911 service hotlines are intended for emergency purposes. With these hotlines' help, the command center can deploy local enforcement and response units to the field in the quickest time possible. They respond to about anything under the weather as long as it is an emergency. This includes police response and emergency respondents like fire, medical, and rescue units.
However, people are still calling these hotlines for unnecessary, if not unlawful, reasons despite its intended purposes. This is very harmful to the people in need of immediate response and the emergency team themselves. Acts like this can interfere with the emergency command center's job. It can lead to delayed, if not unresponded, situations. To avoid these unfortunate situations, California enacted PC 653y to penalize violators and discourage people from interfering with the emergency hotline by unlawfully calling it.
California Penal Code PC 653y is the statute that penalizes the act of unlawfully calling the 911 emergency hotline.
What counts as emergency situations?
For purposes of this section, "emergency" means any condition in which emergency services will result in the saving of a life, a reduction in the destruction of property, quicker apprehension of criminals, or assistance with potentially life-threatening medical problems, a fire, a need for rescue, an imminent potential crime, or a similar situation in which immediate assistance is required.
What acts can be considered as unlawful calling?
- False calls,
- Prank calls,
- Calling with malicious intent,
- Repeatedly calling and hanging up, or
- Sending an emergency response team to a wild goose chase.
Penalties for violating California Penal Code 653y
For a first violation, a written warning shall be issued to the violator by the public safety entity originally receiving the call describing the punishment for subsequent violations. The written warning shall inform the recipient to notify the issuing agency that the warning was issued inappropriately if the recipient did not make, or knowingly allow the use of the 911 telephone system for, the nonemergency 911 call. The law enforcement agency may provide educational materials regarding the appropriate use of the 911 telephone system.
For a second or subsequent violation, a citation may be issued by the public safety entity originally receiving the call pursuant to which the violator shall be subject to the following penalties that may be reduced by a court upon consideration of the violator's ability to pay:
- For a second violation, a fine of fifty dollars ($50).
- For a third violation, a fine of one hundred dollars ($100).
- For a fourth or subsequent violation, a fine of two hundred fifty dollars $250.
Unlawfully calling the 911 hotline, though only an infraction, is still a criminal offense. The most common reasons that defendants use for their case is that they:
- The defendant did not intend to call unlawfully,
- The defendant was forced to call unlawfully, or
It was not an unlawful call.
Unintentional – An allegation can be challenged by arguing that the defendant did not intend to call unlawfully. Conditions like accidental calls, technical difficulties, and the likes can be grounds for unintentionally calling 911.
Duress – An allegation can be challenged by claiming that the defendant only did the deed because he/she was under duress. Duress is a form of coercion that forces a person to do things he/she does not want to do by using threats and violence.
Not unlawful – An allegation can be challenged by claiming that the call was not supposed to be unlawful. There might be an emergency that has already been resolved before the arrival of the response team. This reasoning can also be used as a defense when the defendant called out of fear, but the threat had already left when the response unit arrived.
Infractions, despite being the lowest when it comes to a criminal offense's level of severity, can still be a hassle. To avoid being entangled in such legal disputes, it would be in your best interest to employ our California based lawyers. Our attorneys can represent you in any legal proceedings; there, they can use their expertise in exercising your rights so you or your party can be free from legal troubles.
- California Penal Code PC 422 – Criminal threats
- California Penal Code PC 646.9 – Cyberstalking
- California Penal Code PC 653m – Annoying Phone Calls
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