What Everyone Should Know About Crank Calling and Stalking

           

 

            There are many legal pranks, but a legal prank does not necessarily mean you should do it.  A legal prank could turn illegal depending on the specific facts of your situation and there are prank laws which is really tort law and crank call law. Online prank calls for the most part are no different than traditional phone line prank calls.  Legal pranks really depend on the circumstances of your situation and whether it is invited or expected or not.  You cannot taking just someone at random and expect the prank to be considered a legal prank.  Next time you are looking for April pranks be very cautious as to what you will do and who you will be doing it too.  There are prank laws throughout the country and even seemingly innocent steps like prank calls listen may be enough.  You should also be aware that listening in or recording a conversation without consent is illegal in many instances.  Your April pranks should never be directed to ex-wives or ex-girlfriends or ex-husbands or ex-boyfriends there are laws that may be interpreted against you and your April pranks could go sour very quickly.  What appears to be a legal prank may turn illegal, because of the relationship you had with that person.  You will have no trouble finding easy pranks, but you should exercise a great deal of caution.  A seemingly innocent prank is not necessarily a legal prank, there are legal pranks that could cause serious injury and there are innocent pranks that likewise can cause serious injury.  Prank laws are really personal injury laws, if you failed to exercise reasonable care and cause injury to another you are liable.  This often happens when pulling  prank.  A legal prank for the most part would be one where there is no injury or a law that prohibits the specific conduct, such as  making phone calls to someone repeatedly. 

            Physical and phone stalking are combined in many state laws, because they generally go hand on hand.  Phone stalking, crank calling, and stalking are usually used to intimidate someone, often a former girlfriend or spouse.  The definition of stalking differs from state to state, but if you believe someone is stalking, chances are the definition of stalking applies. 

            In California crank calls, or prank calls, and threats over the phone to cause injury are illegal.

Prank phone call voices may be amusing and funny, but they are serious business in California and most other states. Penal Code Section 653mm, states that every person who, with intent to annoy, telephones or makes contact by means of an electronic communication device with another and addresses to or about the other person any obscene language or addresses to the other person any threat to inflict injury to the person or property of the person addressed or any member of his or her family, is guilty of a misdemeanor.  A misdemeanor means jail time may not exceed one year.  There is a defense to innocent calls or electronic contacts.  If the telephone call or electronic contact is made in good faith then the penalties do not apply.  These laws pertaining to prank phone call voices and threats are subject to interpretation and may apply differently depending no the person making the phone call and the recipient.  It is true that prank phone call voices may be welcomed by friends and family, but often these disguised prank calls are intended to harass and to cause harm and the victim would be protected.

 

            Every person who makes repeated telephone calls or makes repeated contact by means of an electronic communication device with intent to annoy another person at his or her residence, is, whether or not conversation ensues from making the telephone call or electronic contact, is guilty of a misdemeanor.

 

If   (1) There is a temporary restraining order, an injunction, or any other court order, or any combination of these court orders, in effect prohibiting the behavior described.  Meaning you have obtained a court order that prohibits the perpetrator from making crank calls to you; and/or

   (2) The person makes repeated telephone calls or makes repeated contact by means of an electronic communication device with the intent to annoy another person at his or her place of work, totaling more than 10 times in a 24-hour period, whether or not conversation ensues from making the telephone call or electronic contact, and the repeated telephone calls or electronic contacts are made to the workplace of an adult or fully emancipated minor who is a spouse,

former spouse, cohabitant, former cohabitant, or person with whom the person has a child or has had a dating or engagement relationship or is having a dating or engagement relationship.  Essentially California statutes prohibit undue annoyance at your place of work that may cause your employer to terminate you.

            And the perpetrator makes repeated telephone calls or makes repeated contact by means of an electronic communication device with the intent to annoy another person at his or her place of work then the perpetrator is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of not more than one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by imprisonment in a county jail for not more than one year, or by both that fine and imprisonment.

 

            Any offense committed by use of a telephone may be deemed to have been committed where the telephone call or calls were made or received.  Any offense committed by use of an electronic communication device or medium, including the Internet, may be deemed to have been committed when the electronic communication or communications were originally sent or first viewed by the recipient.

 

            The Civil Code imposes tort liability for stalking when the plaintiff proves all of the following elements of the tort:   

 

            (1) The defendant engaged in a pattern of conduct the intent of which was to follow, alarm, or harass the plaintiff.  In order to establish this element, the plaintiff shall be required to support his or her allegations with independent corroborating evidence.

 

   (2) As a result of that pattern of conduct, the plaintiff reasonably feared for his or her safety, or the safety of an immediate family member.   Immediate family means a spouse, parent, child, any person related by consanguinity or affinity within the second degree, or any person who regularly resides, or, within the six months preceding any portion of the pattern of conduct, regularly resided, in the plaintiff's household.

 

   (3) One of the following:

   (A) The defendant, as a part of the pattern of conduct specified in paragraph (1), made a credible threat with the intent to place the plaintiff in reasonable fear for his or her safety, or the safety of an immediate family member and, on at least one occasion, the plaintiff clearly and definitively demanded that the defendant cease and abate his or her pattern of conduct and the defendant persisted in his or her pattern of conduct.

   (B) The defendant violated a restraining order, including, but not limited to, any order issued pursuant to Section 527.6 of the Code of Civil Procedure, prohibiting any act described in subdivision (a) of Civil Code section 1708.7.

 

             "Pattern of conduct" means conduct composed of a series of acts over a period of time, however short, evidencing a continuity of purpose.  Constitutionally protected activity is not included within the meaning of "pattern of conduct.”  “Credible threat" means a verbal or written threat, including that communicated by means of an electronic communication device, or

a threat implied by a pattern of conduct or a combination of verbal, written, or electronically communicated statements and conduct, made with the intent and apparent ability to carry out the threat so as to cause the person who is the target of the threat to reasonably fear for his or her safety or the safety of his or her immediate family.

 

            "Electronic communication device" includes, but is not limited to, telephones, cellular telephones, computers, video recorders, fax machines, or pagers.  "Electronic communication" has the same meaning as the term defined in Subsection 12 of Section 2510 of Title

18 of the United States Code.

 

             "Harass" means a knowing and willful course of conduct directed at a specific person which seriously alarms, annoys, torments, or terrorizes the person, and which serves no legitimate purpose.  The course of conduct must be such as would cause a reasonable person to suffer substantial emotional distress, and must actually cause substantial emotional distress to the person.

 

             A person who commits the tort of stalking upon another is liable to that person for damages, including, but not limited to, general damages, special damages, and punitive damages pursuant to Section 3294.  General damages pertain to such things as pain, fear, suffering, anxiety, and emotional distress. Special damages mean economic damages such as medical expenses.  Punitive damages are damages awarded to make sure the tortfeasor does not engage in that type of conduct again.   

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