ARS 13-2916 is the Arizona statute that defines the crime of telephonic or electronic harassment. People commit this offense if they use their telephone or computer to terrify, intimidate, threaten, or harass a specific person. A violation of this law is a Class 1 misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail.
The language of ARS 13-2916 states: “It is unlawful for any person, with intent to terrify, intimidate, threaten or harass a specific person or persons, to do any of the following:
- Direct any obscene, lewd, or profane language or suggest any lewd or lascivious act to the person in an electronic communication.
- Threaten to inflict physical harm to any person or property in any electronic communication.
- Otherwise disturb by repeated anonymous, unwanted or unsolicited electronic communications the peace, quiet or right of privacy of the person at the place where the communications were received.”
- making several telephone calls a day to an ex-girlfriend and leaving messages that say, “we’re meant to be together.”
- sending text messages to someone threatening to sexually assault the person.
- emailing a person nude images with messages asking for sex.
Criminal defense lawyers draw upon several legal strategies to help defendants challenge harassment charges. Some of these include showing that a defendant:
- did not act with criminal intent,
- did not leave or offer a lewd or obscene message, and/or
- practiced his/her right to free speech.
- custody in jail for up to six months, and/or
- a maximum fine of $2,500.
In this article, our Phoenix Arizona criminal defense attorneys will discuss what the law is under these statutes, defenses available if charged, the penalties for a conviction, and related crimes.
1. How does Arizona law define “telephonic harassment”?
People in Arizona are guilty of telephonic harassment if they use electronic communications (for example, the use of a telephone) to terrify, intimidate, threaten, or harass a specific person.1
The language of ARS 13-2916 sets forth three ways in which a person can commit this offense. These are when, with an intent to terrify, intimidate, threaten, or harass a person, someone:
- directs any obscene, lewd, or profane language or suggests any lewd or lascivious act to a person via the use of electronic communication,
- threatens to inflict physical harm to a person or property in any electronic communication, and/or
- disturbs a person’s peace or privacy via repeated anonymous, unwanted, or unsolicited electronic communications.2
For purposes of this section, “electronic communication” means a wireline, cable, wireless or cellular telephone call, a text message, an instant message, or electronic mail.3
Note that people often commit this crime while threatening to commit some other offense in relation to the “victim.” Some of these offenses include:
- domestic violence, per ARS 13-3601,
- aggravated assault, per ARS 13-1204,
- child abuse, per ARS 13-3623,
- criminal damage, per ARS 13-1602,
- 2nd-degree murder, per ARS 13-1104,
- endangerment, per ARS 13-1201,
- abuse of a vulnerable adult, and
- violating an order of protection or court order.
Note, too, that while ARS 13-2916 is the Arizona statute that addresses telephonic harassment, ARS 13-2921.01 is the state statute on “aggravated harassment.” People commit this crime when:
- they harass another person, and
- a court has issued an order of protection or an injunction against harassing “the victim.”4
2. Are there defenses to ARS 13-2916 charges?
Defendants have the right to challenge a charge brought under this statute with a legal defense. Three common defenses to unsolicited electronic communications include showing that:
- the accused did not act with criminal intent.
- the accused did not leave or offer a lewd or obscene message.
- the defendant was engaged in free speech.
2.1 No criminal intent
People are only guilty of telephonic harassment if they act with an intent to terrify, intimidate, threaten, or harass. A defense, then, is for a person to show that they did not act with any of these aims. Maybe, for example, someone repeatedly “butt dialed” a person, or maybe they texted someone as a joke. Both of these are acts without criminal intent.
2.2 No lewd or obscene message
It is a crime under this statute for people to leave or offer lewd or obscene electronic messages. But keep in mind that the messages have to be lewd or obscene to a reasonable person. This means it is always a defense for people to show that a message was not reasonably offensive.
2.3 Free speech
The language of ARS 13-2916 specifically states that the law does not apply to constitutionally protected speech or activity.5 Therefore, defendants can always try to assert that their electronic communication was protected by the First Amendment right to free speech.
Consider, for example, the scenario where a person sends out an anti-abortion email campaign with pictures of fetal remains. While many people might find the images offensive, the emails are protected by the First Amendment.
3. What are the penalties?
Telephonic harassment is a Class 1 misdemeanor under Arizona law.6
The crime is punishable by:
- custody in jail (as opposed to state prison) for up to six months, and/or
- a maximum fine of $2,500.
Note that in lieu of jail time a judge can award a defendant with up to three years of probation.
4. Are there related offenses?
There are three crimes related to telephonic harassment. These are:
- disorderly conduct – ARS 13-2904,
- criminal trespass – ARS 13-1502, and/or
- unlawful imprisonment – ARS 13-1303.
4.1 Disorderly conduct – ARS 13-2904
Per ARS 13-2904, disorderly conduct is the crime where people:
- knowingly engage in a certain type of disruptive behavior (like making loud noise or using offensive language), and
- do so with the intent to disturb the peace.
As with violations of ARS 13-2916, most violations of this statute are Class 1 misdemeanors.
4.2 Criminal trespass – ARS 13-1502
Under ARS 13-1502, criminal trespass is the offense where people knowingly enter or unlawfully remain on real property after the property owner or law enforcement/peace officers request that they leave.
As with telephonic harassment, people must have a criminal intent to commit the crime of trespass. They must act knowing that they are entering or unlawfully remaining on someone’s property.
4.3 Unlawful imprisonment – ARS 13-1303
Per ARS 13-1303, unlawful imprisonment is a crime where people knowingly restrain another person without consent and without legal authority.
Unlike this statute, people violate ARS 13-2916 without taking any type of physical act or stance against another person. The law focuses solely on a person’s communications.
For additional help…
For additional guidance or to discuss your case with a criminal defense lawyer, we invite you to contact our law firm at the Shouse Law Group. Our attorneys provide both free case evaluations and legal advice you can trust.
- Arizona Revised Statutes 13-2916A.
- ARS 13-2916A1-3.
- ARS 13-2916E.
- ARS 13-2921.01.
- ARS 13-2916C.
- ARS 13-2916D.