Under California Penal Code Section 591 it is illegal to maliciously and purposely damage, obstruct, disconnect remove, or otherwise injure wires, cables, television, or any equipment that is used for a telephone, cable, or electric service.
Often the crime of damaging phone, electrical, or utility lines is charged in combination with other offenses such as burglary or domestic violence. For committing this crime during an episode of domestic violence or burglary the defendant can face harsher charges than under California Penal Code Section 594 Vandalism.
Elements of the crime
Prosecutor must establish the following elements to prove that the defendant is guilty of this damaging phone, electrical or utility lines under PC Section 591:
- Defendant illegally and maliciously took down, damaged, removed or obstructed a telephone, cable television or electrical line or mechanical equipment connected to the line, or
- Defendant illegally and maliciously severed a telephone, cable television or electrical line or
- Defendant illegally and maliciously made an unauthorized connection with a line used to conduct mechanical equipment or electricity connected to the line
The defendant can also be charged with criminal obstructing or cutting electrical or telephone lines as a result of illegally making an unlawful connection with an electrical line.
For the purposes of PC Section, 594 acting maliciously means that defendant had the intention to injure another one or do an unlawful act while accessing the electrical, phone, or cable lines.
Legal defenses for California Penal Code Section 591 Charges
An accident is the most common defense for these cases. In order to be successfully convicted of a violation of Penal code Section 591, the defendant must have acted willfully. If the incident was an accident then the defendant not act deliberately then he did not commit a crime.
Penalties for violating California Penal Code Section 594
In California law illegally and maliciously injuring electrical, cable or telephone lines is a wobbler and can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the case facts and the defendant’s criminal history. The prosecutor will also take into account the extent of damage and the reason for the defendant’s actions.
Penalties for a misdemeanor conviction are the following:
- Up to one year in a county jail
- A fine of up to 1,000
- Misdemeanor (summary) probation
Penalties for a felony conviction are the following:
- Felony (formal) probation;
- Sixteen months, two or three years in a county jail under California’s realignment program;
- A fine of up to $10,000.
Additional consequences can include possible civil suits from the victims. Thus the defendant can face additional financial liability if he is sued in a civil case for punitive damages for covering the cost of repairs.
- California Penal Code Section 594: Vandalism
- California Penal Code Section 243(e) (1): Domestic Violence
- California Penal Code Section 459: Burglary