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Kansas has criminalized harassment by telephone or other “telecommunication device.” This harassment can occur in a number of ways, including sending text or images via a cell phone, calling another individual several times, even if the party does not answer the call. The key is that the party making the call or sending the text is trying to harass or threaten the other party. To clarify when the actions of a person are or are not illegal, it is important to look at what the courts of Kansas have already decided. Case law, also known as common law, is a type of law that is based on the decisions of courts in past legal cases. It is an important source of law in many countries, including the United States.

Here's how it works: When a case is brought to court, the judge or judges hearing the case are responsible for interpreting and applying the law to the specific facts of the case. They consider the relevant statutes (laws passed by a legislative body), as well as any previous cases that may be relevant to the issue at hand. Once the court has reached a decision in the case, the reasoning behind that decision is recorded in a written opinion. This opinion becomes part of the body of case law on that particular legal issue.

If a similar legal issue arises in a future case, the court can refer to this body of case law for guidance in reaching its decision. This process of using previous court decisions as a guide in deciding current cases is known as precedent. While case law is not the only source of law in the United States (statutes and constitutions are also important sources of law), it plays a significant role in shaping the law and providing guidance to courts in their decision-making process. Below are a few cases from Kansas that outline key points about the crime of telephone harassment.

State vs. Woolverton (284 Kan. 59 (2007))  

This case answered the question: Can you be guilty of telephone harassment if the phone call is never actually answered? The court held that multiple phone calls that were placed with the intention of disturbing and harassing the other party constitute telephone harassment, even if the other party decides not to pick up the phone.

State vs. Olson (243 P.3d 382 (Kan. 2010))  

This case answered the question: Can you be guilty of telephone harrassment even if the other party doesn’t believe the threat is real? The court held that it is the accused’s intention to threaten or harass that makes the conduct illegal. So if there is enough evidence to suggest that the call was meant to threaten, telephone harassment may exist even though the other party didn’t believe the threats.

State v. Thompson (237 Kan. 562 (1985))  

This case answered the question: Does the telephone harassment statute attempt to ban speech protected by the First Amendment? The court held that telephone harassment is sufficiently restricted to speech that is not entitled to First Amendment protections. Particularly, the requirement that the accused made the statements in an attempt to harass or threaten removes any First Amendment protections that may have existed.

State v. Estill (13 Kan. App. 2d 111 (1988))  

This case answered the question: How can the State prove the accused made the phone call when the call is never answered? The court held that phone records showing the calling number, along with testimony from others in the home that they had not made the calls, was enough to overcome the accused’s claim that she did not make the calls and prove otherwise.

State v. Schuette (273 Kan. 593 (2002))  

This case answered the question left over after Estill: Does the State require phone records when the receiving device has caller ID? The court held that it was willing to accept the accuracy of the caller ID without more (known as “judicial notice”).

State v. Schoonover(281 Kan. 453 (2006))  

This case answered the question: Can a defendant be convicted of criminal threatening and telephone harassment, based upon the same threat communicated via telephone? The court answered this question initially in Schuette, but the confusion surrounding the answer was clarified here. A defendant can be convicted of multiple crimes, even when they deal with the same act. The court is only concerned with ensuring each crime has distinct elements that must be met; criminal threatening and telephone harassment are distinct in what the State must prove, and thus a defendant may commit both offense with a single phone call.