Tuesday, September 28, 2010

“BUT I JUST WANTED TO TALK TO HER!”: WHEN YOU ARE CHARGED WITH TELEPHONE HARASSMENT

You had a fight with your girlfriend, and she broke up with you. You know you could clear up any misunderstanding, if only she would listen. So you dialed her number repeatedly hoping she would finally answer her phone. Next thing you know, the police are at your door, and you are being charged with telephone harassment. What did you do wrong, and what can you do about it?

In Illinois, you may be guilty of a Class B Misdemeanor, punishable by up to 6 months in prison and a $1,500 fine, if you cause another person’s phone to ring repeatedly with the intent of harassing them. You may also be charged with telephone harassment if you called someone intending to threaten them, whether or not a conversation actually took place. You also cannot make obscene or indecent comments intending to offend another person. You may be charged even if you did not make the calls yourself, but simply allowed someone else to use your phone.

A second offense of telephone harassment can boost your charge to a Class A Misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year and a $2,500 fine. If guilty, the Court must sentence you to a mandatory minimum 14-day jail sentence or 240 hours of community service.

If you have three or more prior violations within the last 10 years, your charge can increase to a Class 4 Felony, punishable by one to three years. Likewise, you can be charged with a Class 4 Felony if 1) you harass the same person or a member of their family more than once, 2) you threaten to kill your victim or someone in their family, 2) you have a prior forcible felony conviction, 3) your victim was a minor, or 4) you were on bail or you violated probation or supervision at the time.

If you are charged with Telephone Harassment, you should immediately contact an attorney. If you are in police custody, tell the police specifically: “I wish to invoke my right to remain silent” and “I wish to have an attorney.” Do not discuss your case with anyone either in person or by electronic means, such as email, texting or on a Facebook-type page. Whatever you do, do not try to contact the victim! Trying to explain yourself may instead help the prosecutor seal their case.

How can you defend your case? First, the state has the burden of proving you guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Was it you who actually made the calls? Can the state prove you did? If someone else was using your phone, did you knowingly permit them? Did you have the required intent to offend or harass the victim when making the calls? Keep in mind that using obscene language creates a presumption that you meant to offend, but that presumption might still be challenged. Even if the evidence against you is strong, an experienced attorney may help you work out a more beneficial plea agreement than you could on your own.

If you have any questions about the criminal offense of telephone harassment, feel free to contact Matt Keenan at 847-568-0160 or matt@mattkeenanlaw.com

(Besides Skokie, Matt Keenan also serves clients in the communities of Arlington Heights, Buffalo Grove, Chicago, Deerfield, Des Plaines, Evanston, Glenview, Highland Park, Kenilworth, Morton Grove, Mount Prospect, Niles, Northbrook, Palatine, Park Ridge, Rolling Meadows, Schaumburg, Wilmette and Winnetka.)

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