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PC 591.5 Interference with a Wireless Communication Device: Law, Punishment & Defense

Information on the crime of Interference with a Communication Device, also called Destruction of a Communication Device to Prevent Help, is found at California penal code section 591.5. This article covers a brief discussion of the law, the punishment(s), and the common defenses related to a criminal charge of PC 591.5. This article is not intended to serve as a substitute for legal advice from an attorney. If you are charged with a crime, contact a criminal defense lawyer without delay.


PC 591.5 Law: A person who unlawfully and maliciously removes, injures, destroys, damages, or obstructs the use of any wireless communication device, such as a cellular telephone, with the intent to prevent the use of the device to summon assistance or notify law enforcement…of a crime, is guilty of interference with a wireless communication device (PC 591.5 Abbrev.).


For purposes of PC 591.5 law, it is not necessary that the “wireless communication device” be a cell phone; however, in almost every PC 591.5 case, the wire communication device is, in fact, a cell phone.


Note: It is not a violation of PC 591.5 when a person intentionally destroy another person’s cell phone unless the destruction of the cell phone is intended to prevent someone for calling for assistance or to report a crime; however, other criminal charges could apply in this situation (i.e. vandalism, assault, battery, etc.).


Example: If a husband is attempting to call the police from a cell phone to report to the police that his wife is abusing him, and the husband’s wife breaks the husband’s cell phone during the call so that he may not report his wife’ assault, then the wife could be charged with PC 591.5. On the other hand, if the wife destroys the husband’s cell phone because she is angry, and not because she is attempting to stop her husband from contacting the police, then she should not be charged with PC 591.5. Of course, in this scenario, the wife could still be criminal charged with other crimes, such as vandalism, battery, assault, etc.


Note: The wireless communication device does not need to be destroyed in order for PC 591.5 to apply. It is a crime whether or not the communication device is destroyed, so long as the defendant intended to destroy or damage the cell phone, or obstruct the use of the communication device, coupled with the defendant’s intent that the communication device be destroy, or its use obstructed so as to prevent a person from calling for help or to report a crime.


Also, ownership of the communication device is not relevant. For example, if the defendant grabs a cell phone from a victim’s hand so that the victim cannot contact the police to report the defendant’s criminal conduct then it does not matter who actually owns the cell phone. In fact, the defendant can be the owner of the cell phone in this situation and still be charged with PC 591.5, so long as the defendant’s intent is to prevent the victim from using the cell phone to seek help or report the defendant’s criminal conduct.


Moreover, it does not matter whether or not the defendant is attempting to prevent the victim from seeking help from the defendant’s conduct or another person’s conduct. For example, if the defendant grabs a cell phone from his ex-wife so that his ex-wife cannot call the police to help her as she is being assaulted from a third person, such as the defendant’s new wife, then the defendant would likely be charged with PC 591.5. This is because it does not matter whether or not the defendant is preventing his victim from using a wireless communication device or preventing someone else's victim from seeking help with the device.


Furthermore, it does not matter if the victim of a PC 591.5 crime is actually the victim of any crime when he tries to use a wireless communication device to contact help or report a crime. For example, if a person wrongfully believes he is the victim of an assault crime, and that victim believes that the defendant is the person who assaulted him, then it is a crime for the defendant to take the victim’s phone away from the victim with the goal of preventing the victim from making a report against the defendant. This is true even if the victim of the PC 591.5 criminal charge was never actually assaulted by the defendant prior to the defendant’s destruction of the wireless communication device.


PC 591.5 Punishment


Jail Sentence: The crime of Interference with a Wireless Communication Device is charged as a misdemeanor. The maximum punishment for a conviction of PC 591.5 is 180 days in county jail. There is no minimum jail sentence for PC 591.5.


Note: Keep in mind that interference with a wireless communication device is almost always charged with other crimes, such as domestic battery (PC 243(e)(1), inflict corporal injury to spouse (PC 273.5(a)), kidnapping (PC 236), battery (PC 243(E)(1)), vandalism (PC 594), etc.


Probation Sentence: A probation sentence is a period of supervision in lieu of an actual jail sentence. A probation sentence is common, but not guaranteed, in PC 591.5 cases. A probation sentence might be available assuming no other criminal charge related to the PC 591.5 charge prevents a probation sentence, such as some types of domestic violence type charges. A probation sentence for PC 591.5 is called informal, summary, misdemeanor, or court probation. All of these terms are synonymous and basically mean that the defendant’s probation is monitored by the court and not by a probation officer.


Note: Whether or not a probation sentence is offered by the district attorney or the court in any PC 591.5 case depends largely on the facts of the case, the defendant’s criminal history, if any, and the disposition of a plea bargain between the defendant and the district attorney, if any.


A probation sentence, if allowed, is conditioned upon the defendant completing terms of probation. The terms of probation in a PC 591.5 case typically include, but are not limited to, the following: 1) commit not crime, 2) stay away from the victim (criminal protective order), pay fines and restitution, complete domestic violence anger management classes, and more. Failure to comply with the terms of probation in a PC 591.5 case could lead to a violation of probation charge, which could ultimately result in the defendant being ordered to serve actual jail time.


Note: Many probation sentences related to interference with a wireless communication device include a term of work release or house arrest. Work release is an out-of-custody manual labor sentence, which typically includes picking up trash around county jails or highways; house arrest means the defendant is confined to her house while she is not at work. For more information, see Work Release & House Arrest.


Good Conduct Credits: In PC 591.5 cases, if the defendant is ordered to serve a jail sentence or a work release sentence, the defendant may have that sentence reduced by up to fifty percent (50%) for good behavior. In other words, if the defendant stays out of trouble while she is serving a sentence for PC 591.5, then she will have her sentence reduced by fifty percent (50%).


Diversion Sentence: A diversion sentence is an option in some PC 591.5 cases. Essentially, a diversion sentence is a type of probation sentence that results in the criminal charges being dismissed (or diverted) against the defendant if the defendant successfully completes terms of diversion. The difference between a probation sentence and a diversion sentence is that a diversion sentence results in all criminal charges being dismissed against the defendant if she successfully completes the terms of diversion and a probation sentence does not result in the criminal charges being dismissed against the defendant. This is true even if the defendant successfully completes the terms of probation.


Whether or not a diversion sentence is offered by the district attorney or judge in a PC 591.5 case depends largely on the facts of the case, the defendant’s criminal history, if any, and the terms of a negotiated plea bargain, if any.


Note: Diversion sentences are tougher to obtain in many PC 591.5 cases because most of these types of cases are accompanied by other charges that do not qualify for diversion (i.e. some domestic violence type criminal charges). Also, the district attorney is not always willing to offer a good sentence alternative such as diversion unless the interest of justice call for such a lenient sentence (i.e. facts of the case against the defendant are weak, victim does not desire prosecution, harm to the victim is slight, etc.). Also, a diversion sentence is sometimes a good option for licensed professionals who want to keep their professional licenses after a criminal conviction as diversion is treated as a dismissed case upon successful completion of the diversion sentence. On the negative side, a diversion sentence requires the defendant to plead guilty at the outset. This could cause civil liability for the defendant outside of the criminal court setting. For more information, see Diversion in Criminal Court.


CIMT: The crime of interference with a wireless communication device is not likely considered a crime involving moral turpitude (CIMT). A crime involving moral turpitude is a crime that involves deceit or is otherwise considered morally wrong. A CIMT could have serious collateral consequences for non-US citizens and licensed professionals.


Additional Punishment(s): In addition to any possible jail sentence (or probation sentence) for PC 591.5 convictions the defendant could also suffer any of the following additional penalties: book and release orders (if the defendant was never booked), bail costs ($5,000 in San Bernardino County [2021]), criminal protective orders (restraining orders), restitution (payments to the victim for the value of destroyed communication device [cell phone]), denial of entry into the armed forces (Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Space Force, Coast Guard, and Merchant Marines), denial, revocation, suspension of a professional license (i.e. nurse, doctor, dentist, lawyer, teacher, etc.), deportation or denial of re-entry into the United States (for non-US citizens), civil lawsuits (usually for civil battery, civil assault, and conversion [cell phone costs, punishment damages, and more]), loss of the right to possess or own firearm (if the PC 591.5 record of conviction includes language of domestic violence), and more. For more information on related penalties, see professional licensure and criminal convictions, immigration consequences for criminal convictions, & criminal convictions and military enlistment.


PC 591.5 Defenses: Every interference with a wireless communication device case is different; therefore, every defense to a PC 591.5 case is different. With that in mind, the most common defenses engaged in PC 5915.5 cases include: insufficient evidence to prove that the defendant intentionally interfered with the alleged victim’s use of a wireless communication device (cell phone), mistake of fact, self-defense, defense of others, statute of limitations, coerced confessions, and more.


Note: The crimes of interference with a wireless device is commonly charged alongside domestic violence type criminal charges, such as domestic battery, willful child endangerment, assault, etc. As such, the defense of self-defense and defense of others becomes one of the most common defenses used against a charge of PC 591.5. This is because those defenses are very common in the underlying domestic violence type case.


For example, when a husband and wife are involved in a mutual combat situation during a domestic violence incident, it is not uncommon for one of them to inadvertently injure, damage, or destroy the other person’s cell phone in the fray and incidental to the defendant defending himself or herself.


Post-Conviction Options: Post-conviction options in PC 591.5 cases include: withdraw of a guilty plea, appeal of the criminal conviction, expunge the criminal conviction, terminate probation early, and more.


To learn more about the crime of interference of a wireless communication device, or damaging a cell phone to prevent help, contact our criminal defense lawyers today. Our criminal defense lawyers have handled hundreds of felony and misdemeanor crimes in all San Bernardino County cities, including Redlands, Fontana, Yucaipa, Rialto, Ontario, Rancho Cucamonga, Highland, and more. We offer free consultations and we are available to discuss all aspects of your PC 591.5 criminal charges. Call today!


909-913-3138


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