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Damaging Phone, Electrical or Utility Lines - California Penal Code 591 PC

The Crime of Damaging a Phone Line - Penal Code 591 PC

There are some domestic violence related crimes in California that don't involve acts of physical abuse on a victim. For example, under California Penal Code 591 PC, it's a crime to damage a phone, electrical or utility line.

In many cases, this PC 591 criminal charge is directly connected to people involved in a heated domestic violence incident. This crime occurs when someone may damage telephone equipment or phone lines to:

Damaging Phone, Electrical or Utility Lines - California Penal Code 591
PC 591 makes it a crime to damage a phone line and it's often connected to preventing a domestic violence victim from calling for help.
  • prevent an emergency 911 call to police, or
  • call other people for help.

It should be noted there is a closely related statute that may be charged based on the circumstances of the case.

Penal Code 591.5 describes the crime of damaging a communication device with intent to prevent getting help.

This statue makes it a crime for someone to maliciously damage any communication device to prevent somebody to seek help. 

When the victim of a Penal Code 591 damaging a phone line is considered part of a domestic violence crime, the defendant will be subjected to mandatory sentencing provisions that are described under California Penal Code 1203.097 PC.

It should also be noted that a defendant could be charged with Penal Code 591 PC regardless of their relationship with an alleged victim.

However, there are almost endless incidents where intentionally damaging a phone line is directly connected to an act of domestic violence against a:

  • spouse,
  • family member, or
  • cohabitant.

In most cases the act was to prevent them from calling for help.

Criminal courts have broadly interpreted this law to apply when someone damages phone equipment in domestic violence cases.

Example of damaging a phone line

For example, if a defendant slaps a phone out of a victim's hand, breaks the phone, or removes the battery, it could be considered a violation of California Penal Code 591 PC.

To give readers a better understanding of damaging a phone or electrical line related to domestic violence, our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers are providing an overview below.

What is the Definition of PC 591 Damaging Phone Line?

California Penal Code 591 defines the crime of damaging a phone or electrical line as:

  • Anyone who unlawfully and maliciously takes down, removes, disconnects, cuts, or obstructs a telephone line, or any line used to conduct electricity, or apparatus connected, including backup battery or other power supply, or severs any wire used to conduct electricity.

In order to be convicted of damaging a phone or electrical line defined under Penal Code 591 PC, the prosecutor must be able to prove all the elements of the crime listed under CALCRIM 2902 Jury Instructions:

Definition of PC 591 Damaging Phone or Electrical Line
Penal Code 591 is described as maliciously disconnecting, cutting, or obstructing a telephone line,
  • You unlawfully took down, removed, damaged, severed, or obstructed a telephone or equipment that is connected to the line;
  • You made an unauthorized connection to an electrical line;
  • You acted maliciously when you performed this conduct.

It should be noted that you must have “maliciously” acted to be held criminally liable for Penal Code 591.

The term maliciously means it was an international act with the unlawful intent to annoy or injure someone.

Example of damaging a phone line related to domestic violence

An example of a Penal Code 591 damaging a phone or electrical line case include a situation where a man becomes involved in a heated verbal argument and a physical confrontation with his wife.

She tells her husband she is going to call the police to report the domestic abuse. In response, he grabs her cell phone out of her hand and smashes it against the wall.

In this scenario, he could be charged with a crime for damaging a phone in violation of Penal Code 591 because he maliciously destroyed her cell phone.

What are the Penalties for Damaging a Phone Line?

As noted, Penal Code 591 damaging a phone or electrical line is a “wobbler” offense that means a prosecutor has the discretion to file the case as either a misdemeanor or felony offense.

They will typically make their filing decision based on the underlying facts of the case and your prior criminal record.

If convicted of PC 591 as a misdemeanor, the penalties include:

Penalties for PC 591 Damaging a Phone Line
If convicted of PC 591, you will be required to complete a 52-week domestic violence batterers’ program.
  • one year in a county jail,
  • a fine up to $1,000, and
  • summary probation.

If convicted of PC 591 as a felony, you will be facing:

  • two or three years in a county jail under AB 109 Realignment in California,
  • a fine up to $10,000, and
  • formal probation.

If the victim falls under the category of a domestic violence, such as was a former or current spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend, cohabitant, co-parent, family member, then the case would be subjected to sentencing requirements under California Penal Code 1203.097 PC.

This means if you are sentenced to probation, you will be required to serve a probation period of 3 years, and the court will issue a protective order against you prohibiting any contact with the victim.

You will also be required to complete a 52-week domestic violence batterers' program and pay a $500 fine. In addition, the could might you to complete a certain amount of community service hours.

What are the Related California Offenses for Penal Code 591 PC?

Penal Code 136.1 PC – Witness Intimidation

Penal Code 243(e)(1) PC – Domestic Battery

Penal Code 273d PC – Child Abuse

Penal Code 273.5 PC – Corporal Injury to Spouse

Penal Code 273.6 PC – Violating a Restraining Order

Penal Code 368 PC – Elder Abuse

Penal Code 422 PC – Criminal Threats

Penal Code 594 PC - Vandalism

How Can I Fight PC 591 Damaging a Phone Line Charges?

If you have been charged with Penal Code 591 damaging a phone or electrical line, our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers will need to closely examine the details in order to prepare a strategy for best possible outcome.

Fighting PC 591 Damaging a Phone Line Charges
If accused of PC 591 damaging a phone line, we might be able to argue it was an accident.

We might be able to make an argument that damaging the telephone or electrical line was an accident.

Recall from the elements of the crime above that you can't be guilty of PC 591 unless it can be proven that you acted maliciously, with intent to cause harm or injury.

This is commonly known as an “accident” defense.

Eisner Gorin LLP is a top-ranked criminal defense law firm with a track record of success and we might be able to negotiate for reduced charges or even a case dismissal. 

We are located at 1875 Century Park E #705, Los Angeles, CA 90067. We also have an office in the San Fernando Valley at 14401 Sylvan St #112 Van Nuys, CA 91401.

Contact us for a consultation at (310) 328-3776.

We speak English, Russian, Armenian, and Spanish.

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