NRS 201.255 is the Nevada law making it a crime to place obscene, threatening or annoying telephone calls. This is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and/or up to $1,000 in fines. This crime is frequently charged along with harassment (NRS 200.571) and stalking (NRS 200.575).
The language of NRS 201.255 states that:
1. Any person who willfully makes a telephone call and addresses any obscene language, representation or suggestion to or about any person receiving such call or addresses to such other person any threat to inflict injury to the person or property of the person addressed or any member of the person’s family is guilty of a misdemeanor.
2. Every person who makes a telephone call with intent to annoy another is, whether or not conversation ensues from making the telephone call, guilty of a misdemeanor.
3. Any violation of subsections 1 and 2 is committed at the place at which the telephone call or calls were made and at the place where the telephone call or calls were received, and may be prosecuted at either place.
In this article, our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys discuss:
- 1. What qualifies as an “obscene, threatening, or an annoying telephone call” in Nevada?
- 2. Can I go to jail for violating NRS 201.255?
- 3. How can I defend against the charges?
- 4. Can defendants get deported?
- 5. Can the record be sealed?
- 6. Related offenses
1. What qualifies as an “obscene, threatening, or annoying telephone call” in Nevada?
Whether a telephone call rises to the level of obscene, threatening, or annoying is largely a matter of opinion. But Nevada law does provide some guidelines:
1.1. Obscene phone calls
It is a Nevada crime to willfully to make a telephone call using obscene language, representations or suggestions to – or about – the call recipient. Nevada uses the following standard by the United States Supreme Court when determining what qualifies as obscene:
- An average person applying contemporary community standards would find the speech – taken as a whole – appeals to the prurient interest; and
- Taken as a whole, the speech lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value; and
- The speech depicts or describes in a patently offensive way either 1) ultimate sexual acts, normal or perverted, actual or simulated, or 2) any masturbation, excretory functions, sadism or masochism. Or it lewdly exhibits the genitals.1
Consensual phone sex is not a crime. But if one person calls another with unsolicited sex talk – whether by voice or video such as FaceTime – then that person could face charges for an obscene phone call.
1.2. Threatening phone calls
It is a criminal offense in Nevada willfully to make a telephone call and then threaten to either:
- injure the call recipient;
- damage the call recipient’s property;
- injure a member of the call recipient’s family; or
- damage property belonging to any family member of the call recipient
Examples could be threatening to break the recipient’s bones, kill the recipient’s children, or to burn down their house. But vague threats such as “You’ll be sorry if you don’t do as I say” would probably fall short of illegal phone speech.2
Note that making threatening phone calls with the intent to extort money from the recipient would instead be prosecuted as blackmail (NRS 205.320). Expectedly, this carries more serious penalties than merely making a threatening phone call with no intent to profit from it.
1.3. Annoying phone calls
Nevada law does not actually prohibit annoying phone calls. Instead, it prohibits making a phone call with the intent to annoy the recipient. A defendant can still be convicted even if the recipient never answers the phone, if no conversation takes place, or if the recipient does not feel annoyed. All that matters is the defendant’s intent.3
2. Can I go to jail for violating NRS 201.255?
Yes, though judges are more likely to impose just a fine for a first-time offense. The maximum penalties for making an unlawful phone call are:
- 6 months in jail, and/or
- $1,000 in fines
Note that prosecutors may press charges in Nevada as long as one of the parties to the telephone call was within the state when the call was made. Therefore, a caller who has never been to Nevada could still face Nevada charges for making an illegal call to someone in Nevada.4
3. How can I defend against the charges?
Four potential defenses to Nevada charges of making an obscene, threatening, or annoying phone call include the following:
- The phone call was not willful. An example is if the defendant unknowingly pocket-dialed the accuser while having sex or watching a pornographic film.
- The defendant had no intent to annoy. It makes no difference whether the accuser was annoyed by the defendant’s call. As long as the defendant had no “intent to annoy”, the charge should not stand.
- The call was perfectly legal. What qualifies as threatening or obscene is subjective. Merely upset or frustrated speech breaks no laws. As long as prosecutors cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the content of the call was illegal, the case should be dropped.
- The defendant was falsely accused. Perhaps the accuser made up the allegations out of revenge, anger, or to gain the upper hand in an ongoing legal matter. In these cases, the defense attorney would search for evidence that demonstrates the accuser’s lack of trustworthiness and motivations to lie.
4. Can defendants get deported?
It is unlikely that making an unlawful phone call will result in non-citizen defendants getting deported. But if the call involved making serious threats, prosecutors may try to argue that it qualifies as a crime involving moral turpitude – which is deportable.5 Any immigrant charged with a crime should consult with experienced counsel in an effort to get the charge dismissed.
5. Can the record be sealed?
Yes. Nevada convictions for making an obscene, threatening, or annoying phone call can be sealed one (1) year after the case ends. But if the charge gets dismissed, then there is no waiting period before the defendant can pursue a record seal.6
6. Related offenses
NRS 200.571 prohibits threatening someone else with harm, causing that person to fear that the threat will be carried out. Harassment can be a misdemeanor, gross misdemeanor, or a felony depending on the seriousness of the case and whether the defendant has prior convictions.7
NRS 200.575 prohibits stalking, which is willfully causing another person to feel frightened or intimidated – usually through forced contact. It can be a misdemeanor, gross misdemeanor, or a felony depending on the seriousness of the case, the age of the victim, whether the defendant has prior convictions, and whether it involved cyber-stalking.8
6.3. Violating a restraining order
Violating the terms of a protective order (NRS 33.100) can be a misdemeanor, gross misdemeanor, or a felony depending on the purpose of the protective order, whether the order is a TPO or EPO, and whether the person has prior convictions. A common defense to these charges is that the defendant did not intentionally violate the order.9
In California? See our article on Penal Code 653m PC.
- NRS 201.255; NRS 201.235; Miller v. California, (1973) 413 U.S. 15.
- NRS 201.255.
- See 8 USC 1227.
- NRS 179.245; NRS 179.255.
- NRS 200.571.
- NRS 200.575; Green v. State, (2003) 119 Nev. 542, 80 P.3d 93, 119 Nev. Adv. Rep. 59.
- NRS 33.100.