California Penal Code 653y PC imposes punishments for knowingly using 911 for non-emergency reasons. This offense is usually an infraction, but it can be charged as a misdemeanor if your intent was to harass someone.
California Penal Code 653y PC prohibits knowingly using 911 for any reason other than an emergency.
Example: Betty is upset her neighbor is playing music too loud. She calls 911 on them. Here, Betty could be cited for violating PC 653y for using 911 for a non-emergency.
The penalties turn on whether your intent was to harass another person:
|Knowing misusing 911|| |
|Knowingly misusing 911 to harass someone|| |
2nd or subsequent violation
|Knowingly misusing 911 to harass someone as a hate crime|| |
Note that parents are liable for these fines if their unemancipated child violates this section. Though people with mental disabilities that make it difficult for them to understand their actions are immune from prosecution.2
Here at Shouse Law Group, we have represented literally thousands of people charged with crimes including misusing 911. In our experience, the following three defenses have proven very persuasive with prosecutors, judges, and juries:
- You genuinely believed the situation was an emergency. If a reasonable person in your situation would have used 911, then the D.A. may be willing to drop the charges.
- You called 911 by accident. Unless prosecutors can show you purposely called 911, criminal charges should not stand. For example, a “pocket dial” is not a crime.
- Someone else used your phone to call 911. If we can show that another person used your call to misuse 911, the D.A. should drop the charges against you (and possibly prosecute the person who did use your phone).
Common evidence in these cases includes eyewitness accounts and video surveillance footage.
See our related article, misusing 911 with intent to harass (PC 653x).
- California Penal Code 653y PC – Punishment for misuse of 911 telephone system. The text of the statute reads as follows:
(a) A person who knowingly allows the use of or who uses the 911 emergency system for any reason other than because of an emergency is guilty of an infraction, punishable as follows: (1) For a first violation, a written warning shall be issued to the violator by the public safety entity originally receiving the telephone call or the communication from an electronic device describing the punishment for subsequent violations. The written warning shall inform the recipient to notify the issuing agency that the warning was issued inappropriately if the recipient did not make, or knowingly allow the use of the 911 emergency system for, the nonemergency 911 telephone call or the communication from an electronic device. The law enforcement agency may provide educational materials regarding the appropriate use of the 911 emergency system. (2) For a second or subsequent violation, a citation may be issued by the public safety entity originally receiving the telephone call or the communication from an electronic device pursuant to which the violator shall be subject to the following penalties that may be reduced by a court upon consideration of the violator’s ability to pay: (A) For a second violation, a fine of fifty dollars ($50). (B) For a third violation, a fine of one hundred dollars ($100). (C) For a fourth or subsequent violation, a fine of two hundred and fifty dollars ($250). (3) The parent or legal guardian having custody and control of an unemancipated minor who violates this section is jointly and severally liable with the minor for the fine imposed pursuant to this subdivision.
(b) Knowingly allowing the use of or using the 911 emergency system for the purpose of harassing another is a crime that is punishable as follows: (1) For a first violation, as an infraction punishable by a two-hundred-fifty dollar ($250) fine or as a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in a county jail, a fine of up to one thousand dollars ($1,000), or both that imprisonment and fine. (2) For a second or subsequent violation, as a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in a county jail, a fine of up to one thousand dollars ($1,000), or both that imprisonment and fine.
(c) If a person knowingly allows the use of or uses the 911 emergency system for the purpose of harassing another person and that act is an act described in Section 422.55 or 422.85, the person who commits the act is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in a county jail, a fine of not less than five hundred dollars ($500) nor more than two thousand dollars ($2,000), or both that imprisonment and fine.
(d) For purposes of this section, “emergency” means any condition in which emergency services will result in the saving of a life, a reduction in the destruction of property, quicker apprehension of criminals, or assistance with potentially life-threatening medical problems, a fire, a need for rescue, an imminent potential crime, or a similar situation in which immediate assistance is required.
(e)(1) Notwithstanding subdivision (a), this section does not apply to a telephone corporation or any other entity for acts or omissions relating to the routine maintenance, repair, or operation of the 911 emergency system or the 311 telephone system. (2) This section does not apply to uses of the 911 emergency system by a person with an intellectual disability or other mental disability that makes it difficult or impossible for the person to understand the potential consequences of their actions.