According to California Penal Code 591, it is a criminal offense to intentionally and maliciously obstruct, disconnect, damage, or remove telephone wires, electrical lines, or cable services. Additionally, doing the same to any connected equipment is illegal. Often property crimes under this statute occur during domestic violence or burglary.

If accused of damaging the phone, electrical, or utility lines, you face prosecution for either a misdemeanor or felony charge. If convicted, the penalties include hefty fines and jail time, among others. Engaging a lawyer from the California Criminal Lawyer Group is critical in fighting these allegations and having a favorable outcome.

Defining Penal Code 591 Charges in California

Many people depend on working telephone and electrical lines for communication and contacting emergency response units. Because of this, when you are charged with maliciously causing damage to electrical and phone lines, you can get severely punished with extended jail sentences.

Although the offense is often charged against individuals involved in domestic violence, you also get charged if you try to acquire electricity illegally. PC 591 is best defined by elements that a prosecutor must establish before you are found guilty and punished. The elements are:

  • That you illegally removed, brought down, obstructed, or damaged cable television, telephone or an electrical line or any equipment connected to it
  • That you severed a cable TV, electrical or telephone line illegally
  • You illegally made a connection with an electricity line or equipment connected to it without authorization
  • You did any of the above things with malicious intent

A malicious intent means you acted with the illegal purpose to cause harm or annoy another person.

Instances you can get Accused of Violating PC 591 – Damaging Phone, Electrical or Utility Lines

As earlier stated, many individuals are charged with this offense after committing domestic violence or burglary. One important aspect of this offense to remember is that damaging property does not only involve cutting wires. Any malicious act aimed at disrupting or barring any communication through a gadget is also charged under this statute.

For instance, you disagreed with your spouse, Alexei. In the heat of the argument, you slap her on the face. Alexei threatens to call the police using the cordless phone in the house. You reach the phone before her and remove the batteries so that she cannot call for help.

In this case, the codeless phone is not connected to a wire, meaning you have not caused damage. However, when Alexei finally reports, you could face charges of domestic battery under PC 243(e)(1) and damaging phone equipment maliciously under PC 591.

Another way you could get charged with violating this statute is in a burglary incidence. If you entered a house while the occupants were asleep to steal expensive silverware or jewelry, you committed burglary, according to PC 459. However, if you cut the telephone line after accessing the house so that the occupants cannot call for help, you could be charged with two offenses: burglary under PC 459 and damaging a telephone line under PC 591.

Under PC 631, wiretapping is also a way of damaging or interfering with communication. For instance, if you are involved in a bitter divorce with your wife, you may believe that she tells lies about you to her friends. You decide to tap her phone so that you can prove the lies without her knowledge. Unfortunately, you cause damage to the phone line when tapping her phone. Although this was not intentional, you are charged with violating PCs 591 and 631.

Based on one of the crime’s elements, you must act with malice to get convicted. For instance, your cable TV is not working, and you suspect the problem could be the lines or wires outside your house. You decide to fix the cables yourself and accidentally damage them or disrupt cable service to your home and that of a neighbor. Your neighbor could report you for ruining their service lines. You cannot be found guilty of the offense because you never caused the damage maliciously.

Penalties for Damaging Phone or Electrical Wires

In California, PC 591 is a wobbler. You could face prosecution for a misdemeanor or felony charge. When deciding on what offense to charge you with, the prosecutor considers the following:

  • The nature of the allegations against you. This means the value of the damage and your supposed motive, among others
  • Your criminal background

Whether charged with misdemeanor or felony charges, the prosecutor must prove the earlier discussed elements beyond any reasonable doubt. If you get convicted on misdemeanor charges, possible penalties include:

  • Summary or misdemeanor probation
  • County jail incarceration for twelve months or less
  • A fine of a thousand dollars or less

When the offense is prosecuted as a felony, and you get convicted, potential punishment includes:

  • Formal or felony probation
  • County jail imprisonment under California’s realignment program for sixteen, twenty-four, or thirty-six months
  • A fine of $10,000 or less. This is charged in addition to or instead of the prison sentence

Probation as a Punishment in Penal Code 591

Probation sentencing is considered a favorable outcome in a criminal case. Summary probation is typically granted in the place of incarceration and to offenders who are considered low risk. Usually, summary probation lasts from one year to three years or even five years in certain circumstances.

During the probation period, you must comply with specific terms or conditions the court gives. When the judge is sentencing you to probation, he or she hopes to:

  • Compensate the plaintiff or victim
  • Protect the public
  • Rehabilitate you as the offender

If you are a juvenile offender, or it is your first time to commit a crime, you could receive this punishment. In most cases, summary or informal probation includes no jail time. However, if jail time is included, the probation period is shortened. This kind of punishment is also used as a plea deal, although the court can also sentence you.

Typically, probation as a punishment comes with multiple conditions, as earlier mentioned. If you feel you cannot comply with these conditions, you can reject the sentence. You can discuss the options available with your attorney before deciding.

If you are, however, prosecuted for felony charges, formal probation is a likely outcome. This kind of probation sentence differs slightly from misdemeanor probation. Formal probation allows you to serve part of your entire sentence out of jail but under a probation officer’s supervision. However, formal probation is not automatic. The judge must consider your criminal background and how severe your offense is before sentencing you.

As earlier stated, a probation sentence serves as a plea bargain because it is more favorable than a jail sentence. However, not everyone qualifies to get probation. Some factors are considered to determine if you are eligible for felony probation. These factors include:

  • How serious the offense was. This may include evaluating if the crime was violent or victimless
  • If you were armed during the incidence
  • Your character
  • The monetary value of the loss the victim has suffered due to your actions
  • Your background record before the conviction
  • Your attitude concerning probation
  • What effects imprisonment could have on you

Whether sentenced to a misdemeanor or felony probation, the court will give you terms that you must follow. Some of these conditions include:

  • You must pay the assigned fines, administrative court costs, and compensate the victim for the damages suffered
  • You must participate and complete a therapy program as ordered by the court, either individually or in a group
  • If ordered to undergo treatment programs like anger management, you must participate and complete them
  • If you are not employed, you must find employment within a given timeframe
  • If your offense accompanied by other crimes such as domestic violence cases, you must not disobey a restraining order if one is issued
  • You must not commit other crimes while on probation

Probation terms differ from one offense to the other. As you accept your sentence, you must agree to all these and other terms the judge may order.

Violating Probation Terms

Probation terms the court issues must be taken seriously. If you breach these terms, you open yourself to a hearing where you must defend yourself against the allegations. Following the hearing, the judge can decide to:

  • Modify your order
  • Overlook your violation
  • Revoke the probation and send you to jail instead

When a jail sentence is ordered, you are likely to serve the maximum time for violating PC 591. However, during the hearing, your lawyer can defend you against the violation allegations and get you a favorable outcome.

California’s Realignment Program

When you get convicted for violating PC 591 under felony charges, your jail sentence, as earlier stated, falls under California’s realignment program. This program was enacted in 2011 to allow individuals convicted of less severe felonies to serve their sentences in county jails instead of state prisons.

If your offense did not involve any violence, you qualify for this program. There are various sentencing options under this program that you can receive. The judge can sentence you to serve a full term in county jail or part of your prison sentence. You could serve the remaining sentence in probation and under mandatory or compulsory supervision.

Under this program, you may get sentenced to house arrest, among other measures that include:

  • Furlough programs
  • Community service
  • Work release programs
  • Restorative justice programs
  • Substance abuse programs

Possible Legal Defenses Under PC 591

When charged with PC 591, you must engage an experienced criminal lawyer for your defense considering the penalties and consequences of this offense. After studying the allegations and evidence against you, your attorney will further discuss the case with you. During the discussion, your attorney can discuss the possible outcome of the case, and any plea deals possible and probable defense strategies. Some of the possible defenses will include:


Alibi is a Latin word to mean another place. When you enter an alibi defense in a criminal proceeding, it means you were not at the said crime scene when the crime happened. This means you couldn’t commit the crime because you were in another place.

For this defense to be successful, your lawyer must present witnesses who will testify to your being at the other place and not the crime scene. Receipts from your credit card, surveillance tapes, among others, can be used to prove that you could not have damaged the phones or electrical or utility lines. If your evidence convinces the court, the charges against you are dropped, and you are acquitted of the offense.

Coerced Confessions

Sometimes during police interrogations, you are coerced to confess to offense’s responsibility involuntarily. If the police used unlawful interrogation strategies, your lawyer could cast doubts in the evidence they present and argue in your defense. Some of these strategies include:

  1. Continuous interrogation even after asking for an attorney
  2. Denying you water, food or sleep
  3. Striking you or issuing threats of harm or punishment
  4. Issuing false promises to go easy on you if you confess to the crime

When these tactics are used, an innocent person could give up and admit liability to find relief. If your lawyer can show the court that your confession was coerced, your admission may be excluded from evidence, and the case against you is dropped.

This makes it important for you to tell your lawyer everything that happened to you before your arrest, during, and after interrogation. Every detail is critical to your defense, irrespective of the mistakes you may have made because your lawyer is on your side.

You Had no Malicious Intent

One of the critical elements the prosecution must prove is malicious intent. When you are accused of damaging telephone lines, but acted without malice, you are not guilty of breaking the law. For instance, during a domestic quarrel and in the heat of passion, you can throw a piece of furniture that accidentally cuts off the telephone utility line. If your spouse accuses you of domestic violence and claims that you destroyed the telephone lines maliciously, you can be charged with this offense.

However, if the destruction was unintentional or not malicious, you are innocent of this offense. Photos of the alleged crime scene can help in exonerating you from the allegations. Typically, when police are called to a crime scene, they take pictures that help them reconstruct the crime. According to PC 591, if the photographs show the furniture cut the line off, the charges will be dismissed. Unfortunately, this will not exonerate you from domestic violence charges.

False Allegations

Falsified allegations in criminal cases are common. If you have a troublesome neighbor who finds their cable TV lines cut, they may falsely accuse you of the offense. If you had tried to repair your utility lines and accidentally disconnected your neighbor’s lines, your neighbor could blame you for every disruption because they dislike you. With your lawyer’s help, you can prove the accusations are not true and have the charges dropped.

False allegations are also common in domestic violence cases. The alleged victim may accuse you of destroying the phone so that they do not call for help. However, the prosecutor must indeed prove that you destroyed the lines, and you did so maliciously. If the court is convinced that you are falsely being accused, the charges against you will be dropped.

Mistaken Identity

People get mistakenly accused of a crime often even when no malice is intended. Mistaken identity has led to many people getting convicted for crimes they did not commit. If you are a victim of mistaken identity, you need an aggressive lawyer to fight your case and get it dismissed. Mistaken identity can happen when:

  • The real perpetrator’s appearance, clothes, or the car they were driving resembles yours
  • An assumption that you are responsible for the offense. For instance, if you have had an issue with police before and the people in your neighborhood know it, it is easy for them to assume you committed the offense. If the phone lines were damaged, and you are seen coming from that direction, someone can mistakenly identify you as the perpetrator. This happens if an eye witness’s description of the perpetrator matches your appearance

An experienced attorney should be able to see the holes in the prosecutor’s case and defend you on the mistaken identity. If the court is persuaded you did not commit the offense, the charges are dismissed.

The Damage was an Accident

An accident is a valid legal defense for this offense. If you accidentally damaged a utility line or phone, you are not guilty of breaking the law. Based on an earlier example, you were trying to repair your cable TV lines and accidentally interfered with the transmission into your neighbor’s house. Similarly, you could have been mowing your lawn and accidentally cut off lines that were on the surface.

In such a case, you cannot be found guilty of the offense. Even when you were responsible for the damage, you had not intended to, and the destruction was not malicious. In such a case, the charges against you are dropped.

Expungement of Your Criminal Record

Your prior convictions and criminal backgrounds are available to the public. This means your potential landlords, employers or colleges can access your criminal history.

Although it is not fair to be discriminated against because of your criminal past, it, however, offers equal opportunities with those without a criminal background. A criminal background denies you the chance to get a job even when you are qualified. A potential employer may find it difficult to trust you when you are a convicted felon.

Additionally, landlords want to lease their property to persons they feel they can trust. After checking your credit score, some landlords check your criminal background. Your prior conviction could make you lack rental space even if you have reformed. When applying for college or a professional license, your criminal past is also considered.

Expungement means having your criminal record deleted and unavailable to the public. After expungement, there will be no evidence of a prior conviction when a potential landlord looks up your background. This is equally the same with a potential employer, among others.

After completing your sentence, you have a right to get your record expunged. Your lawyer will petition the court on this, and the prosecutor is informed of your request. A hearing date is then set where your lawyer will argue why you deserve your record to be erased. If the prosecutor is opposed to the petition, their argument is presented. At the end of the hearing, the judge decides if to grant your request or deny it. If your request is denied, you can apply again after fulfilling all the requirements set forth.

Find a California Criminal Lawyer Near Me

When you face California PC 591 allegations, don’t take them lightly because they could result in severe penalties. Engaging a lawyer is one of the best decisions toward fighting these allegations. At the California Criminal Lawyer Group, we understand criminal law and how to navigate the case for a favorable outcome. Call us at 408-622-0204 to further discuss the case against you.