A Washington Lawyer’s Perspective on Telephone 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, 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.\
Defending Those Involved in Criminal Telephone Harassment Cases.
The intent of the phone call is the most important aspect of this charge and disputing intent can be a defense. Simply because someone feels harassed does not mean the phone call rises to the level of criminal conduct. 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. While “her” calls would arguably fall under an anonymous designation, it appears financial gain is the motive, rather than harassment, intimidation, torment, or embarrassment. Similar arguments can be made defending clients in criminal cases.
A common case we see is constant, repeated calls in family and business disputes because our client is upset. 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. 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. This is not permitted. Doing this can result in another criminal charge or in many cases, it is a basis for asking for an Anti – Harassment Civil Protection Order, a situation we regularly see and defend.
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. On the other hand, if the caller calls 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.