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What is Telephone Harassment?

Most of the time when people are charged with the crime of telephone harassment they didn’t realize the crime even existed. Most people have no idea that some simple miscues on the telephone could cause them to be arrested, ticketed or thrown into jail. In Kansas, telephone harassment is a crime under state law. It is illegal to use a telephone to threaten, intimidate, or harass another person. If you are charged with telephone harassment in Kansas, you may face criminal penalties, including fines and jail time.

To be charged with telephone harassment in Kansas, the prosecution must prove that you used a telephone to communicate in a way that was intended to threaten, intimidate, or harass another person. This can include making threatening or obscene phone calls, repeatedly calling someone without a legitimate reason, or using the phone to stalk or harass someone.

If you are accused of telephone harassment in Kansas, it is important to seek legal counsel as soon as possible. An experienced criminal defense attorney can help you understand the charges against you and defend you in court. There are many laws in Kansas against telephone harassment and depending on the city in which the conduct takes place you may be subject to a different standard. We will look at the Kansas State law and a local city ordinance in Lenexa.

The Kansas State Law on Telephone Harassment:

Harassment by telecommunication device is the use of a telecommunications device to:

Knowingly make or transmit any comment, request, suggestion, proposal, image or text which is obscene, lewd, lascivious or indecent;

make or transmit a call, whether or not conversation ensues, with intent to abuse, threaten or harass any person at the receiving end

make or transmit any comment, request, suggestion, proposal, image or text with intent to abuse, threaten or harass any person at the receiving end;

make or cause a telecommunications device to repeatedly ring or activate with intent to harass any person at the receiving end;

knowingly play any recording on a telephone, except recordings such as weather information or sports information when the number thereof is dialed, unless the person or group playing the recording shall be identified and state that it is a recording; or

knowingly permit any telecommunications device under one’s control to be used in violation of this paragraph.

Telefacsimile communication to send or transmit such communication to a court in the state of Kansas for a use other than court business, with no requirement of culpable mental state.

  • Harassment by telecommunication device is a class A nonperson misdemeanor.

  • Every telephone directory published for distribution to members of the general public shall contain a notice setting forth a summary of the provisions of this section. Such notice shall be printed in type which is no smaller than any other type on the same page and shall be preceded by the word “WARNING.”

  • As used in this section, ‘‘telecommunications device’’ includes telephones, cellular telephones, telefacsimile machines and any other electronic device which makes use of an electronic communication service, as defined in K.S.A. 22-2514, and amendments thereto.

  • An offender who violates the provisions of this section may also be prosecuted for, convicted of, and punished for any other offense in K.S.A. 2012 Supp. 21-550821-550921-5510 or 21-6401.

Lenexa Municipal Code on Telephone Harassment: Harassment by electronic communication is the use of electronic communication for any of the following purposes:

  • Making or transmitting any comment, request, suggestion, image, text or proposal which is obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy or indecent; or

  • Initiating contact one or more times, whether or not conversation ensues, with the intent to abuse, threaten or harass any person.

  • As used in this Section, electronic communication means a transfer or signs, signals, writing, images, sounds, data, or intelligence of any nature transmitted in whole or in part by a wire, radio, optical cable, electromagnetic, photo-electronic, photo-optical system, or other similar means whether digital or analog, including but not limited to:

    1. A communication using electronic mail, instant messaging, network call, internet-based communication, telephone, telefacsimile communication, or electronic text messaging; and

    2. A communication made to a pager.

Why Are There Two Different Laws On The Same Subject?

There are actually far more than two laws on telephone harassment. Each city has the ability to regulate the conduct that occurs within its borders therefore each city has the ability to make their own particular ordinance when it comes to telephone harassment. Oftentimes cities will have a more stringent standard than the state law. If you look closely at these two laws you will see a few differences. The state law tends to focus more on telephone communications, however the city law has a broader scope including emails and other types of electronic communications not specifically cited in the state law.

How serious is a Telephone Harassment Charge?

The Kansas legislature has classified telephone harassment as a misdemeanor crime. Misdemeanor crimes are divided into four different groups. Each group of misdemeanor crimes are assigned an appropriate punishment in accordance with their perceived severity. Here are the four groups and their proscribed punishments.

Class A– These are the most severe misdemeanor crimes. They include theft, second offense driving while intoxicated, second offense driving on a s suspended license, second offense marijuana possession, telephone harassment, second offense domestic battery and battery on a law enforcement officer. The punishment range for a class A misdemeanor is up to 1 year in the county jail.

Class B- These are the second most severe misdemeanor crimes. Common crimes that fall into this group are driving while intoxicated, driving on a suspended license, and domestic battery. The punishment range for a class B misdemeanor is up to 6 months in jail.

Class C- These are the least severe misdemeanor crimes. Common crimes that fall into this group are driving without a seat belt or disorderly conduct. The punishment range for a class C misdemeanor is up to 30 days in jail.

Unclassified Misdemeanors- These are crimes that are not ranked in the above classifications. Each unclassified misdemeanor is assigned a specific punishment range usually listed in each particular law. The maximum possible range is up to 1 year in county jail.

In Kansas, telephone harassment is a criminal offense. The seriousness of the charge depends on the specific circumstances of the case and the severity of the alleged conduct. In general, telephone harassment is classified as a misdemeanor in Kansas. Misdemeanors are less serious crimes than felonies, but they can still carry significant consequences, including fines and jail time.

If the alleged conduct is particularly severe or if the victim is particularly vulnerable (e.g., a minor), the charge may be elevated to a more serious offense, such as stalking or aggravated harassment. These offenses can carry more severe penalties, including longer jail sentences and larger fines.

If you have been charged with telephone harassment in Kansas, it is important to seek legal counsel as soon as possible. An experienced criminal defense attorney can help you understand the charges against you and defend you in court. To put it simply, a charge of telephone harassment is a serious deal. It is possible to get into more trouble for telephone harassment than hitting your wife or husband during an argument, or driving while intoxicated and wrecking your car. If you find yourself charged with telephone harassment you need the help of an experienced criminal defense lawyer from the outset. The vast majority of the time if a telephone harassment case is handled properly a defendant never spends time in jail and many times the defendant can maintain a clean criminal record. 

What Is The Maximum Possible Punishment If I Am Convicted Of Telephone Harassment?

If you are convicted of telephone harassment it is possible to spend one year in jail. The Kansas state legislature has classified telephone harassment as a class A misdemeanor. Class A misdemeanors are the most serious misdemeanor charges that exist in Kansas.

What do you do if you are charged with Telephone Harassment?

Don’t Talk To The Police if questioned about your telephone.

If you are accused of telephone harassment the police are going to want to “get your side of the story.” Don’t fall for this. The police have no intention of finding evidence to show that you did nothing wrong. They are trying to get you to admit to a technical violation of the law. You will never regret keeping your mouth shut. The problem with keeping your mouth shut when accused of telephone harassment is that until you find yourself charged with telephone harassment, you probably didn’t even know that there was a law against telephone harassment in the first place. Most people’s natural inclination is to explain yourself when the police show up at your door. Especially when they don’t think they have done anything against the law. The officer will ask if you called the person or sent them a picture or text and you will say sure but I didn’t mean to harass them or bother them. Well in that one statement you just helped them prove one of the elements of their case, you just admitted to sending the message. Now all they must do is prove jurisdiction and that you had the intent to harass. The more you talk the easier you make it on them to convict you.

Don’t Voluntarily Let The Police Look At Your Phone.

If the police accuse you of anything always keep your mouth shut. Likewise, if the police want to search your telephone, email, Facebook, Twitter or any other form of communication, just say no. Unless the officer has a warrant the police officer has no right to search your property. If an officer threatens you with obtaining a warrant, tell them to go get one. Search warrants can be more difficult to receive than you may believe. If you authorize or let an officer look at your phone you are giving consent and waiving your fourth amendment right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure. Just say no, don’t make an officer’s job of convicting you any easier.

Don’t Call, Text, Email Or Communicate At All With The Alleged Victim.

Communicating with this person is what got you in trouble in the first place. You can be assured if you continue to communicate with someone after you have been charged with telephone harassment things are going to escalate. Often the next step will be to file a protection from abuse or protection from stalking case against you in the district court. If someone attempts to obtain one of these “restraining orders” against you, you’ll be fighting two cases at once. Even if the alleged victim doesn’t go that route, all they must do is call the police and tell them you are continuing to contact them and you’ll end up with another telephone harassment case.

Don’t Talk With Anyone Other Than A Lawyer About Your Case:

You have the right to remain silent. Use it. If you confide in someone the details of your case and that person isn’t a lawyer, you are hurting your case. If the prosecution finds out that someone else has details of your criminal conduct they can force that person to come into court and make them testify about the information that you told them. The last thing you want is a “friend” or acquaintance coming into court to testify about you confessing to a crime.

Talk To A Criminal Defense Lawyer As Soon As Possible.

If you are charged with telephone harassment talk to a criminal defense lawyer. Many times, telephone harassment charges are able to be successfully defended. There are common jurisdictional problems with many telephone harassment cases; there are oftentimes problems with proving the requisite intent; and many times the content of messages sent do not rise to harassment when put in the correct context. In short, with the requisite knowledge and skill many telephone harassment cases can be won.

If you do not have a defensible case or are unwilling to defend the case your attorney can negotiate on your behalf to try to mitigate the damages. Often times a respected criminal defense lawyer can work out something with a prosecutor to avoid a conviction on your record and keep you out of jail.

What are a few examples of Telephone Harassment?

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 harassment 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.