Damaging phone, electrical, or utility lines in California is defined under Penal Code 591. The statute makes it clear that damaging the lines purposefully or maliciously warrants a person's severe sentences. Suppose you damage your neighbor's phone, electricity, or utility line. In that case, whether in a domestic dispute or from an intent, the crime can be considered a misdemeanor or felony, depending on the severity of the offense.

If you obstruct, remove, disconnect, or injure wires, cables, or any equipment part of the usable telephone, cable, or electric device, it's considered a violation of Penal Code 591C. You are likely to be held guilty of property crimes offense when you:

  • Cut a neighbor’s cable as a revenge for not honoring a deal you two had agreed on.

  • When you damage or remove batteries from a portable phone attempting to stop other people from using it.

  • Damage the phone lines with criminal intent, like committing assault, abuse, burglary, or murder.

In any case, you did such an offense, or someone committed such a crime to you, LA Criminal Defense Law Firm can help you file a petition to sue the perpetrator for the crime or help you face the crime case.

Why is Damaging Phone, Electrical, or Utility Lines a Serious Crime?

For someone to be convicted under PC 591, a perpetrator must have committed a crime with malicious intention. Compared to vandalism crime prosecuted under PC 594, damaging phone, electrical, or utility lines is a severe crime because:

People heavily rely on electricity and phones for communication more than before. The 21st Century era makes communication vital such that people utilize the internet both at home and workplaces for both business and pleasure purposes.

The electrical and phone lines are tools of the trade during emergency needs. When an emergency arises, it's only through phone calls that use electricity to reach the emergency response personnel. Therefore, an obstruction, disconnection, injury, or removal of the wires could make you be charged and found guilty of the crime.

Additionally, violating PC 591 has other crimes like burglary, domestic violence being prosecuted together with them.

What Does Penal Code for Damaging Phone, Electrical, or Utility Lines Say?

Under California law, Penal Code section 591 Pc spells out that “a person who unlawfully and maliciously takes down, removes, injures, or obstructs any line of telegraph, telephone, or cable television, or any other line used to conduct electricity, or any part thereof, or appurtenances or apparatus connected therewith, or severs any wire thereof, or makes any unauthorized connection with any line, other than a telegraph, telephone, or cable television line, used to conduct electricity, or any part thereof, or appurtenances or apparatus connected therewith, is punishable by imprisonment in the state prison, or by a fine not exceeding five hundred dollars ($500), or imprisonment in the county jail not exceeding one year.”

Elements of Penal Code 591

For you to be convicted before a court of law, a prosecutor must prove that you injured, removed, obstructed, or cut a telephone, telegraph, electrical lines, or any other device connected to the line which severed a telegraph, a cable, or electrical line used for conducting electricity maliciously or unlawfully.

Additionally, the prosecutor must also prove that with malice or illegally, you made a connection to another line, which is not a telephone or telegraph line used for conducting electricity.

Examples of PC 591 situation charges:

  • If you cut or destroy a neighbor’s telephone line because of revenge

  • Having criminal intention to damage a phone line hinders users from using it to commit burglary or murder.

  • Preventing phone users from using the device by removing a battery from a cordless telephone.

If you commit an act willing entirely, it means that you acted on purpose. However, it doesn't imply that you had an intent to harm someone or violate a given law. In this case, you will be found guilty of PC 591 even if you did not commit the crime with intent like damaging a phone, electrical or utility line even though had no purpose of doing the act that led to the eventual damage.

For example, Schweiger fights with his wife. He pushes her to the wall and falls on the ground beneath the wall with several injuries committing PC 234e1, which is a domestic battery. In turn, the wife tries to reach the cordless phone to the emergency response unit. Schweiger dives in the air and knocks the phone down before his wife takes it. He removes the battery from the phone so that his wife can no longer use it.

Even though Schweiger did not damage the phone wires since the cordless phone had no wires connected, he is guilty of damaging phone wires under Penal Code 591

On the other hand, doing something maliciously means that you had the prior intention of harming someone or another party by committing such an unlawful act. Therefore, the prosecutor usually has difficulty proving you acted maliciously, but if they are able to provide evidences, you will be convicted of damaging electrical or phone lines. California courts have the view that Penal Code 591 does not apply to cutting or damaging lines only. It is also applicable to the acts that damage or disable electrical equipment served by or connected to the wires.

Here is a scenario of malice without intent:

Michaels phone line is not working, and he thinks the problem may be with the wires running in the neighborhood. He gets out and starts fixing the line; after some time, he gets exhausted and gets back to re-energize at his house.

Fast forward, the whole neighborhood begins complaining that their phones aren't working, and it dawns on Michael that instead of fixing the problem, he ended up accidentally damaging the wires further. What happens next?

Michael is not guilty of damaging cable lines under PC 591 because he did not act maliciously.

What are the Penalties for Penal Code 591?

Under the California law, cutting a telephone, electrical, or utility line is considered a wobbler offense. It implies that the crime may be prosecuted as either felony or misdemeanor. During the case, the prosecutor chooses to charge based on;

  • The specific nature of the offense: Here, it means the degree of damage committed in the commission of an offense, alleged motive, and the mitigating factors.

  • A person’s criminal history

  • Misdemeanor penalties

If you happen to have committed an offense and convicted of a misdemeanor of either damaging electrical, phone, or utility lines, you are likely to face the following consequences:

  • Probation in misdemeanor terms

  • Up to one year in jail

  • A maximum fine of $10,000

  • Felony consequences

On the other hand, if your offense is a felony, you will face the following punishments:

  • Felony probation

  • A fine of up to $10,000

  • From sixteen months to two or three years in jail under a State realignment program

What Are the Possible Defenses When Facing Damaging Phone, Electrical, or Utility Lines Charges?

When facing PC 591 charges, you are going to have a rough ride when you decide to have the fight solo. Most likely, you are going to be convicted of the charges and face the hefty penalties. Let fear not hold you back; it is better to speak out when in a problem. It's a noble idea to get in touch with a criminal defense attorney to argue your case.

The attorney may know effective legal defenses to apply in your case and help you get the best possible results. Here are some of the PC 591 legal defenses a lawyer can apply in fighting your charges:

  • Accidental Crime

When a damaging phone, electrical or utility lines offenses come up, most lawyers do present defense as accidental in most legal defenses. As outlined in the law, you are not guilty of committing PC 591 if the action was not due to malice like causing harm or injury with underlying intention. Same way, if you destroy utility or phone lines accidentally, regardless of your carelessness, you cannot be convicted under PC 591.

For example, if your TV failed to function and you suspect that the cable wires has a problem, it is wise to repair the TV cable wires from in-house then move to outside the house. While repairing the wires in the neighborhood, you may have caused more damage to the cables that were not as a result of intent making conviction under PC 591 not a possibility.

  • False allegations

In most cases involving damage, obstruction, removal, or destroying a phone, electrical, or utility line, the victim has a high probability of falsifying details to ensure the defendant is wrongly convicted. However, if you didn't commit the said offense, you cannot be found guilty of Penal Code 591. Such false allegations arise because of domestic violence, revenge, or spite if the victim intents to send away the defendant. When you're in such a situation, seeking a competent attorney's services could be the best option to implore.

  • No intent to cut or damage phone, electrical, or utility line

In as much as you may have damaged or cut the lines if you had no intention, there is no way you could be found guilty of an offense. For example, you can't prevent a person from calling the relevant authorities and cannot be convicted of the Penal Code 591.

  • No act of malice

If you didn't act maliciously while committing an offense, you should not be found guilty.

Offenses Related to Penal Code 591

When being prosecuted before a court of law, offenses relating to damaging a phone, electrical, or utility wires can be charged instead of or alongside the PC 591 offense. The crimes are:

  • Wiretapping known as PC 631

This is an offense in California law; it is where a person taps or wiretaps someone's telephone line without the owner's consent. It is only possible to tap a wire if you're one of the law enforcement officers. In prosecution, wiretapping is categorized under the wobbler offenses that give a person facing demeanor conviction a fine of up to $2500 and a jail term of up to one year. In case you're facing a felony conviction, you risk a fine not exceeding $10,000 and up to three or two years, or sixteen months of a prison sentence.

  • PC 594 – Vandalism

Vandalism offense is when someone maliciously and willfully defaces another person's property with marks, graffiti, or destroyed or damaged property. The law spells out that if the damage caused is below $400, you will likely face misdemeanor charges. In such a case, your penalties could be a maximum fine of $1000 and one year in county jail.

If the caused damage amounts between the range of $400 to $ 10,000, felony charges await you. In felony charges, the fines are up to $10,000 and one to three years in jail.

  • Domestic Battery PC 243 el

PC 234el makes it an offense to unlawfully or willfully touch someone else in a harmful manner. The domestic battery happens if the victim is an ex or current spouse, girlfriend or boyfriend, fiancé, cohabitant, father, or mother of your child. In most cases, such offenses are charged as a misdemeanor, and if convicted, you're likely to face a county jail time of 6 months and a fine of up to $2000.

  • Corporal Injury to a spouse PC 273.5

The law defines corporal injury as the act of willful infliction of physical injury on a spouse or partner. The injury eventually leads to harm or a traumatic condition. Alternatively, called spousal injury, bodily harm you cause someone counts as the corporal injury offense regardless of how minor the injury happens.

According to PC 273.5, committing a corporal injury classifies a wobbler offense prosecuted as either a misdemeanor or felony at the prosecutor's discretion. If convicted for a misdemeanor, you face a fine of not more than $60000 and a maximum of one year in jail. Felony offenses carry with it a fine of up to $60000 and a jail term of a range from two to four years in state prison.

  • Burglary

Classified under Penal Code 459, burglary is the unlawful and forceful entrance of a property, residence, or business premise to commit a theft or another crime. Even though the intended act might not have occurred, merely getting into the premise or property with criminal intent is a reason enough to be charged with PC 459. If charged with burglary, the charges come into two degrees: first degree and second degree.

The first degree is where a person breaks into a residential property, mostly homes intended to commit a theft or felony. The second degree happens when a person breaks into a business premise or property with the same intent, either to commit a theft or felony. In second-degree cases, it is considered a wobbler offense. If you are convicted of a misdemeanor, you will face probation, a fine of up to $10000, and up to one year in county jail. Felony convictions carry with it hefty penalties that include: felony probation, fines not exceeding $10000 and sixteen months, two or three years of county jail sentences.

If you face the first-degree burglary, most of the time, it is not a wobbler offense. It is deemed a felony and attracts penalties like formal probation, a maximum of $10000 in fines, two, four, or up to six years in state prison, and a strike under the Three Strikes Law of California.

  • Stalking

Stalking is when you unlawfully follow, threaten, or harass someone to the extent that the person fears their safety. According to PC 646.9, the offense falls under the category of wobbler offenses. If you're convicted of a misdemeanor, you will be subjected to

  • summary probation,

  • a fine of not more than $1000,

  • a maximum of one-year jail term,

  • confinement in a mental illness facility based in California

  • Counseling

  • The court will issue a restraining order on behalf of the supposed victim

Felony convictions attract the following penalties:

  • Formal probation

  • Up to $1000 in fines

  • A range of sixteen to five years in state prison

  • Counseling

  • A maximum of one year in jail

  • A sentence to confinement in California based mental institution

  • The court issuance of a restraining order on behalf of the supposed victim

  • Possible sex offender registration as per California PC 290

  • Harassment laws

If you are harassed at the workplace, you can report the non-sexual or sexual harassment to your employer to act appropriately. If the employer responds by taking corrective measures towards the harassment allegations, you are not at liberty to sue the employer. However, if the employer is not interested in taking action or is snail-paced at the said actions, you can sue the perpetrator and argue your case before a court. The employer can be held responsible for his/her conduct or the total failure to take up the matter presented before him or her. In other words, you can also sue the employer for not taking the appropriate corrective action.

  • Penal Code 422.6 – Hate Crimes

Mostly referred to as stand-alone hate crimes, this is where a person commits a criminal act by acting against another person motivated by prejudice against the character of the said individual. You can commit a stand-alone hate crime against a person because of his/her:

  • Gender

  • Religion

  • Nationality

  • Religion

  • Sexual orientation

  • Ethnicity or race

  • Association with a group or a person of the same characteristics

If you're convicted of a misdemeanor under PC 422.6, you may face summary probation, up to $1000 in fines, a year in jail, and a sentence to community service for 400 hours. There are PC 422.7 and PC 422.75, which differ based on sentence enhancements. However, the prosecuting attorney can resolve to enhance your charges to a felony on the grounds of the severity of the offense.

For instance, if you’re guilty of misdemeanor and hate crime, your charges become a wobbler offense. Here, your charges will be felony according to the specific facts of the case and your criminal history. The penalties for felony charges are formal probation, sixteen months, two or three years in state prison, fines of not more than $10000, or a penalty enhancement of one, two, three years in prison.

Therefore, it is vital to seek the guidance of an experienced attorney when you commit a property crime. Reaching out to a criminal defense law firm in advance before you are presented before a court of law is the best thing you can do. It will give the lawyers ample time to prepare a legal defense on behalf of you. The firm will send the best team of attorneys to appear in the court proceedings while you nurse your frustrations.

Find a Los Angeles Criminal Defense Law Firm Near You

Many times, you might think that you're alone in your damaging phone, electrical or utility line case. That is not the case; you may need a competent attorney to help you with advice and representation. Fear can hold you back and can be a significant weakness when arguing a case before a court of law. At the LA Criminal Defense Law Firm, we understand your predicament, and we are ready to help you.

Our firm has years of experience in criminal defense. So we are in the best position to hlep you and represent you in court proceedings. We understand that you may have done the crime out of anger and are sorry for the actions. Our team of lawyers will defend you in the court on accidental grounds. It's your time to nurse your frustrations while we do the task to bargain for a possible gain.

Call the LA Criminal Defense Law Firm to protect your rights. You should file your case for a fair hearing or hire an attorney early enough before it's too late. Reach by phone at 310-933-9439 if you are seeking the best result for your case.