Today, it is becoming impossible to live without essentials such as phones, electricity, or other utilities. Without these vital amenities, it could be virtually challenging to communicate or power our homes. We depend on their proper functioning to stay connected with our loved or emergency services when necessary. Therefore, it is a severe crime to interfere with or damage these useful utilities maliciously.
The California laws define penalties for destroying phone, electrical, or utility wires. Offenders can face jail terms at the county jail or pay hefty fines. If you or your loved one is arrested and charged with damaging utility lines, contact qualified attorneys to help you with the case.
At The Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney, we would be happy to discuss your case’s details and defend you in a California court. In this article, you learn about the law prohibiting the damaging of phone, electrical, and utility wires. You also learn about the penalties associated with the offense, possible defenses, and other related crimes.
Understanding Penal Code (PC) 591
California PC 591 details the law governing unlawful interference with phones and electrical or utility lines. This law makes it illegal to damage, disconnect, remove or obstruct lines or wires that connect telephones, electricity or cable services, and any other equipment attached to them. Often associated with domestic violence and burglary, this is a severe crime resulting in the offender incarcerated or fined heavily.
For one to face a conviction, the offense must fulfill the aspect of malicious intent. As compared to other crimes with a similar nature, such as vandalism punishable under PC section 594, this offense is more severe. Its severity links to the fact that today more than ever, we rely almost entirely on phones, and electricity, or other cable connections at our workplaces and even at home. Interfering with these vital connections’ smooth working is frowned upon by the law leading to its strict penalties.
Elements of PC 591 Per California Laws that Must be Proven by the Prosecution
The prosecutor has the sole responsibility of establishing some aspects for you to be found guilty of damaging electrical or utility cables and phones. It is because, in certain instances, you might have been acting in your best interests, oblivious to the extent of the resultant effects. These elements are as follows;
- You maliciously and illegally took down, removed, damaged, or interfered with telephone, electrical lines, or television subscription or any other mechanical connections attached to the lines
- You maliciously and illegally did the actions severing the cable connection, phone, and other utility wires and other connections attached to the lines
- You maliciously and unlawfully created an illegal connection on a line connected to the mechanical or electrical lines without authority
Additionally, if proven that you made any other connection that doesn’t relate to the telephone, cable television, electrical lines, or other connected equipment, you might face conviction. The prosecution will base their arguments on the irrefutable fact that your actions were malicious and were willfully intended to disrupt and interfere with the electrical or mechanical connections.
For you to have acted maliciously, the California law understands that you intended to injure another person, or your actions were unlawful and unauthorized. It is covered in Penal Code 7 PC that provides that malice (as used in the context of damaging phones and electrical or utility lines) means that your wish was to annoy, vex or cause injury to another person or that you intended to commit an unlawful act. It has to be proven or presumed as so by the law.
Examples under this definition include;
- You interfered with or cut your neighbor’s television cable wires out of spite or revenge
- You pulled down and damaged phone lines with a criminal intention of committing other crimes such as battery, domestic violence, or burglary
- You removed the battery in a piece of telephone equipment that is cordless so that another person cannot use it
For instance, in a domestic fight, Bill knocks out his wife, and as she scampers for the cordless telephone to call 911, he removes the batteries rendering it useless. Here, Bill did not interfere with telephone wires as the cordless phone had no auxiliary connections, but he will face charges under PC section 591 for damaging telephone wires.
On the other hand, you might have damaged telephone wires or electrical and utility lines but did not do so maliciously. You might not face charges if the intentions were not malicious.
For instance, you might have issues with your television cable that isn’t working correctly. Thinking that the problem is the lines connected from outside your home, you accidentally cut some of them when mending. The action causes a disruption of services to the neighbors. You cannot be charged under Penal Code 591, as your activities weren’t malicious, and were simply intended to fix a problem, and unfortunately went wrong.
In proving the case against you, the prosecution must ascertain that your actions were malicious beyond any reasonable doubt. They must prove that you intended to annoy or hurt someone else and weren’t acting innocently. While it is accounted for by the California courts that damaging phones and electrical lines don’t just stop there and apply to other cables connected to the primary lines, you can still prove your innocence through a qualified attorney
You must find expert representation since, as noted earlier, penalties for destroying phone lines, electrical and utility wires are severe.
Penalties for Violating Penal Code 591
Violating PC 591 is a serious offense. The offense is considered a wobbler under California laws. As a wobbler, it means that you may face a misdemeanor or felony offense if found afoul with the law. The prosecution team has to keenly look at the merits of the case before deciding what charges to press. The choice is based on;
- The allegations nature leveled against you, such as the degree of damage caused and the motive behind the damage
- The criminal history of the offender
If, after evaluating these factors, the court establishes that you should face misdemeanor charges, you may face up to a year in state jail, be fined a maximum of one thousand dollars ($1,000), or handed misdemeanor probation.
If you receive misdemeanor probation, the court will allow you to serve your sentence out of custody, under the court’s supervision. During this period that is typically between one to three years, you will be required to abide by specific terms of the probation, such as doing community labor, attending counseling, or paying restitution.
If it is established that the circumstances of the offense of damaging phone lines, electrical or other utility wires constitute felony charges, the penalty might be a little harsh. You may face sixteen months, two or three years’ incarceration at the state prison. You may as well be fined ten thousand dollars ($10,000) or receive felony probation.
Unlike in misdemeanor probation, felony probation lasts between three to five years. The victim may be allowed to serve part or all of their sentence outside of jail, following the probation officer’s close monitoring. Qualification is based on your criminal history and how severe the offense is, as determined by a court judge.
You will be required to pay restitution and report regularly to a probation officer assigned to your case. Violating terms of felony probation might lead to the probation’s revocation, and taken to jail, or harsher penalties imposed.
In most cases, a civil suit may be filed against you by the victim as an additional consequence. In the lawsuit, the victim may petition the court to have you cover the costs of repair for the damaged cable or telephone wires. It can put you in more financial strain.
The good news is, with proper mounting of defenses from your criminal defense team, you can fight off these allegations and have them suspended. The court can drop the charges, or you may receive lenient sentencing if there are convincing defense arguments in your favor. Below are some of the standard defense lines that your criminal defense attorneys can adopt.
Common Defenses Against Violation of Penal Code 591
Fighting off charges against penal code 591 requires very strong legal arguments in your defense. It is because violating the law by damaging or injuring phone, cable, electrical, or utility lines carries severe penalties, as discussed earlier. A qualified criminal attorney may argue using the following line.
The Damage was not Malicious
An essential aspect for sustaining prosecution and charging you for damaging phones and electrical wires and utility lines is that you did so with malice. Malicious intent must be proven beyond any reasonable doubt by the prosecution. The court must confirm that you were maliciously damaging the electrical lines, phone lines, or other utility wires because you were bent on vexing and harming the victim.
The defense team can argue that your actions were in no way malicious and never intended to annoy or harm the victim. While you may be found to have acted negligently in how you handled the wires, you might not be charged under Penal Code 591 as an offender. If the legal team can successfully argue that your intentions were pure and devoid of malice, then the charges against you may not hold.
It was an Accident
It being an accident is another standard line of argument that can successfully be employed by your legal team. As per Penal Code 591, for you to be guilty of the crimes under this statute, you must fulfill the aspect of doing the acts willfully. Therefore, if the whole incident is summarily assessed and successfully proven as an accident, then you cannot face conviction. The court may establish that your actions were careless, but it wouldn’t amount to satisfying the grounds for a sentence.
For instance, your car may skid and damage telephone wires on the side of the road while driving on an icy road. You may damage the lines, but the whole incidence would be argued as a typical accident. In this case, you did not intend to destroy the wires as you didn’t act willfully. You won’t be held liable for conviction if this is argued and proven by your defense team.
You didn’t Damage the Lines Intentionally
Acting with intent would see you convicted for damaging the phone, electrical, or utility lines. If you argued that your actions were never intentional, you wouldn’t face charges under Penal Code 591. For instance, if you mishandled telephone lines or electrical lines to the extent that they were damaged in your care but did not do so to prevent someone from using the phone to summon emergency response, then your actions wouldn’t be considered intentional.
The critical thing for successfully arguing using this line is by evaluating all the preceding actions and the circumstances under which the lines are damaged. Your defense team will help you pin together the details and mount a winning argument.
The Accusations Against you are False
If established that you never damaged, obstructed, destroyed, or injured phone, electrical, and utility lines, then you wouldn’t face charges under Penal Code 591. It may be argued that the victim is falsely accusing you of ill will and spite, or is out to settle scores.
For instance, in a domestic violence case, your accuser might cite that you went ahead and destroyed phones so that they may not call emergency response. A qualified legal team may show proof and argue that the said items weren’t damaged or weren’t destroyed by yourself, absolving you of conviction under PC 591.
Related Offenses to Damaging Phones, Electrical, or Utility Lines in California
Various crimes may be charged together with damaging phones, electrical or utility lines under Penal Code 591 by the court. At times, the prosecution may prefer these charges against you instead of the offenses under this statute. They are as follows;
Harmfully touching another person is referred to as domestic battery. The victim in this crime would be a spouse, a girlfriend or boyfriend, an ex, a fiancé or cohabitant, or your child’s mother or father. Crimes under this offense will be preferred to you under Penal Code 243e1. If charged for a misdemeanor offense, the penalties may include a fine of not more than two thousand dollars ()$2,000), or you may serve time at the state prison for a maximum of six months. You may as well receive misdemeanor summary probation.
It is unlawful to tap someone’s telephone and listen to their calls under California laws. It is contained under Penal Code 631 of the law, deeming these actions as a criminal offense. The only exception to this action is when you are a law enforcement agent.
If convicted of tapping or wiretapping another person’s telephone, you may be charged for misdemeanor or felony offenses, as the crimes are considered a wobbler. Misdemeanor offenses will attract a fine of up to two thousand five hundred dollars ($2500) or a one-year jail term in the state prison. Felony offenses will attract a fine of ten thousand dollars ($10,000) or sixteen months, two or three years in county jail.
Section 594 of the California Penal Code outlaws vandalism. It is illegal to destroy, damage, deface with graffiti, or mark someone’s property willfully and maliciously. If the total damage caused by the crime is below four hundred dollars ($400), you may face misdemeanor charges that will see you fined up to ten thousand dollars or a county jail term of up to one year.
As earlier stated, burglary charges are at times preferred alongside crimes associated with damaging phones, electrical or utility lines. Burglary charges are covered under section 459 of the Penal Code. The law concludes that it is unlawful to intentionally enter another person’s property, business premises, or residence to commit a crime or a felony. Regardless of the outcome of the illegal activities, the court may still charge you for burglary if you enter one’s property intending to commit a crime.
Burglary has two dimensions; the first-degree burglary is when you enter someone’s property to do a crime. Second-degree burglary is when you break into one’s premises, property, or residence.
The first-degree burglary as a felony will see you pay fines of up to ten thousand dollars ($10,000) or serve time at the state prison for up to six years. Second-degree burglary is a wobbler under which a misdemeanor conviction will see you pay a maximum of one thousand dollars ($1,000) or spend a year at the county jail.
A felony offense under second-degree burglary is punishable by paying a fine of ten thousand dollars ($10,000) or serving two or three years at the state prison.
Penal Code 646.9 of the laws of California prohibits stalking. Following someone, threatening, or intimidating them and making them fear for their life is an offense under this statute. As a wobbler crime, misdemeanor charges will see you receive a fine of up to one thousand dollars ($1,000), put on summary probation, or on counseling. The court may also hand you restraining orders, confined in a mental illness institution within the state of California, or jailed for up to a year.
As a felony, you might receive formal probation, be fined a maximum of one thousand dollars ($1,000), counseled, or confined in a mental illness institution. You may also serve a maximum of a year in jail, receive restraining orders, or be registered as a possible sex offender under Penal Code 290 of California laws.
Hate Crimes (Stand-Alone)
Suppose you are motivated by one’s characteristics and end up committing criminal acts towards them. In that case, you may face a conviction for engaging in hate crimes, as per Penal Code 422.6 of California laws. This prejudice on someone’s character may be motivated by their gender, nationality, disability, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, religion, or affiliation to a group with shared characteristics.
You may be fined up to five thousand dollars ($5,000) or jailed for a maximum of a year in the county jail for a misdemeanor hate crimes offense. A felony charge may attract hefty fines of up to ten thousand dollars ($10,000) or a jail term of a year, two, or up to three years in the county jail.
Corporal Injury to a Spouse or Intimate Partner
Under Penal Code 273.5 of California’s laws, the willful infliction of injuries physically on a person you are in an intimate relationship with to the extent that it causes trauma is corporal injury. As a wobbler, a misdemeanor charge would see you pay fines of up to six thousand dollars ($6,000) or serve a year in county jail. A felony is punishable by serving a maximum of four years in the county jail, or three or two.
Find a Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
Damaging phone, electrical or utility lines is a severe offense. The California law punishes offenders severely, and one can be charged with other related crimes. You could be on the wrong side of the law if you violate these laws.
If you are or your family member is charged with damaging a phone, electrical, or utility lines, contact The Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney. We will be happy to defend you in a Los Angeles court and ensure you receive justice. Call us at 310-564-2605 and speak to an expert criminal lawyer. We will fight to lessen the severity of the penalties or have the charges leveled against you dropped.