Presently, most people rely on phones, electricity, and utility lines to relay information, work, and perform house chores. Phone, utility, and electricity lines should run non-stop to ensure that any emergency does not go unattended. You will face harsh treatment if you are arrested, damaging utility, phone, or electrical wires. Damage of phone, electricity, or utility bills will attract legal charges under Penal Code 591 of California.

A conviction for this offense attracts severe legal penalties in the form of fines and a jail sentence. If you or your loved one is facing these charges in California, you should consult a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney. At Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm, we will provide you with legal guidance and representation to ensure your situation's best outcome.

Overview of California PC 591

With the increased reliance on electricity and phones to communicate, damaging these materials is not taken lightly. Daily, people use electronic communication for business or even leisure. The negative effect that arises from the damage of these materials could be detrimental to many people's lives. PC 591 of California makes it a criminal offense for anyone to tamper with or maliciously damage, phone utility or electricity cables. 

Violation of PC 591 is compared to rimes such as vandalism, and a conviction will attract severe legal consequences. Sometimes, individuals tend to damage the electricity or phone lines to prevent another person from seeking help in dire situations. In this case, the offense could get charged alongside domestic violence.

You will get convicted for damaging phone, utility, or electricity lines if the prosecutor establishes the following elements without a reasonable doubt:

  1. You wilfully removed, took down, or disconnected an electrical, telephone, or utility line. Committing a crime willfully means you did something purposefully. Even if you did not intend to harm another person, your knowledge of the actions could get you convicted under 591 PC.
  2. When you damaged the electricity or utility lines, you acted with criminal intent. In most cases, damage to service and electricity lines is done to aid crimes like burglary or prevent domestic violence from seeking help. Before a prosecutor proves you're guilty of damaging electrical, utility, and telephone lines, it must be clear that you committed the offense with criminal intentions.
  3. You acted maliciously. You do something maliciously if you act intending to harm another person. If the prosecutor fails to prove that you acted with malicious intentions, you cannot get convicted.

You can be convicted under Penal Code 591 for not only damaging electricity lines but also destroying devices that get connected to the lines. If you face charges for malicious tampering with electrical or phone wires, it would be wise to enlist some legal guidance. Your attorney will help you find fault in the prosecutor's testimony and help you fight the charges.

Legal Penalties for Damaging, Phone Utility or Electricity Lines

PC 591 is a wobbler in California. The offense can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony. The court decides how to treat the crime depending on the following circumstances:

  1. The nature of the crime you committed. When deciding to charge Penal Code 591 as a felony or a misdemeanor, the prosecutor will consider the offense's circumstances. If you damaged the wires to aid another crime such as batter or prevent someone from seeking help, you might get charged with a felony.
  2. Your criminal history. If you have a criminal record in California, the past convictions may affect sentencing for subsequent charges. If you have a history of violent felonies or sex crimes, the prosecutor will likely charge you with a felony for violating PC 591. California criminal law is stringent on repeat offenders’. Therefore, if you face charges for damaging phone and electricity lines for a second or third time, you may be charged with a felony.

Should you get convicted for damaging phone and utility lines as a felony, you may be subjected to these legal penalties:

  • A one-year jail sentence 
  • Fines not exceeding $1,000
  • Informal probation. Informal probation is served for one to three years, depending on the nature of your crime. When you are serving misdemeanor probation, you are expected to adhere to all probation terms, including paying monetary fines and avoiding involvement in other criminal activities. Mostly, probation is an alternative to serving a jail sentence in California.

A felony conviction under Penal Code 591 of California attracts the following legal consequences:

  • A jail sentence of a period ranging between 16 months to 3 years
  • Formal probation. When you are found guilty for violating PC 591, your criminal defense attorney could negotiate with the prosecutor to offer you probation instead of a jail sentence. In California, formal probation will be served for a period not exceeding five years. During the probation period, you will be required to make regular check-ins with your probation officer, pay all the fines, and stay away from other offenses.
  • Fines of up to $10,000

Defenses to Penal Code 591 of California Laws

Facing criminal charges for damaging telephone and utility wires under PC 591 can be devastating when you do it alone. A competent criminal lawyer could analyze your case and come up with defenses for the situation. Some arguments you can consider for the case include:

Argue that your Actions Were Accidental

The accident defense is one of the most common arguments one can present for Penal Code 591. You can only get convicted for the offense if the prosecutor can prove that you acted with an intent to cause harm or injury. If you damage or cut the electricity or telephone lines unintentionally, you cannot be convicted even when your conduct was careless. However, if you face charges for domestic battery alongside damaging phone lines, it won't be easy to present the defense.

You Did not Act Maliciously

When establishing that you are guilty of damaging electricity utility or phone lines, the prosecutor must prove that you acted intending to inflict harm. If you did not act with malicious intentions, you could not be convicted for the offense. Proving our intention to partake in something unlawful can prove difficult for the prosecutor. This will allow you to fight the charges.

You did not have an Intention to Damage the Electrical, Phone, or Utility Lines

Even when it is clear that you damaged the service lines, you can fight the charges. You can do this by arguing your lack of criminal intent. You cannot be found guilty of the offense if you damaged the lines without the aim of preventing another person from getting help.

False Allegations

Sometimes, during domestic violence episodes, the alleged victim could falsely accuse the defendant of preventing them from seeking help. You can face false accusations of tampering with utility, electricity, or telephone lines. This may be a form of revenge or out of spite. With guidance from an attorney, you can argue that you faced false accusations. Most false accusations result from victim testimonies, and there lacks sufficient evidence to back up the claims. Therefore, a prosecutor may find it challenging to establish that you damaged the service lines.

Mistaken Identity

Some people will damage electricity or telephone lines to aid a crime such as a robbery. Most of these activities happen at night and are aimed at preventing the victims from seeking help. Sometimes a witness may have mistakenly identified you as the person who tampered with the lines. You can use this defense to your case by establishing your whereabouts when the crime took place. It is best if you consider seeking legal guidance from a criminal defense attorney when you are charged for tampering with utility, phone, and electric lines.

Offenses Related to Damaging, Utility, Phone, and Electricity Lines

Several reasons compel people to tamper with utility, phone, and electricity lines, most of which criminal aid activity. Also, individuals involved in issues to do with domestic violence may violate PC 591to prevent the victims from getting help. Some common offenses that are charged alongside or instead of 591 PC include:

  1. Vandalism

PC 594 of California defines destruction as an activity of maliciously destroying another person's property with graffiti or markings. Elements that need to be clear before you get convicted for the offense include:

  • You inscribed on another person's property. Graffiti or inscribed material is a figure word or mark drawn on personal property. Even when the writing is not permanent, you can be convicted.
  • You put marking on property belonging to someone else. The prosecutor must establish that you drew or marked a property that you did not own. It is crucial to understand that the law applies to the property that you own jointly.
  • The amount of damage you caused to the property is substantial. When charging you with vandalism in California, the prosecutor needs to prove that your actions caused significant monetary loss to the owner.

Depending on the loss incurred to repair the damage, vandalism is charged as a felony or a misdemeanor. If the value of the damage you caused is less than $400, you will face misdemeanor charges and will suffer these penalties:

  • Fines not exceeding $1000
  • A one-year jail sentence
  • Misdemeanor probation. Misdemeanor probation conditions will require you to seek counseling, do community service, and get a driver's license suspension.

If you vandalize property and cause $400 or more damage, you will face a felony conviction. A felony conviction for this offense is punishable by:

  • Felony probation
  • Fines ranging from $10,000 to $50,000
  • Jail sentence

Some defenses that are available for a vandalism case include:

  1. False allegations. Having a personal issue with someone could compel them to accuse you falsely for vandalism. If there is no substantial evidence to put you at the crime scene, you can use mistaken identity as a defense.
  2. Claim that it was an accident. When using the accident as a defense, you have to agree that you damaged the property. However, you will have a task to prove that you did not have malicious intentions.
  3. Mistaken identity. Sometimes you could match the description of the person who committed the crime or present when the crime occurred. If this was the case, you could use the argument of mistaken identity. 

Damage of Communication Device to Prevent one From Seeking Help

591 PC seeks to punish individuals who maliciously damage communication devices to prevent another person from seeking help. A prosecutor establishes the following elements of a crime when proving your guilt under this statute:

  1. You destroyed injured or removed communication devices. For this offense, a communication device could be an iPad, cellphone, or landline.
  2. You acted maliciously. A malicious act is that which is aimed at harming or annoying another person.
  3. You acted intending to prevent another individual from seeking help from law enforcement or other people.

In most cases, Penal Code Section 591.5 is charged instead of California Penal Code 591. Damaging communication lines to prevent one from seeking help is a misdemeanor. A conviction for the offense will attract these penalties:

  • Imprison met for one year. A California misdemeanor sentence is often served in county jail. Sometimes the judge could impose probation as an alternative to imprisonment.
  • Fines not exceeding ten thousand dollars

If you face charges Under 591.5 PC, you can present these legal defenses to your case:

  • No malice. The prosecutor must prove that you acted maliciously before securing a conviction for the crime. If you can show that you did not act out of malice, you could escape the penalties that accompany a conviction. However, you may have to accept that you damaged the device while disregarding malice.
  • False accusations. False allegations are a common occurrence in California domestic violence cases. Out of spite, a person with whom you have personal issues could accuse you falsely to cover their crime involvement. With guidance from an attorney, you could argue that you did not damage the devices.
  • You lacked an intention to prevent aid. Your purpose of preventing one from seeking assistance is one of the main elements required to be convicted. You can defend yourself by claiming you did not act with criminal intent.

Domestic Battery

California Penal Code 243(e) criminalizes intentional physical contact resulting from injury to a domestic partner. A victim does not need to suffer bodily injury for you to get convicted for this offense. Most people destroy electrical, telephone, or utility bills to prevent domestic battery victims from seeking help. In this case, the domestic batter could be charged alongside PC 591. A prosecutor needs to prove these elements of crime before you are convicted:

  • You willfully touched a domestic partner in a cruel and harmful way. By willfulness, the law requires that you acted on purpose. A violent or offensive manner is a way that is likely to cause harm or hurt the alleged victim. Slight touching that you do rudely is enough to get you arrested and convicted for the offense.
  • You did not act in self-defense or defense of others. Your actions would qualify as a criminal if you did not act in self-defense. 

Violating PC 243e charges will attract misdemeanor criminal charges. The offense will be punished by a jail sentence not exceeding one year and fines of up to $2,000. With competent legal guidance, you could convince the judge to award you probation instead of serving jail time. However, the judge could issue a restriction order that requires you to stay away from the alleged victim.

Facing criminal charges for domestic battery could have devastating consequences. However, your attorney can guide you to present a defense, such as:

  1. Claim self-defense. If you believed that you were in danger of harm and acted to defend yourself, you could not be convicted under PC 243(e).
  2. You did not act willfully. Slight touching, when done with anger, can qualify as a domestic battery. Sometimes you may touch your domestic partner without an intention to harm them. It is easier to use this argument when you did not cause any injury to the alleged victim.


You commit a burglary crime by entering commercial or residential property intending to commit grand or petty theft. Entry by force is not required for a prosecutor to charge you with burglary. Violation of Penal Code 459 is one of the common offenses charged alongside telephone, electricity, and utility lines. This is because a person planning to commit burglary has all the intentions to cut out power and communication and prevent victims from seeking help.

Even when you did not commit the act of theft, mere entry into another person's property can get you charged for burglary. Burglary could be first or second degree depending on your intentions while entering the property. Entering personal property to commit theft is a misdemeanor, while entry into business entities is a felony. Getting convicted for burglary connected with destroying electricity or phone lines attracts a jail sentence and fines. A felony conviction is always a strike under California Three strikes law.


Wiretapping is the act of illegal tapping into another person's phone with an intent to listen to their conversations. This law also seeks to punish individuals who use information obtained through wiretapping. Before convicting you for wiretapping under PC 631 of California, it must be clear that:

  • You used a device or machine to make unauthorized connections to another person's telephone
  • You attempted to or read the contents of messages passing through the phone
  • You tried to use information gained through wiretapping
  • You conspired with another person to do the above acts

Wiretapping is considered a wobbler in California. The offense can be charged as a felony or misdemeanor with the court's discretion. A misdemeanor conviction for this offense is punished by a one-year jail sentence and $2500 in court fines. When the crime is treated as a felony, a conviction attracts a jail sentence of three years and fines of $10,000 for repeat offenders.

Individuals with a high motive for tapping phone calls are the police officers. This will allow them to spy on suspected criminal offenders. Although wiretapping is a crime, police officers are allowed to do it legally. However, they need to meet these requirements:

  • They need to have a court order. A court order to perform wiretapping will be given if there is a reason to believe that the individual is committing an offense. Also, there should be a probable cause to believe that wiretapping will help law enforcement acquire crucial evidence for a crime.
  • Give notice. If police officers apply for a court order to wiretap your communication, they must notify you. However, the notification is not necessary until the wiretap period ends.


California Penal Code 646.9 criminalizes the act of threatening or harassing someone until they fear for their lives. Commonly, a stalker could tamper with communication and electricity lines of the alleged victim. Therefore, you can face charges for both offenses in California. Stalking can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony based on the factors surrounding your case. The severity of the penalties you face is based on the nature in which the offense gets charged.

Find a Criminal Lawyer Near Me

Cutting and damaging an electrical phone or utility bill often occurs when individuals are involved in domestic issues damage to telephone or electricity lines to prevent others from seeking. The activities you may disrupt by engaging in such a move makes the offense severe.

If you are convicted under California Penal Code 591, you will suffer serious legal consequences. Fortunately, facing arrest will not always result in a conviction. With help from a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney, you can present defenses to fight the charges you are facing. If you are battling Penal Code 591 charges in Orange County, CA, you will need guidance from Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm. Contact us today at 714-740-7848 to discuss more details of your case.