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Harassing or Annoying Electronic Communication in California

The phrase “domestic violence” typically evokes images of assault on one partner of a domestic relationship. But the scope of domestic violence in California reaches beyond physical violence. That’s to say; physical touching is not required for a domestic violence arrest. 

We’ll discuss one example here: making harassing or annoying phone calls. According to California Penal Code Section 653(m) PC, these types of calls may be considered domestic violence, a criminal offense that includes penalties such as jail time.

What Constitutes an Annoying or Harassing Phone Call?

Before laying out the criminal elements, it’s important to note that this offense includes any type of electronic communication, so think about texts, emails, and messaging.

The communication is considered harassment when the language is obscene; the message threatens to injure the recipient, their property, or family members, or the defendant intended to annoy the victim by repeatedly sending messages.

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To convict a defendant, the prosecutor must prove that the defendant sent these types of communications beyond a reasonable doubt. When dealing with “annoying” communications, the messages don’t have to be offensive or obscene. When a defendant sends messages repeatedly even after being told not to by the victim, they could be convicted of a crime.

How is this different than stalking?

Harassing and annoying communications is an offense that is often tied to criminal stalking (California Penal Code Section 656.9 PC), a more serious crime with the potential to be convicted as a felony that results in a prison sentence. The difference is that stalking requires one to evoke fear in another by credibly threatening and physically following that person.

So, persistent harassing and annoying communications don’t have the element of fear. Instead, it’s the obscenity and/or the repeated contact despite being told to stop that is the violation. However, this can escalate if the content becomes threatening or if the communication violates an order of protection. In that case, the defendant may be charged with stalking and may face significantly harsher penalties. 

Penalties for Annoying or Harassing Communication

Typically, this violation is treated as a misdemeanor, which can mean up to six months in jail and reimbursement of court fees. The defendant will also have to contend with a criminal conviction on their record, which may cause challenges with prospective employers or anybody who chooses to conduct a background check. 

If you or someone you know has been arrested for harassing or annoying phone calls, it’s imperative that you contact DRE Law to discuss your case with a defense attorney. You’ll not only have a savvy attorney with deep experience in these types of offenses, but you’ll be backed by an entire legal team who will do what it takes to ensure you get the best outcome for your case.