Almost everyone in today’s world relies on cell phones, electricity, as well as other important utilities to perform basic tasks such as transmitting and acquiring information. As a result, electrical, phone, and utility systems must be up and in proper working order all the time, because when they fail, it could lead to unnecessary problems for people depending on them. Therefore, if you destroy a phone, utility, or electrical line to interfere with communication, you risk facing criminal charges. If convicted, it could be a serious offense with serious consequences.

If you've been accused of destroying a phone, utility, or even an electrical line, you should consult with a qualified criminal defense attorney. A lawyer can identify legal problems and challenge the prosecution's case to achieve the best possible result. Contact our attorneys at the Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm. We will do all in our power to ensure that you receive the best possible outcome for your particular case.

The Legal Definition of Damaging Electrical, Telephone, or Utility Lines

California Penal Code 591 lays out the ordinances against interfering with telephone, utility, and electrical lines. This legislation clearly states that it is unlawful for anyone to destroy, remove, disconnect, or block lines or wires that transmit telephones, cable, or electrical services, as well as any other devices connected to them. It is a serious crime that could lead to incarceration or hefty fines.

Damage to these items is not overlooked, given the heightened reliance on phones and electricity for everyday communication. People use phones and electricity for work and for entertainment purposes on a daily basis. The consequences of destroying these items could have a significant impact on many lives. Penal Code 591 violations are related to crimes like vandalism (Penal Code 594 PC), and if you are found guilty, you could suffer serious legal consequences.

People have been known to cause damage to electrical or telephone lines to hinder others from seeking assistance in times of need. In such situations, the offense can be tried alongside charges of domestic violence.

This offense must have the element of malice for the defendant to be prosecuted. Its seriousness stems from the reality that, more now than ever, people rely almost solely on telephones, electricity, or any other cable services at home and work. Disrupting the smooth operation of these essential services is illegal, and it carries with it severe penalties.

Elements of Penal Code 591 that the Prosecutor Must Prove Under California Law

The prosecution is solely responsible for proving certain elements that could lead to you being found criminally culpable of destroying utility or electrical lines and telephones. That's because, in some cases, a person could have damaged the utility lines while being genuinely unaware that their actions could result in undesirable consequences.

The following are the elements the prosecution has to prove:

  • You purposefully removed, disconnected, or destroyed a phone, electrical, or utility connection. Purposefully perpetrating a crime implies that you acted on purpose. Even though you had no intention of harming someone else, your understanding of the conduct could lead to a conviction under Penal Code 591
  • You committed the act with malicious intent when you destroyed the electrical or utility connections. Destruction to service as well as electrical connections are typically done to enable crimes such as theft or to stop domestic violence victims from getting assistance. Before the prosecution can find you criminally liable for destroying electrical, phone, or utility lines, they have to demonstrate that you did it with malicious intent
  • You acted with malice. When you act with the purpose of harming someone else, you are said to be doing it maliciously

The prosecution's case will be built on the fact that the acts were intentional, with the intent to disrupt and tamper with mechanical connections. Also, if it is established that you created any other new connections that were not related to the utility, phone, electrical, or other related lines, you risk facing criminal charges.

According to PC 7, acting maliciously (as in the subject of destroying telephones and utility or electrical lines) implies that you wanted to disturb, upset, or hurt someone else, or maybe that you planned to execute a criminal act.

The following are some examples of what is implied by acting maliciously:

  • You tampered with or destroyed television cable lines belonging to your neighbor out of malice or vengeance
  • You cut and destroyed telephone cables intending to commit other offenses like assault, domestic violence, or theft
  • You took the battery from a cordless telephone device so that it could not be used by someone else

For example, Bob strikes his wife during a domestic dispute, and when she scrambles to reach for the cordless phone to dial 911, he takes the batteries from the device, making it inoperable. Bob did not tamper with telephone cables in this case because the cordless device had no wires, but he'll be charged with destroying phone lines under Penal Code 591.

You, on the other hand, may have caused damage to telephone cables, electricity, or utility cables, but you did this without malice. You may not face criminal charges if your intentions were not done with malice.

You might, for example, have a problem with your television's cable that isn't performing properly. You disconnected a few of the cables linked from somewhere outside your residence when trying to repair thinking they were the source of the bad performance. This act causes the neighbors' connections to be disrupted. Because your actions were not done with malice and were just aimed to solve an issue, you can't be convicted under PC 591.

The prosecutors must establish beyond a shadow of a doubt that the acts were done with malice to prove their claim against you. They must show that you wanted to offend or harm another person and that they're not doing it unintentionally. Although the court recognizes that destroying telephones and electrical cables extends to additional connections linked to the main lines, you could still defend your innocence with the help of an attorney.

Penalties for Penal Code 591 Violations

Violation of Penal Code 591 is a major offense. Under California law, the violation is classified as a wobbler. If an offense is pursued as a wobbler, that hints at the fact that you could be charged with either a felony or a misdemeanor.

Before choosing what charges they should file, the prosecuting attorney must carefully consider the case's elements. The decision is dependent on the following criteria:

  • The specifics of the claims levied against you, like the extent of the damages as well as the motivation for the damages
  • The accused's criminal background

If the court determines that you must defend yourself against misdemeanor charges after considering these facts, you might receive a one-year sentence in state prison, maximum fines of up to $1,000, or misdemeanor probation.

If you are sentenced to misdemeanor probation, then the court could order you to complete your sentence outside of jail while under the surveillance of the court. During this time, which usually lasts 1 to 3 years, you'll be obligated to follow the conditions of your probation, which may include community service, counseling, or settling court-ordered reparations.

If the facts of the crime of destroying phone lines, electricity, or any other utility lines are determined to be felonies, the penalty could be somewhat severe. You could spend 16 months, 2 years, or 3 years behind bars. You might face a ten-thousand-dollar fine or felony probation.

Felony probation, in contrast to misdemeanor probation, will last 3 to 5 years. After being under the probation officer's diligent surveillance, the offender could be ordered to complete part or even their entire sentence from outside of prison. Your eligibility is determined by your criminal history as well as the severity of the offense as established by a court judge.

You'll have to make compensation and appear before the probation officer appointed by the court on a routine basis. Violations of felony probation conditions could result in the probation being revoked, the offender being sent to jail, or stiffer penalties being enforced.

In most situations, the victim could bring a civil complaint against you as a result of your actions. The victim could ask the judge to order you to pay for the cost of repairing the destroyed cable or phone cables in the case. It could place you in a much more difficult financial predicament.

The great news is that you can contest these claims and get them dropped if your legal defense counsel mounts a strong case. If you have compelling defense claims, the court could dismiss the allegations or pass on a favorable sentence. The defense arguments that criminal defense lawyers can use are listed below.

Common Defenses to Penal Code 591 Violations

Defending yourself against allegations under PC 591 necessitates very solid legal defenses. This is because, as previously said, committing a crime by destroying or damaging telephone, cable, electricity, or utility wires carries serious consequences. The following defenses could be used by a skilled criminal defense lawyer to make a case.

The Damage Was Not Done Maliciously

The fact that you acted maliciously is critical in continuing prosecution and prosecuting you for destroying phones, electric cables, as well as utility wires. The prosecutor has to show malicious intent beyond a shadow of a doubt. The court will decide if you were intentionally breaking electricity lines, telephone lines, or any other utility lines to upset and hurt the victim.

Your defense team may claim that your acts were not malicious and also were never aimed at annoying or harming the victim. Even though you could be judged to have behaved negligently in your handling of the lines, you might not be prosecuted as a defendant under PC 591.

The allegations against you might not stand if your legal counsel can persuasively prove that your motives were innocent and without malice.

It Happened By Accident

Another usual line of defense that your defense counsel might successfully use is that it was an accident. According to PC 591, you must satisfy the element of performing the acts intended to be culpable for the charges under this law. As a result, if the entire situation is summarily evaluated and correctly proven to be an accident, you will not be convicted. The court could find that your acts were negligent, but that would not be enough to justify sentencing.

For example, while trying to drive on an icy highway, your vehicle could have swerved and damaged the telephone wires on the roadside. You might have caused damage to the wires, but the incident would be classified as an accident. Because you did not act purposefully in this scenario, you cannot be charged with maliciously damaging the wires. If your legal team successfully argues and proves this, you will not be held legally responsible for the damages caused.

You Did Not Purposefully Damage the Lines

You could be guilty of destroying phones, electricity, or utility cables if you acted with malice. You will not face criminal charges under PC 591 if you claim that your activities were never deliberate. For example, if you mismanaged telephone wires or electrical cables to the point where they were destroyed in your hands but didn't act to prevent somebody from calling 911, the actions will not be regarded as malicious.

The most important aspect of skillfully arguing with this defense is to consider all of the earlier actions as well as the conditions in which the cables were destroyed. Your legal counsel will assist you in piecing together the facts and mounting a compelling case.

The Charges Leveled Against You Are Falsified

You might not face criminal charges under PC 591 if it could be proven that you did not harm, obstruct, damage, or destroy phone, electricity, or utility connections. It could be stated that the complainant is attempting to settle a grudge by trying to falsely accuse you out of malice and contempt.

For a domestic abuse case, for example, your complainant can claim that you damaged cell phones so that they'll not be able to call 911. A competent legal team could present evidence and demonstrate that the objects in question were not destroyed or damaged by you, therefore clearing you of Penal Code 591 charges.


A defendant using a necessity defense seeks to avoid being found guilty by demonstrating that he or she had a compelling cause to execute the act. An offender could try to establish that he/she destroyed or damaged a line since he or she had no other option in the case of a Penal Code 591 accusation, for instance, if he or she had an emergency.

California Offenses Related to Damaging Telephone, Electricity, or Utility Wires

The court could charge multiple crimes alongside destroying phones, electricity, or utility cables under PC 591. The prosecutor could prefer to pursue these allegations against you rather than the offenses listed in this law. They include:

Domestic Violence Under Penal Code 243

Domestic violence is defined as an act to gain power or control over a partner or spouse. In this case, the victim would be a partner, boyfriend or girlfriend, former partner, fiancé, or domestic partner. If you're charged with a misdemeanor, you might face a fine of up to $2,000 or up to 6 months in state prison if you're convicted. You could also be sentenced to misdemeanor probation.

Wiretapping Under Penal Code 631

California laws make it illegal to tap somebody's phone and eavesdrop on their conversations. It is found under PC 631, which declares certain acts to be illegal. The only time this act is permitted is if you're a police officer.

Because the offenses are deemed a wobbler, you could face felony or misdemeanor charges if you're found guilty of wiretapping someone else's phone. Misdemeanor charges can result in fines of up to $2500 or one year in a state prison sentence. Felony violations are punishable by a $10,000 fine or a sentence to 16 months, 2, or 3 years in your local jail.

Vandalism Under Penal Code 594

Vandalism is prohibited under California PC § 594. Deliberately and maliciously destroying, damaging, vandalizing with graffiti, or marking somebody else's property is prohibited. If the entire damage created by the offense is less than $400, you could face criminal charges, which could result in fines of up to $10,000 or one year in county jail.

Burglary Under Penal Code 459

As previously noted, burglary allegations are sometimes preferred over charges involving the destruction of phones, electricity, or utility cables. § 459 of this Penal Code governs burglary crimes. Intentionally entering someone else's property, company premises, or household to commit crimes is prohibited, according to this law. When you enter someone's property with the intent to perpetrate a crime, the court could charge you with burglary despite the nature of the criminal activity.

There are two types of burglary: first-degree burglary and second-degree burglary. If you enter someone's property, premises, or home, you will be charged with second-degree burglary. As a felony, first-degree burglary can lead to fines that could amount to $10,000 or a six-year sentence in state prison. Second-degree burglary is pursued as a wobbler, meaning a misdemeanor charge can result in a fine of up to $1,000 or a one-year year in jail.

Any felony charge of 2nd-degree burglary is punished by a $10,000 fine or 2 or 3 years in state prison.

Stalking Under Penal Code 646.9

Stalking is criminalized under PC 646.9. This statute makes it illegal to follow anyone, threaten or intimidate them, or make them worry for their safety. If charged as a wobbler, the misdemeanor charges could result in fines of up to $1,000, misdemeanor probation, or rehabilitation as a wobbler offense. The judge could also issue protective orders, commit you to a psychiatric health facility, or imprison you for a maximum of one year.

If charged as a felony, you could face felony probation, fines of up to $1,000, counseling, or confinement in a psychiatric health facility. You could also face a year in prison, protective orders, or being listed as a suspected sex offender under PC 290.

Hate Crimes or Stand-Alone Crimes Under Penal Code 422.6

Let's say you're motivated by someone's traits and you wind up committing crimes against them. You could be charged with committing hate crimes under California's PC 422.6. Prejudice against a person's character might be driven by their sexuality, region, handicap, sexual orientation, color, ethnicity, faith, or membership in a community with common features.

For a misdemeanor stand-alone crimes charge, you might be fined up to $5,000 or imprisoned for up to one year in county jail. Felony charges could result in significant fines of up to $10,000 or one year, 2, or 3 years in county jail.

Inflicting Corporal Injuries on a Spouse, a Domestic or Romantic Partner Under Penal Code 273.5

The purposeful infliction of bodily injuries on someone with whom you have a romantic relationship to a point that they experience trauma is considered corporal injury according to PC 273.5. If charged as a wobbler, you might face maximum fines amounting to $6,000 or one year in jail if you're charged with a misdemeanor. A felony carries a maximum sentence of 4 years or 2 or 3 years in jail.

Find a Criminal Defense Lawyer Near Me

It is a serious offense to damage a phone, electricity, or utility wires. Offenders are subject to harsh penalties under the law, and they may also face charges for other offenses. If you break these laws, you may find yourself in serious trouble.

If you have been charged with destroying phone, electricity, or utility wires, contact the Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm. We would gladly represent you in a Riverside court to ensure that you are fairly represented. Call us at 951-946-6366 to speak with a skilled criminal defense attorney. We will seek to have any allegations against you dismissed or have the penalties reduced.