According to Washington State law, harassment can come in many forms, including phone calls. Because Washington State takes the crime of telephone harassment seriously, the penalties can be substantial. However, there are ways to defend against these charges.
Ahead, we’ll discuss what telephone harassment is and what you can do to form a strong defense.
How is Telephone Harassment Defined?
First and foremost, understand the definition of telephone harassment in Washington State. Telephone harassment can take many forms.
The Revised Code of Washington, Section 9.61.230 specifies that telephone harassment involves someone, “with intent to harass, intimidate, torment or embarrass any other person.”
The section lays out specific criteria regarding telephone harassment. According to the code, telephone harassment occurs when the caller does one or more of the following:
- Calls anonymously or repeatedly
- Speaks in an obscene or indecent way
- Uses offensive sexual language or “ suggests the commission of any lewd or lascivious act”
- Threatens to harm an individual, their property or their family members
- Calls at an “extremely inconvenient hour”
Remember that the intent must be present to classify an act as telephone harassment. For instance, a person who repeatedly calls someone’s phone may be irritating, but if they do not intend to threaten or intimidate, the calls do not constitute harassment.
Telephone harassment is a crime at both the state and federal level. The Federal Communications Act prohibits making telephone calls “with intent to abuse, threaten, or harass any specific person.” Read on to learn about the penalties that those convicted of telephone harassment face.
What is the Penalty for Telephone Harassment in Washington State?
The next step is understanding telephone harassment penalties. The Revised Code of Washington declares that the crime is a gross misdemeanor. If you are charged with a gross misdemeanor, you could face:
- A maximum of 364 days in jail
- A maximum fine of $5000
- A combination of both jail time and a fine
Keep in mind that the above gross misdemeanor penalties are the maximums. Many telephone harassment charges result in much shorter sentences and smaller fines. A skilled criminal defense attorney can help lessen your sentence or convince the other party to drop the charges altogether.
The caller is not the only person that can be charged for telephone harassment. According to RCW 9.61.240, “any person who knowingly permits any telephone under his or her control to be used” for telephone harassment can be charged with committing a misdemeanor.
There are some circumstances in which the penalty for telephone harassment increases. For instance, if the caller threatens to kill the individual, a class C felony charge can be leveled. A class C felony is a more serious charge than a gross misdemeanor. Penalties for a class C felony can include five years of confinement and/or a fine of $10,000.
Due to the seriousness of the penalties, building a strong defense is crucial. Below, we’ll explore how to approach this important step.
Defending Against Charges of Telephone Harassment
There are different lines of defense an attorney can take to fight against telephone harassment charges on your behalf. One option is to argue that you did not intend to harass when you made the call or calls.
The burden to prove that the intent to harass was present is on the prosecuting attorney’s office. A knowledgeable criminal defense attorney can work on your behalf to dispute the intent of the calls. If intent cannot be established, the charges won’t stand in a court of law.
Depending on your situation, an attorney may choose to use this line of defense, another that is more relevant or a combination of defenses to fortify your case.
If you’re under criminal investigation for telephone harassment, your attorney will guide you through the process and protect you from incriminating yourself when speaking with law enforcement.
The earlier you involve an attorney, the better. Their knowledge of your rights and the applicable laws can prevent charges from being filed or assist in fighting them down the road.
Protect Yourself Against Charges of Telephone Harassment
Whether you’re under investigation or facing charges of telephone harassment, you have the right to a skilled criminal defense attorney. The experienced team at Will & Will has over 35 years of combined experience. At Will & Will, you can get your questions answered and learn about the legal options you have.
Schedule a free consultation today to receive insight into the right course of action for your situation.