The act of intentionally damaging a phone, electrical, or any utility line is a malicious, if not harmful, deed. It can result in a plethora of consequences, i.e., loss of necessary connections like electricity, water, or internet connection— all necessary for everyday living, especially in a modern world. In the state of California, not only is it frowned upon but also considered as a criminal offense under California Penal Code PC 591.
California Penal Code PC 591
The statute states that “A person who unlawfully and maliciously takes down, removes, injures, disconnects, cuts, or obstructs a line of telegraph, telephone, or cable television, or any line used to conduct electricity, or any part thereof, or appurtenances or apparatus connected therewith, including, but not limited to, a backup deep cycle battery or other power supply, or severs any wire thereof, or makes an 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 subject to punishment by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year, by a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by both that imprisonment and fine, or by imprisonment in a county jail for 16 months, two or three years, and a fine of up to ten thousand dollars ($10,000).”
Punishment for damaging phone, electrical, and utility lines
The violations committed under PC 591 are considered as wobbler offenses. A wobbler offense is a criminal act where the prosecution's charges can determine the penalties' severity. Damaging phone, electrical, and utility lines can be charged with either a misdemeanor or a felony. Misdemeanors are criminal offenses more severe than infractions but less serious compared to Felonies. The former typically come with prison time in county jails while the former's sentences are usually served in state prisons.
- (1) year; and/or
- A fine of no more than one thousand dollars ($1,000).
When charged as a felony, the punishment includes:
- Imprisonment in a county jail for sixteen (16) months up to three (3) years; and/or
- A fine of no more than ten thousand dollars ($10,000).
However, if a judge sees it fit, he/she can grant a misdemeanor offender summary probation. Summary probation is a condition alternative to serving time in prison. This gives the offender the privilege to serve his/her sentence outside of jail while under the court's strict supervision. These probations usually last between a year up to three (3) years, depending on the severity of the case and the court's verdict.
Legal defenses when facing PC 591 charges
Fighting a legal battle against PC 591 accusations requires specific details to prove the defendant's innocence. A competent defense lawyer might include some of the following conditions on their case:
- Committed the act unintentionally; or
- Committed the act out of necessity.
Committed the act unintentionally
A defendant may use the reasoning that what he/she did was unintentional. There was no malicious intent during the deed or that the act was a result of an accident.
Jonathan accidentally crashed his vehicle in a telephone line due to faulty repair work. The entire block lost their connection due to the damage inflicted by the accident.
Committed the act out of necessity
A defendant may use the reasoning that what he/she did was out of necessity because of the specific situation that he/she got himself/herself in and that there was no other choice, i.e., accidents or emergencies.
After a storm, Allan had to cut a utility line hanging on his backyard because of the risks it carries. It might start a fire in his house if he did not do anything.
Being charged with committing offenses under California Penal Code PC 591 because of causing damage to any phone, electrical, and/or utility lines can greatly detriment a person's way of living. Aside from the nuisance legal battle, he/she might also be at risk of facing time in prison or monetary fines. Also, criminal charges can tarnish one's reputation because these can be reflected in his/her personal records. Having criminal records can affect the accused's chances of being granted civic and social privileges. It can also greatly impact his/her career opportunities. That is why if you or anyone you ever had the misfortune of facing legal charges, it would be your party's best interest to employ legal assistance from our roster of credible California defense attorneys.
- PC 459 – Burglary
- PC 591.5 – Damaging communication device
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