Phones and electricity utilities are essential for everyday life. Therefore, they must be running around-the-clock to ensure the continuity of ordinary life. This means that any damage to these utilities can negatively impact the day-to-day life of many people. 

Natural calamities cause most damages to phone, electrical, or utility lines, but human interference can still be a significant cause. In California, anyone found to have damaged these utilities can be charged and convicted under California Penal Code 591.

You should consult an experienced criminal defense attorney if you are arrested and charged for damaging phones, electrical or utility lines in California. Contact an Orange County Criminal Lawyer for a detailed assessment of your legal challenge and let us build strong defenses to have your charges dismissed or reduced.

Legal Definition of Damaging Telephone, Electrical, or Utility Lines

Everything to do with damage of telephone, electrical, or utility lines in California is defined under Penal Code 591. Under this statute, you are guilty of this offense if you remove, injure, disconnect, cut, or obstruct an electrical line, telephone, or telegraph line illegally and maliciously.

Some of the situations that explain to Penal Code 591 charges include:

  • Cutting your neighbor's cable lines as a way to settle a grudge
  • Damaging someone's cable line with a criminal intention such as burglary, abuse, murder, or other crime
  • Illegally excavating lines electrical lines in your property

When the prosecutor is charging you under this statute, he or she must prove several aspects referred to as ‘elements of the crime.’ Under this statute, these elements are as follows:

  • You took down, removed, disconnected, injured, severed, or cut
  • A cable television, electrical line, telegraph, or a device connected to the line
  • Unlawfully and maliciously

There are specific terms that arise from the elements of the crime. It is essential to learn more about these terms to be clear about your charges. These terms are as follows.

Utility Lines

Penal Code 591 involves any malicious or unlawful actions on a utility line, specifically a telephone, electrical, and other utility lines. Utility lines include all facilities and systems of transmission that provide utility services to the submitted lands. This includes but is not limited to telecommunication, data, video, gas, electricity.


A prosecutor could not charge you under Penal Code 591 if your alleged criminal actions on the utility line were not done unlawfully. This means that the acts were done in violation of a statute or an established legal precedent. The term unlawful does not imply criminality, but, in this context, it means that your actions were intended to violate Penal Code 591. Therefore, you had the due knowledge of your criminal activities and the legal implications of commissioning it.


An action is done 'maliciously' if it was performed willfully and intentionally without legal justification. Therefore, you were knowledgeable of the nature of your actions and the legal implication that might result. This term also means that you had an unlawful motive in mind, hence the accusations.

Violating Penal Code 591 as a Domestic Violence Offense

Penal Code 591 is not limited only to property crimes but can also be a domestic violence offense. California laws have interpreted this statute broadly and apply anytime a defendant damages a utility such as a telephone line.

In many instances, telephone lines are damaged as an act of domestic violence against a family member or loved one. Most defendants do this to prevent their spouses or loved ones from placing an emergency call or calling the police after an abuse. This is a violation of Penal Code 591 and would attract the same penalties considered in property crimes, although this is a domestic violence offense.

Please note, damage to utility lines does not only apply to the specific equipment that offers utility services. It also applies to equipment connected to the utility lines and can significantly impact their utility services if tampered with.

Penalties for Violating Penal Code 591

Violation of Penal Code 591 is a wobbler, meaning that you can face a misdemeanor or felony charge. This depends on the nature of your allegations and your criminal history.

If you are facing misdemeanor charges, the potential penalties include:

  • Summary or misdemeanor probation
  • A maximum of one year in county jail
  • A fine of up to $1,000

In a felony charge, the potential penalties include:

  • Formal or felony probation
  • 16 months, two years, or three years of sentence in prison under the California realignment program
  • A fine of up to $10,000

What You Should Know About Summary and Felony Probations

It is essential to learn about both summary and felony probation since there is a possibility of facing these punishments after being found guilty of violating penal code 591. Probation is another alternative for punishment that requires a defendant to spend some time in jail and serve the remaining sentence on probation.

Before you are granted probation as your sentence, the individual preparing your report will examine the following factors to determine your eligibility:

  • Your criminal history
  • The circumstances of your offense
  • Family situation
  • Employment status and history
  • Whether the offender has paid restitution or not
  • Impact on your family and dependent upon your jailing
  • Financial loss to the targeted victim

Once the report has been presented, the judge will decide whether to award the probation under particular conditions. Some of the conditions are as follows:

  • Performance in community services
  • Submit to unwarranted searches on your property or person
  • Serve a particular time in jail
  • Make good faith efforts to find employment or remain employed

Failure to adhere to any of these conditions may have your probation revoked. If you were serving summary probation, it might be voided if you committed a similar crime. The same applies to formal probation, although there are stricter consequences for contacting a victim and resisting an unwarranted search by law enforcement.

Suppose you violate probation, you will be arrested and detained. You will be entitled to a hearing if you were under felony probation, and the court can decide on the following options:

  • Reinstating your probation but with stricter conditions
  • Revoke the probation and have you serve your remaining jail sentence
  • Reinstate your probation but subject you to additional fines
  • Extend our length of probation

What You Need to Know About California Realignment Program

As stated above, you can serve a county jail sentence under the California realignment program if you are facing felony charges for violating Penal Code 591. The California realignment program is a program that convicts non-serious, non-sexual, or non-violent felony offenses in county jail instead of a prison sentence. This program aims at reducing the prison population by changing practices regarding sending people to prison.

Since a violation of Penal Code 591 is considered a non-serious or non-violent crime, you are eligible for this program. When it comes to sentencing under this program, the judge might sentence you to the full county jail sentence allowed or sentence you to a portion of the time allowed and place you under out-of-custody mandatory supervision. This supervision is similar to probation.

There are other creative sentencing measures under realignment that the judge might consider. This includes:

  • House arrest
  • Community service
  • Work release
  • Furlough program
  • Restorative justice program

Additional Consequences for Violating Penal Code 591

Besides serving probation, jail time, or paying fines, you might face additional consequences for violating penal code 591. One of these further consequences is losing the right to vote. Under the 14th amendment of the United States Constitution, the power to vote is restricted to persons convicted of any felony crime or is currently serving a federal prison sentence or serving a state prison sentence in a county jail or correctional facility.

You might also be required to submit your DNA samples once convicted under this statute. As of 1st January 2009, adults arrested for felony offenses should be subjected to DNA collection in California. This requirement applies to both adults and juveniles. So, if you are found guilty of damaging utility lines in California, you might be required to provide DNA samples to the state. Therefore, it is necessary to hire an attorney to dismiss your case, and your DNA samples cannot be used in criminal investigations.

Legal Defenses to Violating Penal Code 591

Once you are arrested and charged for violating Penal Code 591, you should find and consult a criminal lawyer. Hiring an experienced attorney will make you aware of your rights and help you adopt relevant legal defenses to your charges. Here are the common legal arguments that your attorney could use.

False Accusations

It is uncommon for someone to be prosecuted and convicted based on false allegations. However, it is possible to be charged for violating Penal Code 591 based on anger, revenge, jealousy from the accuser. Although there are chances of being tried, whereas the accusations are false, your attorney can investigate the allegations and reveal the truth.


It is common to experience an accident. Therefore, any accusation based on an unanticipated event means that your actions were not willful or intended for a particular purpose. For instance, suppose you were driving on an icy road, and the ice caused your car to spin uncontrollably and subsequently hit an electricity pole, causing a blackout. In this situation, you cannot be guilty of violating Penal Code 591 since your actions were not willful.

Police Entrapment

Sometimes people end up being charged with particular crimes, whereas they were blackmailed or trapped into commissioning the action. For instance, suppose you were harassed or threatened by someone, probably a law enforcement officer, to disconnect your telephone line to benefit their criminal activities, you are not guilty of this offense.

To use this legal defense in your charges, you have the burden to prove that another person trapped you. You can achieve this by providing evidence such as video footage or voice records.

Lack of Probable Cause

The police should have probable cause to arrest and detain you. This means that they should have a reasonable belief that you were involved in criminal activity, depending on the surrounding circumstances. You can be arrested for violating Penal Code 591 simply because the damaged telephone, electricity, or utility line is on your property. In contrast, there is no proper evidence suggesting that you were the actual perpetrator. Therefore, if you can prove your non-involvement in the criminal action, the court might dismiss your case.

Your criminal attorney should present a suppression motion that asks the court to exclude any evidence obtained without any probable cause. Your case might be dismissed if the court grants this motion.

Mistaken Identity

You can be mistakenly identified as a perpetrator if you resemble the actual perpetrator or found at the crime scene. Someone might also point the finger to you to cover up their criminal liability if you were at the crime scene. You have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you were not involved in the crime to have your case dismissed by the court if your charges are based on mistaken identity. One way to achieve this is by demonstrating your absence from the crime scene using evidence such as phone records, video footage, and witnesses.

Mistake of Fact

You can use 'mistake of facts' as your legal defense if you honestly believed that you were not committing a crime while doing something which, in the real sense, is a criminal act. For example, suppose you were repairing your internet cable line on your property and damaged your cable television line with the belief that it is your internet cable connection.

In this situation, the fact that you reasonably mistook the telephone line for an internet cable connection might acquit you from your charges. However, you must provide enough evidence proving that you misunderstood the lines to be eligible for your case's dismissal.

Please note that your ignorance of Penal Code 591 does not mean that you can use this defense in court. This means that you cannot break this law just because you do not know about it. That's why you should prove your facts in court.


Under the California legal system, necessity can be used as an excuse for your criminal conduct if it was done to avoid more significant harm. Therefore, you should reasonably believe that you or another person could have suffered significant bodily harm, and there is no reasonable alternative other than engage in criminal conduct. For instance, if your neighbor's house was on fire, and you decided to disconnect the gas line to avoid furthering the fire, you can be acquitted of the charges presented against you.  

Police Misconduct

Finally, you can rely on police misconduct as a legal defense to your charges if particular police’s actions prove misconduct. Some of the situations involving police misconduct include lying in court testimony and the use of unnecessary and excessive force during your arrest.

When you can identify and prove several police misconduct actions, it gives you leverage towards winning your case. It might also allow you to press a civil claim and seek money damages.

Crimes Related to California Penal Code 591

You can be charged with other crimes apart, instead, or alongside Penal Code 591. This means that these crimes are related to this offense in one way or another. It is essential to learn about these crimes to know the potential penalties that they attract. These crimes are as follows.

Penal Code 631: Wiretapping

California Penal Code 631 is the statute that defines wiretapping as a California crime. Under this statute, it is illegal to use a recording device to tap into another person's line to listen to private communication. Please note, California is a 'two-party consent state,' meaning that you cannot be charged under this statute if you and the plaintiff consented to the recording.

Most people engage in this crime to gain an advantage over an opponent in a legal dispute or business competitor. Therefore, there are possibilities of being charged for this crime and Penal Code 591.

Violation of Penal Code 631 is a California wobbler, meaning that you can face a misdemeanor or felony charge. In a misdemeanor charge, the potential penalty includes $2,500 in fines, a maximum of one year in county jail, or both. In a felony charge, the potential sentence includes 16 months, 2, or 3 years in county jail. If you have a similar prior charge, the maximum fine rises to $10,000.

Penal Code 632: Eavesdropping

Violation of California Penal Code 632 is another crime that is closely related to Penal Code 591. Under this statute, it is illegal to listen to another person's conversation using an electronic device without tapping a phone line. This law also applies when the defendant is alleged to have secretly recorded the defendant or used a hidden video camera in a situation or place that the speaker expected to be granted privacy. Eavesdropping is a wobbler and attracts a maximum penalty of one year in county jail and a maximum felony penalty of 16 months, 2, or 3 years.

Penal Code 594: Vandalism

Penal Code 594 defines vandalism as the malicious act of damaging, defacing, or destroying another person's property. Vandalism can be defined in several ways as long as it involves damaging another person's property. You could be charged for vandalism and the charges under Penal Code 591 if you intended to damage someone else's property through your criminal actions.

The kind of penalties that result from vandalism in California varies according to the nature of the crime. You can be sentenced to misdemeanor vandalism if the damaged property's value is less than $400. The penalty for misdemeanor vandalism is as follows:

  • A maximum of one year in county jail
  • A fine of up to $1,000 or $5,000 if you have a prior vandalism conviction
  • Summary probation

If you were involved in damaging property worth $400 or greater, this becomes a wobbler. A misdemeanor conviction attracts a maximum of one year in county jail, a fine of up to $10,000 or $50,000 if the damaged property was worth $10,000 or more, and summary probation.

In a felony charge, the potential penalties include:

  • 16 months, 2, or 3 years in county jail with probation of up to one year
  • A fine of up to $10,000 or $50,000 if the damaged property is worth $10,000 or more
  • Probation

Penal Code 422.6: Stand-alone Hate Crime

Under Penal Code 422.6, it is a crime to interfere with another person's civil rights based on their religion, sexual orientation, gender, disability, religion, and association with anyone with these or actual perceived characteristics. If your violation of Penal Code 591 was based on a hate-crime, you might be subjected to the consequences resulting from this crime and the penalties under Penal Code 591.

Violation of Penal Code 422.6 is a misdemeanor and attracts potential penalties such as:

  • A fine of up to $5,000
  • Misdemeanor probation
  • A maximum of one year in county jail

You can receive enhanced penalties if you committed a misdemeanor or felony, and the prosecutor can prove that the offense was executed as a hate crime. The potential enhanced penalties include:

  • Greater fines
  • Possible imprisonment in the state prison
  • Longer jail time

Find a Property Crime Attorney Near Me

You should seek the best legal services if you are charged with malicious damage to utility lines like telephone and electrical lines. Finding the best legal services can be challenging, especially if you have no prior legal experience. However, you can narrow down to the best legal service provider if you diligently and carefully evaluate your options.

At the Orange County Criminal Lawyer, we offer top-notch legal services by assessing your case and developing strong defenses to achieve the best results. If you would like to speak to a property crime attorney, call us at 714-262-4833 and learn how we can make the difference in your case.