In a technology-driven society, the reliance on phones, electrical systems, and utility lines has become a part of our daily lives. Unfortunately, there are instances where these essential elements of modern living are intentionally damaged, leading to disruption, inconvenience, and potential danger. Under California Penal Code 591, such acts of vandalism are considered property crimes and are taken seriously by the legal system.

When facing charges related to damaging phones, electrical or utility lines, it is crucial to have a skilled and experienced defense attorney on your side who can help you navigate the law. At Chula Vista Criminal Attorney, we can examine witness testimonies, challenge any inconsistencies in the prosecution's case, and craft a strategic defense tailored to your specific circumstances.

The Legal Definition of Damaging Phones, Electrical, or Utility Lines

Under Penal Code 591, it is unlawful for any person to maliciously or willfully damage, destroy, remove, disconnect, or tamper with any telegraph or telephone line, wire, cable, or instrument, or any equipment or apparatus appertaining to telegraph or telephone lines. Furthermore, it includes willfully interfering with the operation of any public utility, such as electrical systems or utility lines, intending to obstruct, injure, or interfere with the operation, transmission, or distribution of any such public utility service.

The term "damaging" encompasses a wide range of actions, such as physically destroying or breaking the infrastructure, cutting, severing, or removing wires or cables, and tampering with equipment or instruments associated with telegraph, telephone, electrical, or utility systems. It also includes intentional interference or obstruction of public utility services, which may disrupt the transmission, operation, or distribution of these essential services.

Elements of Penal Code 591

The elements of PC 591 provide the foundation for prosecuting individuals who engage in acts that intentionally cause harm to these crucial infrastructural components.

Willful and malicious intent

The first element of PC 591 requires that the defendant's actions were deliberate, purposeful, and carried out with malicious intent. This means that the individual must have intentionally engaged in damaging, destroying, removing, disconnecting, tampering, or interfering with phones, electrical systems, or utility lines. A mere accident or unintentional act would not fulfill this element.

Damaging or interfering with infrastructure

The second element pertains to the specific actions performed by the defendant. It encompasses physically damaging or destroying the infrastructure, such as cutting, severing, or removing wires, cables, or other components. It also includes tampering with the equipment or apparatus associated with telegraph, telephone, electrical, or utility systems. Additionally, interfering with the operation, transmission, or distribution of any public utility service is also covered under this element.

Telecommunication and utility infrastructure

The third element focuses on the targeted entities of the offense. It includes telegraph and telephone lines, wires, cables, instruments, and equipment pertaining to telegraph or telephone lines. Furthermore, it encompasses public utility systems, such as electrical systems and utility lines, that provide essential services like electricity, gas, water, or communication services.

Public utility service obstruction or interference

The final element of PC 591 addresses the intent behind damaging phones, electrical systems, or utility lines. The prosecution must establish that the defendant acted with the intention to obstruct, injure, or interfere with the operation, transmission, or distribution of any public utility service. This element recognizes the potential disruption, inconvenience, financial loss, and potential harm that can result from tampering with or damaging these critical infrastructure components.

Penalties for Misdemeanor Offenses

If the violation of PC 591 is classified as a misdemeanor, the penalties may include:

Misdemeanor convictions can result in fines of up to $1,000 plus a maximum jail sentence of up to one year.

Penalties for Felony Offenses

In more serious cases, PC 591 violations can be charged as felony offenses, carrying more severe penalties. They can lead to 3 years imprisonment plus fines of up to $10,000.Courts may order the defendant to pay restitution to compensate for the damage caused. This involves reimbursing the victim or the affected utility company for the expenses associated with repairing or replacing the damaged infrastructure.

Understanding Felony and Summary Probations

Probation is a period of supervision that allows offenders to remain in the community under specific conditions. The type of probation imposed depends on the severity of the offense and other factors considered by the court.

Summary Probation

Summary probation, also known as informal or misdemeanor probation, is typically imposed for less severe offenses, including some violations of PC 591 that are charged as misdemeanors. Here are the key aspects of summary probation:

  • Supervision — Under summary probation, the offender must not report to a probation officer regularly. However, they must still comply with the terms and conditions set by the court.
  • Conditions — The court may impose various conditions as part of summary probation, tailored to the specific circumstances of the case. These conditions may include paying fines, restitution, attending counseling programs, or staying away from specific locations or individuals.
  • Duration — Summary probation typically lasts for a specified period, often between one to three years. However, the court may extend the probation term if the conditions have not been met or if the offense involved significant harm.

Felony Probation

For more serious offenses, including felony violations of PC 591, felony probation may be imposed. Felony probation has stricter supervision requirements and more intensive conditions compared to summary probation. Here are key aspects of felony probation:

  • Supervision — Felony probation involves regular meetings with a probation officer who monitors the offender's compliance with court-ordered conditions.
  • Conditions — The court may impose stringent conditions as part of felony probation. These conditions can include mandatory drug testing, participation in rehabilitation programs, community service, and electronic monitoring.
  • Duration — Felony probation can last for several years, often ranging from three to five years. The length of probation is determined by the court, taking into account factors such as the seriousness of the offense and the individual's criminal history.

Additional Penalties

Violating Penal Code Section 591 can result in various legal consequences beyond the penalties outlined earlier. Here are some of the potential additional consequences for violating PC 591:

Civil Liability

In addition to criminal charges, individuals who damage phones, electrical systems, or utility lines may face civil liability. This means that they can be held responsible for compensating the victims or relevant utility companies for the costs associated with repairing or replacing the damaged infrastructure. Civil lawsuits can result in significant monetary damages, depending on the extent of the harm and financial losses incurred.

Impact on Personal and Professional Reputation

A conviction for damaging phones, electrical systems, or utility lines can have lasting consequences on an individual's personal and professional reputation. Employers, licensing boards, and educational institutions may view such offenses as a breach of trust and responsibility, potentially leading to employment termination, professional license revocation, or educational sanctions.

Loss of Privileges

Individuals convicted of violating PC 591 may face additional consequences, such as the loss of certain privileges or rights. For example, if the offense involves tampering with communication systems, the court may restrict or revoke the offender's ability to possess or use electronic devices or participate in certain online activities.

Immigration Consequences

Non-U.S. citizens who violate PC 591 can face immigration consequences, including deportation or denial of entry into the country. Any conviction related to damaging phones, electrical systems, or utility lines can have severe ramifications for an individual's immigration status.

Enhanced Sentencing for Repeat Offenders

Repeat offenders of PC 591 may face enhanced penalties. If an individual has a prior conviction for a similar offense, subsequent violations can result in increased fines, longer periods of incarceration, or more restrictive probation conditions.

Defenses Against PC 591

When facing charges of violating Penal Code Section 591, it is essential to mount a robust defense to protect your rights and seek the best possible outcome in your case. Understanding the available legal defenses can help you build a strong case strategy with the assistance of an experienced criminal defense attorney. Here are some potential defenses to consider:

Lack of Intent

Intent is a crucial element of the offense under PC 591. If it can be shown that you did not have the intent to damage phones, electrical systems, or utility lines, you may have a valid defense. For example, if the damage was accidental or occurred without your knowledge, it can support a defense against the charges.

Mistaken Identity

If you can provide evidence or witnesses to establish that you were not the person responsible for the alleged damage, you can argue mistaken identity as a defense. This defense challenges the prosecution's assertion that you were the individual who committed the offense.

Lack of Evidence

Challenging the sufficiency of the evidence is a common defense strategy. If the prosecution fails to present substantial evidence that proves your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, it can weaken your case and create reasonable doubt in the minds of the jury.


If you had lawful permission or consent to engage in the activities that allegedly resulted in damage to phones, electrical systems, or utility lines, it can serve as a defense. Consent can be expressed or implied and can undermine the prosecution's claim of unlawful conduct.


The defense of necessity argues that you committed the act of damaging phones, electrical systems, or utility lines to prevent greater harm or danger. This defense requires demonstrating that there was an imminent threat or emergency that compelled you to take action.

Insufficient Knowledge

If you genuinely believed that your actions were lawful or did not have knowledge of the potential damage caused by your conduct, it can serve as a defense. This defense asserts that you lacked the requisite knowledge to be held criminally responsible for the offense.

Constitutional Violations

If your constitutional rights were violated during the investigation, arrest, or collection of evidence, it can provide a defense to the charges. For instance, if law enforcement conducted an illegal search or seizure without a valid warrant, evidence obtained may be suppressed.

Expunging a PC 591 conviction in California

Expungement allows eligible individuals to have their convictions set aside and their records updated, providing an opportunity for a fresh start. Understanding the expungement process specific to PC 591 convictions in California is crucial for those seeking to move forward with confidence.

Eligibility for Expungement

To be eligible for expungement of a PC 591 conviction in California, you must meet certain requirements, including:

  • Completion of Sentence — Before seeking expungement, you must have completed your sentence, including any period of probation or parole imposed by the court. This entails fulfilling all the obligations set by the court, such as payment of fines, completion of community service, or meeting other conditions.
  • Time Requirement — In California, there is generally a waiting period before you can apply for expungement. For most misdemeanors, this waiting period is one year from the date of conviction. For felony convictions, the waiting period is typically three years. It's important to note that these timeframes may vary based on the specific circumstances of your case.
  • Good Conduct — Demonstrating good conduct is a critical factor in determining eligibility for expungement. This entails complying with the terms of your probation or parole, avoiding any new criminal charges, and demonstrating a commitment to personal growth and rehabilitation.
  • Petition for Expungement — To pursue expungement, you must file a petition with the court that handled your conviction. The petition should include details about your case, reasons for seeking expungement, and supporting documentation demonstrating your eligibility.

Benefits of Expungement

Obtaining an expungement of your PC 591 conviction in California can offer numerous benefits, including:

  • Improved Employment Prospects — Expunging your conviction can enhance your chances of securing employment. With a clear record, you can confidently pursue job opportunities without the stigma associated with a criminal conviction.
  • Housing Opportunities — Many landlords and rental agencies conduct background checks on applicants. Expunging your conviction can improve your chances of finding suitable housing by minimizing the negative impact of your record.
  • Professional Licensing — Certain professions and occupations require professional licenses, which may be affected by a criminal conviction. Expungement can help alleviate barriers to obtaining or maintaining these licenses, expanding your career possibilities.
  • Restoration of Civil Rights — Expungement can aid in restoring certain civil rights that may have been affected by your conviction, such as the right to vote, serve on a jury, or hold public office.

Related Offenses

Below are some of the offenses that are charged along with or together with damaging phones, electrical or utility lines under California law.

Wiretapping - PC 631

Penal Code 631, commonly known as California's wiretapping law, plays a crucial role in safeguarding individuals' privacy and protecting the confidentiality of their communications. This law prohibits unauthorized interception or recording of wire, electronic, or oral communications without the consent of all parties involved.

The law covers various forms of communication, including phone calls, text messages, emails, and other digital exchanges. By establishing these boundaries, Penal Code 631 seeks to uphold the right to privacy in an increasingly connected world.

Exceptions to the law exist in specific circumstances. Consent from all parties involved serves as a crucial exception, allowing lawful interception or recording of communications. It is important to note that consent must be obtained from each individual before engaging in any form of wiretapping. Additionally, authorized entities such as law enforcement agencies may conduct wiretapping under specific circumstances and with proper legal authorization, such as a court-issued warrant.

Violating Penal Code 631 is classified as a felony offense and the penalties include 3 years imprisonment and fines of up to $10,000. In addition to criminal charges, individuals who engage in unlawful wiretapping may also face civil liability. Affected parties have the right to pursue civil lawsuits to seek damages for invasion of privacy, emotional distress, and other harms resulting from the unauthorized interception of their communications.

Eavesdropping - PC 632

Under Penal Code 632, eavesdropping refers to the act of intentionally and without the consent of all parties involved, overhearing, recording, or otherwise intercepting or attempting to intercept any confidential communication. This encompasses various forms of communication, including conversations, telephone calls, and other private interactions.

Prohibited Activities

Penal Code 632 prohibits several activities related to eavesdropping:

Overhearing or Recording Communications

It is unlawful to intentionally listen to, record, or intercept any confidential communication without all parties' consent. This means that unless all parties give their consent, it is generally illegal to eavesdrop on or record private conversations.

Unauthorized Disclosure or Use

Penal Code 632 also prohibits the unauthorized disclosure or use of any information that has been obtained through eavesdropping. This provision ensures that information obtained illegally cannot be disseminated or exploited.

Exceptions and Consent

While the general rule is that all parties must consent to the interception or recording of communications, there are exceptions where eavesdropping may be legally permissible:

  • Lawful Authorities — Certain authorized entities, such as law enforcement agencies, may conduct eavesdropping under specific circumstances and with proper legal authorization, such as a court-issued warrant.

Individuals who engage in eavesdropping may face criminal charges, classified as a misdemeanor offense. However, certain circumstances, such as repeat offenses or commercial eavesdropping, can elevate the charge to a felony. For a misdemeanor offense, the charges include fines of up to $1,000 and up to one-year Imprisonment.

Vandalism - PC 594

Under Penal Code 594, vandalism refers to the act of maliciously defacing, damaging, or destroying property that belongs to someone else. This can include graffiti, keying cars, breaking windows, damaging public infrastructure, or any intentional act that results in physical harm or alteration of property.

Prohibited Activities

Penal Code 594 prohibits various activities related to vandalism, including:

Defacing Property

It is unlawful to intentionally deface property by applying graffiti, paint, markers, or any other substance without the owner's permission. This provision addresses acts that mar or alter the appearance of property.

Damaging Property

The law prohibits causing physical property damage, such as breaking windows, damaging structures, or destroying objects. Acts that render property inoperable or significantly diminish its value fall under this category.

Destroying Property

Penal Code 594 also encompasses the offense of destroying property, which involves causing severe or irreparable damage to another person's property. This includes acts that render the property useless or beyond repair.

Violating Penal Code 594 can result in both criminal and civil consequences. Vandalism can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the severity of the offense, the value of the damage, and the defendant's criminal history. Misdemeanor charges can lead to imprisonment for up to one year and a maximum fine of $1,000. On the other hand, felony charges can result in 3 years imprisonment and $10,000 fines.

Stand-alone Hate Crime - PC 422.6

Under Penal Code 422.6, a stand-alone hate crime occurs when an individual commits a criminal offense with the specific intent to target and intimidate another person or group based on their perceived or actual race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, disability, gender, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, or association with individuals who possess these characteristics.

Prohibited Activities

Penal Code 422.6 prohibits a range of activities related to stand-alone hate crimes, including:

Threats and Intimidation

Making threats or engaging in conduct that instills fear, intimidation, or emotional distress in an individual or group based on their protected characteristics.


Engaging in a pattern of conduct that targets and persistently annoys, alarms, or causes substantial emotional distress to an individual or group due to their protected characteristics.

Vandalism and Property Damage

Committing acts of vandalism, property damage, or destruction motivated by hate towards a person or group based on their protected characteristics.

Assault and Battery

Physically attacking or causing bodily harm to an individual based on their protected characteristics.

Committing a stand-alone hate crime is a wobbler offense, meaning it can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony, depending on the circumstances. Felony convictions can lead to 3 years imprisonment and $10,000 fines while misdemeanor convictions can lead to one-year imprisonment and fines of up to $1,000.

Find a Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me

When facing charges related to damaging phones, electrical systems, or utility lines, it is important to seek the assistance of a skilled and experienced California criminal attorney. At Chula Vista Criminal Attorney, we can help you navigate the complex legal process and provide you with strong legal representation. Call us today at 619-877-6894.