The Federal Communications Act and many state laws prohibit telephone harassment. Telephone harassment occurs when someone intends to annoy, harass, or threaten you by:

  • Making a telephone continually ring
  • Making lewd, indecent, or obscene comments, suggestions, or requests over the telephone
  • Making a telephone call without identifying himself
  • Making repeated telephone calls where the conversation consists only of harassment

People who commit telephone harassment are subject to fines, prison or both.

What Factors Are There to Consider?

Not all telephone calls amount to harassment. Several factors to consider in deciding whether there is harassment include:

  • The timing of calls. For example, calling in the middle of the night may suggest harassment.
  • The frequency of calls. For repeated calls, the calls must be thought of as one sequence. Calls spread out over a long period might not count as harassment.
  • Whether the call includes threats to kidnap or injure.
  • The caller does not have to speak. Heavy breathing can count as an annoyance or harassment.
  • The conversation does not have to be lewd or obscene. Extreme repetition can count as harassment. For example, calling to voice a complaint over and over may be harassment.

Are There Any Exceptions?

Courts have been hesitant to make criminal cases out of family disputes, political squabbles, and business matters. If the calls come from someone you know, a restraining order may be an appropriate solution. Also, comments made during a moment of anger may not count as obscene.

Should I Contact a Lawyer for Telephone Harassment?

If you are accused of telephone harassment, you should contact a criminal lawyer to learn more about your rights, defenses, and the complicated legal system.

If you are a victim of harassment, you should contact the police. If the police can identify the caller and find sufficient evidence, they will forward the case to the District Attorney's office to prosecute the caller. The phone company can also help track down the caller. A lawyer can help determine if the caller's words are obscene and if you are entitled to any civil damages, such as emotional distress, as well.