penal Code 591 violation. Even if they did damage the phone wires, it was an accident and the person did not act willfully.
Penalties for Violating the Penal Code 591
Under the California law, this statute is a wobbler crime i.e. it can be charged as either a felony offense or a misdemeanor. Depending on the defendant’s criminal history and the specifics of the case, the consequences for violating PC 591 are as follows:
If convicted of a felony offense, the defendant will be sentenced to formal probation, levied up to $10,000 in fines, and/or sentenced for sixteen months, two or three years in prison or up to 365 days in the county jail.
If convicted as a misdemeanor, the defendant will be sentenced to a summary/informal probation, levied up to $1,000 in fines, and/or up to 1 year in the county jail.
There are often additional consequences in the form of civil suits from the alleged victim. Most often than not, the defendant is sued in a civil case for punitive damages in addition to the covering the repair costs. This could mean additional financial liability for the defendant.
Penalties for Similar Offenses
California Penal Code Section 594: Vandalism
It can be charged with a misdemeanor if the damage/harm to property is under $4,000. In that case, the defendant will be levied up to $1,000 in fines, and/or up to 1 year in the county jail.
It can be charged with a felony if the damage/harm to property is between $400 and $10,000. In that case, the defendant will be levied up to $10,000 in fines, and/or up to 3 years in the county jail.
California Penal Code Section 631: Wiretapping
If convicted as a felony, fines of up to $10,000 may be levied in addition to (but not necessarily) a sentence of 16 months, up to 365 days in the county jail, or 2/3 years in prison.
If convicted as a misdemeanor, fines of up to $2,000 may be levied in addition to (but not necessarily) a sentence of up to 1 year in the county jail.
California Harassment Laws
When an individual reports sexual or non-sexual harassment at their workplace, the employer is required to respond immediately. If the employer acts and appropriately takes action to correct the situation, the alleged victim cannot file a lawsuit against the employer. However, the victim(s) can sue their harassers.
If the employer fails to respond quickly and appropriately to the claim, they could be held liable for the harassment by failing to take corrective action. This means the alleged victim can sue their employer for not addressing the issue.
California Penal Code Section 646.9: Stalking
If the defendant is convicted of a misdemeanor, he/she will be charged with informal probation, up to 1 year in the county jail, up to $1,000 in fines, counseling, and/or living in a state-run mental illness institution. In addition, a restraining order may be issued by the judge on behalf of the alleged victim.
If the defendant is convicted of a felony, he/she will be charged with formal probation, 16 months to five years in a California state penitentiary, up to $1,000 in fines, counseling, up to 365 days in the county jail, and/or living in a state-run mental illness institution. The defendant may also be registered as a sex offender under California’s Penal Code 290. In addition, a restraining order may be issued by the judge on behalf of the alleged victim.
California Penal Code Section 422.6: Stand-Alone Hate Crimes
If charged with a misdemeanor, the defendant can be sentenced to informal probation and levied up to $5,000 in fines. They can also be sentenced to 400 hours of community service, and/or up to 1 year in the county jail.
In the case of hate crimes, the prosecutor may choose to raise the offense to a felony and the penalties may be enhanced with Penal Codes 422.7 and 422.75.
California Penal Code Section 422.7: Misdemeanor and Hate Crime Conviction
If the defendant is convicted of a hate crime and a misdemeanor, the penalties are raised to a wobbler. This means depending on the specifics of the case and the defendant’s criminal history, felony penalties may apply. If charged with a felony, the defendant is sentenced to formal probation and fines of up to $10,000. They may also be sentenced to 16 months or 2-3 years in a California state penitentiary.
California Penal Code Section 422.75: Felony Hate Crime Conviction
If the defendant is found guilty, they may be sentenced to an additional one, two, or three years in a California state prison.
Find a Vista Criminal Attorney Specializing in Damaging Phone Lines Cases Near Me
Everyone relies on telephone, electrical, and utility lines to function properly these days, and damaging these lines could result in failing to connect with emergency response services that could lead to death. It is a criminal offense that carries serious consequences for those who are convicted of the crime.
If you or someone you know or love has been charged with violating California Penal Code 591 damaging phone lines in Vista, CA, it is crucial that you consult with an experienced and proficient law firm like the Vista Criminal Attorney as soon as possible. With over 60 years of experience, our criminal defense attorneys are highly skilled in helping clients charged with criminal offenses like this.