Given that the world is fast-changing, it has become impossible to lead a life without essentials like electricity, telephones, and other essential utilities. The absence of these amenities makes it challenging to power our businesses, homes or even communicate. They need to be always properly functioning for people to remain connected and to be able to call for emergency help if need be. That said, it is against the law to tamper with the normal functioning of these utilities with malicious intent.

California law severely penalizes anyone who injures an electrical, telephone, or utility line. These consequences include incarceration, fines, and a probation sentence that will subject you to severe terms. You, therefore, need expert legal intervention as soon as possible if you have been arrested, under investigation, or charged with destroying utility lines.

At Los Angeles Criminal Attorney, we boast several years of experience in criminal defense and would be glad to help you with your case. Our strategy is evaluating all the case details to determine what to base our defense strategy on. This way, we will understand what defense will work and what will not should your case go to trial. But most importantly, we will fight to make your case dismissed or charges reduced even before it reaches the trial stage. Call us for a consultation to learn more about how we may assist you.

Describing the Crime of Damaging Electrical, Telephone, or Utility Lines

Most crimes classified as domestic violence do not involve abuse or physical assault. According to PC 591, injuring a phone, utility, or electrical line is unlawful. In most cases, this crime is committed when persons involved in domestic violence damage phone lines or telephone equipment to stop an emergency call or other contact for assistance. When the supposed victim is one of the groups of persons listed under Family Code (FC) 6211, damaging a telephone line is deemed a domestic violence offense, and the accused will be subject to particular mandatory sentencing provisions per PC 1203.097.

Damaging a Phone, Electrical, or Utility Line as a Domestic Violence Crime

You can face criminal prosecution under PC 591, irrespective of your relationship with the victim. But there are several cases where a phone line is destroyed as part of a domestic violence act against family members or loved ones. This could be done to stop the victim from calling emergency services or contacting law enforcement.

Although the statutory language of 591 PC talks about damaging or cutting a phone line, courts have interpreted this law widely to apply when a person injures telephone equipment. If you knock a telephone out of someone else’s hand, throw it against the wall, or disable it by taking out the battery, it would be deemed a PC 591 violation.

Elements of a PC 591 Violation

The prosecution must successfully prove these elements for the judge to find you guilty of violating this law:

  • You unlawfully removed, damaged, took down, destroyed, or disconnected an electrical/phone/telegraph, cable Tv line, or any mechanical equipment linked to the said line.
  • You illegally severed a cable, electrical, or phone line or made an unauthorized connection to an electrical line.
  • You did that maliciously.

You act maliciously when you intentionally do an unlawful act or act with the illegal intent to injure or annoy another.

Here are a few examples of the acts considered a PC 591 violation:

  1. Elena wants to acquire cable tv without paying for it. She decides to splice off service from her neighbor's cable box and, in the process, causes severe injury to the neighboring wires. Here, Elena could face multiple charges, including 591 PC accusations.
  2. Alex decides to plant a tree with her family in her front yard. When she starts to dig, she accidentally hits an underground telephone line, damaging it severely. While Alex did injure a phone line, she may not be convicted under 591 PC since her action was not intentional.
  3. Sam plans to rob a house and decides to cut the telephone lines first. He tries cutting the telephone line to only one home, but in the end, injures the lines providing phone services to the whole street. In this case, Sam could be charged with damaging the electrical or telephone lines.
  4. A couple is involved in a domestic argument. In the middle of the argument, the wife tells the husband she is contacting law enforcement. Right after, the husband angrily snatches the phone out of the wife’s hand and hurls it against the wall. Here, the prosecution can accuse the husband of a PC 591 violation because he deliberately destroyed his wife’s phone to stop her from placing an emergency call.

Defending Against PC 591 Violation Charges

Various legal defenses can help you if you have been accused of violating 591 PC. The sooner you contact an experienced criminal defense attorney, the sooner they will begin to work on your defense. Depending on the facts in your case, your attorney can employ different defenses, including:

It Was Not a Malicious Act

You are only guilty of violating PC 591 if you acted maliciously. Therefore, a defense is for your lawyer to demonstrate that you lacked malicious intent when you acted.

The Act Was Accidental

The accident defense is similar to the defense of no malicious intent. Here, your lawyer shows that whereas you may have damaged an electrical or telephone line, you did that accidentally. Note that PC 591 requires that the prosecution proves you acted deliberately intending to cause harm.

If your lawyer can cast reasonable doubt that the injury to the telephone, utility, or electrical line was done purposely, your chances of avoiding a conviction are higher. Your lawyer may be capable of negotiating with the prosecution for reduced charges.

You Acted Because You Needed to

Under the necessity defense, your lawyer will try to prevent your conviction by proving that you had a valid reason to violate PC 591. In the context of PC 591 charges, your lawyer can try proving that you injured or disconnected a line because you lacked any other choice. For example, they could argue that you damaged the line due to an emergency to prevent a criminal from talking to their gang.

False Accusations

In most cases, the injury to an electrical or telephone line is discovered only after the fact. This means people might need clarification on who damaged the line. You may not be charged with damaging an electrical or telephone line when you did not commit the wrongdoing.

Mistaken Identity

Most people are mistakenly accused of an offense, even when no malice is intended. Cases of mistaken identity have resulted in many people being convicted for offenses they were not part of committing. If you are a mistaken identity victim, you need to retain an aggressive attorney to defend you. Mistaken identity may occur when:

  • The actual culprit’s clothes, appearance, or even their car resembles yours.
  • A presumption that you committed the crime. For example, if you have previously been in trouble with the law and your neighbors know it, they can easily assume you are the culprit. If the telephone lines have been injured and someone sees you around where these lines are, they can misidentify you as the offender. This occurs if a witness’s description of the culprit matches your appearance.

A skilled lawyer may be able to identify the inconsistencies in the prosecution’s case and argue the mistaken identity defense. If the judge is convinced you had nothing to do with the crime, they will dismiss your charges.

You Were Coerced into Confessing

During interrogation, police officers sometimes force suspects to admit to committing an offense when that is not true. If law enforcement used illegal strategies to interrogate you, your attorney could poke holes in the resulting evidence by arguing this defense. Some unlawful tactics police officers use during interrogation include:

  • Denying you sleep, food, or water.
  • Continuous interrogation, even after you ask to speak to your lawyer.
  • Hitting you or threatening to punish or harm you.
  • Giving false promises to provide special treatment if you admit to committing the crime.

When the police use these strategies, an innocent party can surrender and confess to being responsible for committing a crime to obtain relief. The judge may exclude your confession from evidence If your attorney can prove you were coerced into confessing to damaging an electrical, phone, or utility line, a move that may result in a charge dismissal.

It is, therefore, critical that you inform your attorney of everything that transpired before you were arrested, during, and after interrogation. Every detail counts when developing your defense, regardless of the errors you might have committed since your attorney is on your side.

You Had an Alibi

By arguing the alibi defense, you are saying you were not at the crime scene when the offense took place, meaning you could not have committed the offense since you were somewhere else. For this legal defense to work, your attorney must bring witnesses to testify to your being somewhere else and not at the crime scene. The lawyer can also use surveillance tapes or receipts from your credit card to show that you could not have destroyed the electrical, utility, or telephone line. If this evidence persuades the judge, they may drop the charges against you and acquit you of the crime.

The consequences of PC 591 Violation

Violating PC 591 is considered a wobbler crime. A wobbler crime is one the prosecution can prosecute as a felony or misdemeanor. When deciding what charges to file, the prosecution considers various factors, such as the facts surrounding the case and the accused’s criminal history.

If convicted of a misdemeanor PC 591 violation, you will be subject to a jail term of 12 months and not more than one thousand dollars in fines. The judge can decide to sentence you to misdemeanor probation instead of jail. A conviction for a felony PC 591 violation, on the other hand, will subject you to a jail sentence of sixteen months, three or two years under AB (Assembly Bill) 109 realignment, a maximum fine of ten thousand dollars, and felony probation.

If the victim in question were a current or former spouse, girlfriend, cohabitant, boyfriend, child, co-parent, or family member, you would be subject to the sentencing provisions described under PC 1203.097.

Probation Terms

If the judge sentences you to probation, there are various terms you will have to comply with. The judge would:

  • Require you to serve a minimum probation sentence of three years.
  • Issue a restraining order against you prohibiting you from contacting the victim in question.
  • Fine you a minimum of $500 and require you to enroll in and complete a 52-week domestic violence batterers program.
  • The judge may also need you to complete a specified number of hours of community service.

Conviction Record Expungement 

If convicted for violating PC 591, you can have your conviction record expunged, according to PC 1203.4. Conviction record expungement is possible, provided you successfully served your jail sentence or probation term, whichever the judge imposed.

A record expungement relieves you of the challenges that come with a conviction. For example, sometimes, a conviction may prevent you from securing employment. But if you have it expunged, you can comfortably answer ‘no’ if an employer asks you whether you have been convicted before, increasing the chances of being employed.

You will also be able to rent an apartment, serve on a jury, receive a professional license, apply for a loan, or apply to college and graduate programs if your record is expunged, which may be impossible if you have a criminal record.

Crimes Related to PC 591 Violation

Many crimes are related to a PC 591 violation, especially because this violation is mostly committed when people are involved in acts of domestic violence. Due to the relationship, the prosecution can charge you with a PC 591 alongside or instead of another crime. Criminal offenses related to a PC 591 violation are:

PC 594, Vandalism and Graffiti

PC 594 is the statute that describes vandalism and graffiti as maliciously destroying, defacing, or damaging another’s property. Whereas PC 591 centers on the damage to a utility, phone, and electrical line, PC 594 applies to the damage to any property.

Vandalism is deemed a misdemeanor if the value of the damage is lower than $400. A misdemeanor conviction carries informal probation, not more than one year in jail, and a maximum of one thousand dollars in fines or up to $5,000 if you have a prior conviction for vandalism.

If the value of the damage is $450 or more, vandalism becomes a wobbler. A misdemeanor conviction would carry up to 12 months in jail, a fine of $10,000 or not more than 50,000 dollars if the damage amount were 10,000 dollars or more, and summary probation. A felony conviction would carry probation with 12 months in jail or up to three years of a prison sentence, a fine of up to 10,000 dollars or not more than 50,000 dollars if the damage amount was 10,000 dollars or greater, and felony probation.

PC 591.5, Damaging a Communication Device to Prevent Help

PC 591.5 makes it a criminal offense to maliciously obstruct or damage a communication device to prevent an individual from using it to ask for help. This law requires that the prosecutor shows that you damaged a device to prevent an individual from obtaining assistance. This element for ‘prevention for help’ is not included under 591 PC.

Damaging a communication device to prevent help is a misdemeanor offense. A conviction carries up to ten thousand dollars in fines, not more than 12 months in jail, and misdemeanor probation.

PC 459, Burglary

459 PC is the law that describes burglary as entering any residential or commercial structure or locked motor vehicle intending to commit petty theft, grand theft, or any felony offense once inside. Whereas a 591 PC violation is a distinct and separate offense from a PC 459 violation, a person usually commits a PC 591 violation while burglarizing a vehicle or property.

The penalties for burglary are based on whether you have been accused of second-degree or first-degree burglary. Burglary in the first degree is a straight felony punishable by felony probation, up to six years of prison term, and a fine not exceeding 10,000 dollars.

Burglary in the second degree is leniently punished compared to first-degree burglary. It is considered a wobbler violation, and a felony conviction is punishable by felony probation, up to three years served in jail and a fine of not more than 10,000 dollars. A misdemeanor conviction for burglary in the second degree carries summary probation, a fine of not more than $1,000, and up to a year in jail.

PC 136.1, Witness Intimidation

PC  136,1 makes it an offense to tamper with, intimidate, or dissuade the victim of a crime or witness. That means trying to prevent a victim or witness from testifying about or reporting a violation or cooperating with prosecutors or the police. A person can simultaneously violate PC 136.1 and PC 591 when they damage a telephone line to prevent a victim of their crime from calling the police to report the offense or when they cut off communication between a witness and the police to prevent the witness from giving the police crucial information.

Violating PC 136.1 is deemed a wobbler offense. A misdemeanor conviction carries a maximum of one thousand dollars in fines and a jail sentence of up to a year. A felony conviction carries a fine not exceeding ten thousand dollars and custody in prison for not more than four years.

PC 243(e)(1), Domestic Battery

PC 243(e)(1) describes domestic battery as using violence or force against a former or current spouse, fiancee, fiance, or dating partner, your child’s parent, or cohabitant. A person can be guilty of PC 591 and PC 243(e)(1) if they are being violent against any of the mentioned parties and, in the process, destroy telephone, utility, or electrical lines to prevent communication. Domestic battery is a misdemeanor. A conviction carries up to $2,000 in fines, misdemeanor probation, and a year in jail.

PC 422, Criminal Threats

PC 422 describes the crime of criminal threats as threatening someone else with immediate harm when you aim to, and in fact, do cause reasonable and sustained fear in them. Violating this law is a wobbler offense. A misdemeanor conviction carries one year in jail and up to one thousand dollars in fines. If found guilty of a felony, you will face a maximum of three years in prison and up to ten thousand dollars in fines.

PC 273.5, Corporal Injury Upon a Spouse

Penal Code 273.5 describes a corporal injury to a spouse as willfully inflicting physical injury upon a former or current spouse or intimate partner, and the injury causes a traumatic condition. The injury you inflict will lead to a conviction, irrespective of how minor it is.

Violating PC 273.5 is a wobbler. A misdemeanor conviction will subject you to a fine of up to six thousand dollars and up to a year in jail. On the other hand, a felony conviction will subject you to up to six thousand dollars in fines and four, three, or two years in prison.

Find a Skilled Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me

If charged with, arrested, or under investigation for injuring a utility, electrical, or telephone line, you want to discuss your case with a knowledgeable criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible. At Los Angeles Criminal Attorney, we understand how to defend clients accused of this and other related offenses effectively.

In most cases, our early involvement in a case before filing has led to charges being substantially reduced or dismissed altogether. To schedule a consultation if you have a case or to learn more about damaging utility, electrical, and telephone lines and related offenses, please do not hesitate to call us at 424-333-0943.