A Washington Lawyer’s Perspective on Electronic Harassment.
In Washington, the criminal charge of telephone harassment is very similar to cyberstalking except it only pertains to telephone calls. The criminal cyberstalking statute covers text messages, emails, and other electronic messages, as does a civil statute pertaining to private communications we have written about in detail. even if they were sent with a cellular phone. Keep in mind that there are also Civil Protection Orders for Anti-Harassment that can be sought or fought. This page is dedicated to defending those criminally accused of telephone harassment.
In Washington, telephone harassment is criminal when an individual, with the intent to harass, intimidate, torment, or embarrass, makes a phone call (1) using any lewd, profane, indecent, or obscene words or language, or suggests doing any lewd or lascivious act, or (2) anonymously or repeatedly or at an extremely inconvenient hour, or (3) threatens to inflict injury against the person, their property, or a member of their family/household. Telephone harassment is typically a gross misdemeanor but in some circumstances, such as if there is a threat to kill, then it is a class C felony. Threats to kill can also result in Felony Harassment charges. The criminal statute for telephone harasssment in the Washington is Revised Code of Washington, RCW 9.61.230.
Prosecuting and Defending Those Involved in Criminal Telephone Harassment Cases
Who made the call and the intent of the phone call are the most important aspects of this charge. Disputing who made the call and the intent can be a defense. Simply because someone feels harassed does not mean the phone call rises to the level of criminal conduct and tracing down where the call came from through IP addresses or the telephone network is a process and not always successful. For example, it would be nice to argue that calls from “Rachel from Cardholder Services” is criminally harassing but it would be extremely difficult to prove harassment was “her” intent and who exactly called … Rachel or another employee using her name? While “her” calls would arguably fall under an anonymous designation unless subpoenas were successful and we tracked down the location and equipment the calls were made from, it also appears that financial gain was the motive, rather than harassment, intimidation, torment, or embarrassment. Similar arguments can be made defending clients in criminal cases … we are not saying they will work, but as lawyers, these are the kinds of things we look for and argue in each different fact scenerio.
A common case we see is constant, repeated calls in “family or business disputes” because someone is upset and wants a call back. Washington law says no conversations have to take place during the repeated phone calls. It does not matter if the person making the call truly wants to talk or usually does pickup. If the person being called does not want to talk, it can be argued that the repeatedly calling is being done in order to harass them into picking up the phone (we have seen 200 calls made and at these kinds of numbers it is clear emotions are driving the situation). This is not permitted. Doing this can result in another criminal charge or in most cases, are great foundational facts for a lawyer to file an Anti – Harassment Civil Protection Order against someone … we know … we have been involved in this fact scenario a dozen times.
It is also important to note that Washington Courts have interpreted the “extremely inconvenient hour” to have an intent aspect to it. For example, if an someone phones the victim in the middle of the night because they incorrectly calculated a three hour time zone difference, then this would not be a prohibited act or arguably a mistake not intentional On the other hand, if the caller calls 200 times in the middle of the day knowing full well the victim works nights and sleeps during the day, then that would be considered an “extremely inconvenient hour.”
From our prospective, these kinds of cases can be resolved by going to trial, but they can also be resolved by bringing the whole picture to the attention of the prosecutor. In our opinion, we have had a lot of success resolving these kinds of cases because we know sometimes prosecuting attorneys are willing to bend if mitigating facts are brought to their attention. Mental illness, stress, family illness, substance abuse anger issues can all be factors in why these kinds of charges can be filed. Talking with clients and their families so as to understand what is driving the problem and then addressing it is a common way we resolve these kinds of cases while minimizing the consequences of a charge. Remember, our role as Washington criminal defense attorneys is not to judge or to convict, but to find ways to mitigate and defend. If you do not give a prosecuting attorney a reason to treat a client or particular case differently, they won’t.
If you are concerned about an investigation or charge involving telephone harassment, it is important to consult with an experienced firm who can help you navigate these difficult waters. The Rhodes Legal Group has collectively decades of experience representing the accused and victims in these kind of criminal and civil cases. Email or call 206-708-7852 to set an appointment.