Though similar in spirit to the statute for harassment, the crime of telephone harassment does carry some unique differences. Because of the nature of dating and marital relationships, telephone harassment commonly carries with it a domestic violence (DV) designation. See “What is Domestic Violence?” to learn what constitutes a DV offense.
Elements of Telephone Harassment
The elements of telephone harassment are set out in RCW 9.61.230 and are as follows:
(1) Every person who, with intent to harass, intimidate, torment or embarrass any other person, shall make a telephone call to such other person:
(a) Using any lewd, lascivious, profane, indecent, or obscene words or language, or suggesting the commission of any lewd or lascivious act; or
(b) Anonymously or repeatedly or at an extremely inconvenient hour, whether or not conversation ensues; or
(c) Threatening to inflict injury on the person or property of the person called or any member of his or her family or household;
is guilty of a gross misdemeanor, except as provided in subsection (2) of this section.
(2) The person is guilty of a class C felony punishable according to chapter 9A.20 RCW if either of the following applies:
(a) That person has previously been convicted of any crime of harassment, as defined in RCW 9A.46.060, with the same victim or member of the victim’s family or household or any person specifically named in a no-contact or no-harassment order in this or any other state; or
(b) That person harasses another person under subsection (1)(c) of this section by threatening to kill the person threatened or any other person.
What separates telephone harassment from harassment aside from the use of a telephone is that behavior other than a threat of physical harm is criminalized. Also, the type of behavior covered under the statute is rather subjective. Whereas most people can agree upon whether a statement is a “threat of physical harm”, whether a statement is “lewd” or “lascivious” or “profane” will find less agreement. Likewise, repeatedly calling or calling at an “extremely” inconvenient hour, might result in a telephone harassment charge, regardless of what was said, or even if anything was said.
Felony vs. Gross Misdemeanor
Generally, telephone harassment is a gross misdemeanor and punishable by up to 365 days in jail and a $5,000.00 fine. If, however, the defendant has previous convictions for “crimes of harassment” against the victim or the victim’s family, or a threat to kill was made by telephone, it could be classified as a Class C felony. With a seriousness level of three (3), the minimum sentence would be 1-3 months in jail with a maximum of five (5) years. Additionally, a domestic violence (DV) designation would require that other DV related sanctions be imposed as well.
If you are being accused of telephone harassment or believe that you may be, it is imperative that you contact a domestic violence attorney as soon as possible. Many people exacerbate an already bad situation by simply trying to call the victim in an attempt to “straighten things out” or “smooth things over.” Do not make that mistake. Contact one of our experienced Seattle domestic violence lawyers for a consultation.