Property owned by the government or local authorities in your area is subject to protection under the law. The protection extends to imposing criminal liability to persons found guilty of destroying the property, as they will have introduced costs to the maintenance authority. You may be liable for damaging the phone, electrical, or utility lines, attracting a misdemeanor or felony charge.
The circumstances surrounding your case are pivotal to the overall outcome, as the prosecutor will work on presenting a lawsuit against you. Therefore, working with a criminal defense attorney is advisable to help you avert the charges and the penalties. At Darwish Law, you will work with some of the best criminal defense attorneys ready to support you through trial. Our wealth of experience equips us with the best knowledge to fight property crime charges in Santa Ana, California. Thanks to our input, you can avoid facing serious punishment like incarceration for long periods and paying hefty fines.
The Nature of the Offense
Anyone caught damaging power or utility lines will have violated the welfare of citizens who benefit from the connections. Ultimately, the inconveniences caused are sufficient to warrant criminal action against the party, primarily because the damages may be equated to vandalism. Hence, criminal law becomes relevant as it provides an avenue to prosecute liable parties.
Typically, parties charged with damaging phone, electrical, or utility lines will have done so maliciously, as provided under section 591 of the California Penal Code. Thus, the prosecution team will look out for the details provided under the section to ensure they build a credible case against the accused person.
You should also note that the offense may occur in various ways, including removing, disconnecting, obstructing, or injuring. Due to this, the investigation process may vary from one party to the next, depending on the case factors. Therefore, you want to work with a defense attorney to ensure the information collected against you is accurate. Further, your attorney will help you identify the elements of the crime for the case and prepare defenses suitable for use.
Elements of Crime Applicable to the Offense
It is noteworthy that criminal procedures impose the burden of proof on the prosecutor, as they act on behalf of the state to file a case against the arrested party. Moreover, the prosecutor’s presentation must be beyond a reasonable doubt to comply with the high standard of proof applicable in criminal cases.
The rationale behind the strict rules on evidence and prosecution arises because the law looks out for the accused’s interests. Having arrested people face penalties based on substandard evidence and case presentation would impede justice, resulting in unfair case outcomes.
Due to this, the presiding judge ensures that the burden and standards of proof are met. The prosecutor ensures they meet the mark by tackling the elements of crime individually to increase the scope of their thorough investigations. Hence, during the trial, you will expect the prosecutor to handle each element by itself, providing relevant proof and supporting arguments.
Learning of the possible approaches that the prosecution team may undertake is necessary, as it prepares you for the defenses you will use. Thus, your defense lawyer will advise you to remain keen during the case presentations from the prosecutor to ensure you pick out their inconsistencies, if any.
The following are elements of the crime for damaging the phone, electrical, or utility lines:
You Destroyed a Phone, Electrical, or Utility Line
Every criminal offense entails two main elements; the actus reus and the mens rea. Without proving that the accused was involved in both elements, the prosecutor’s case is bound to fail. Thus, this first crime element focuses on establishing actus reus, which translates to criminal action.
Showing that you actively destroyed a good utility line is essential in placing you at the focal point in discussing the case and its outcomes. Hence, the prosecutor is keen to demonstrate the specific actions to fulfill the criminal activity, as they range among various activities.
Firstly, you may face accusations of disconnecting a line. You removed the line from its power source or cut down its access point to consumers, meaning that they lacked access to the required use. For example, disconnecting a power line causes power outages, leading to many inconveniences and delays at home and in the office.
Secondly, you may face accusations of damaging the lines in question. You may have done this in various ways, including shredding them off, pulling the strings down, or introducing a reactive chemical to disfigure them and make them non-functional.
Alternatively, you could face charges for taking down the lines or obstructing others from accessing them through diversion. If so, your actions prevent everyday use without proper justification, warranting legal action against you.
You should also note that the term lines extend to utilities like electrical use, television, cable connections, and telegraphs that only function when connected to the line. Further, you will be liable under the charge if you tampered with any lines related to equipment that is wholly reliant on the lines to function.
When presenting this crime element, the prosecutor will focus on the evidence available to prove your guilt. For example, if any surveillance footage shows you in action during the destructive actions, it will be admissible in court. This includes videos and audio showing you in action.
Moreover, witness testimonies are also acceptable evidential sources, especially where the witness was present throughout the duration. Any footage they collected on their phones or other devices that prove you are to blame for destroying the lines is also admissible.
Sometimes, investigation officers may have to trace the guilty party through forensics, especially where no witnesses were present or devices to record the illegal actions. Thus, forensic remnants from the crime scene become the guideline for tracing you. For example, any fingerprints around the destroyed wires and tiny hairs or any other DNA sources are admissible in evidence to prove your presence at the scene.
Lastly, this element also includes tampering with another person’s phone by removing the battery. This inclusion was made to accommodate technological advances, as parties still need protection from different types of criminal activities.
Subsequently, removing or damaging a victim’s phone charge will attract the same consequences as damaging utility lines, as long as the prosecutor can show the accused’s involvement in all other elements of the crime.
You Were Unauthorized to Undertake the Actions
It is also essential for the prosecutor to distinguish between actions by authorized personnel and an unauthorized third-party during the prosecution. This ensures that you do not face criminal accusations while pursuing your regular duties as an electrician or a line maintenance personnel.
Proving this element is often straightforward, as it only requires the investigation team to submit your employment or contract details to the relevant authorities for verification. Once the rules determine that you are not their employee or contractor, your information is forwarded to the prosecutor, who will now have the mandate to present the charge in court.
Thus, having your case progress in court can imply that your employment status is already determined, meaning you were unauthorized to handle utility lines. Nevertheless, the prosecutor should still present the details they relied on upon, ruling you out and classifying you as an unauthorized party who tampered with the lines unlawfully.
Usually, they will present the documents showing a list of all persons permitted to handle the lines in question to rule you out by elimination. If you forged your identity to appear as authorized personnel, you might risk facing additional charges for the false information. Therefore, you want to engage your criminal attorney to determine if any remedies are available for you.
You Acted Maliciously
Lastly, the prosecutor should show that your actions were malicious to rule out any possibilities of an accident or unintended outcomes when handling the lines. Proving this crime element will have satisfied the second element of all criminal cases, the mens rea. The phrase translates to the criminal intention present when performing an unlawful act.
Although this crime element may appear straightforward to prove, it often requires the prosecutor to rely on circumstantial evidence to show your frame of mind. This is because showing that a person acted intentionally requires a proper analysis of the type of actions and their body language or reactions. The details are best found by checking the circumstantial details.
For example, the prosecution team may rely on the argument that you were aware of your actions and their illegal nature. If so, they can prove this by showing that you acted when you were sure that nobody would identify you or see what you were doing. This is likely to be late when most neighborhood watches are asleep or deter their attention elsewhere.
Alternatively, concealing your face to restrict your identification is also a circumstantial instance that shows your intention to act maliciously. This is because persons with genuine intentions are often fearless about being identified, as they do not risk any consequences. The prosecutor may present photographs or footage showing your face covered up to infer your malicious and unlawful intention.
Similarly, malice is apparent where the accused aims to cause inconvenience, annoyance, or injury to a third party. Due to this, the prosecutor may also focus on the perceived outcomes of your actions. For example, if you intended to annoy the victim of your actions, you may have caused constant and sudden power interruptions by tampering with the lines.
Your motives may have impaired their ability to work, relax, or undertake other activities. If so, the prosecutor can produce evidence showing that your actions were targeted to cause annoyance or disturbance, warranting criminal action taken against you.
Further, if you left the tampered lines naked, your intention to cause injury may be derived. This is because open lines can cause a short circuit and fires in extreme cases. This may then cause severe injuries to the victims, who may lack proper notice of the impending harm. Besides, unforeseen victims may be electrocuted from handling live wires, resulting in serious injuries or death.
With this in mind, the prosecutor’s evidence should point to specific safety hazards that arose due to your actions. If they successfully show your interference with the lines, you will be answerable to the charges and ultimately face the penalties.
Defenses for Damaging Phone, Electrical, or Utility Lines
After the prosecution team concludes presenting the elements of crime in the case, you will have a chance to present your defenses. This enables you to counter the initial arguments against you, as they may not necessarily be true. As a result, you want to take advantage of the allowance and work with your criminal defense attorney to establish elaborate defenses for your reference.
You should note that while you may have multiple defenses for use, they may not all apply to your case. Your case circumstances may vary, so having different defenses to try and avoid penalties may become counterproductive. Instead, you want to focus on one or two counterarguments to help you build on them and source reliable evidence.
Your attorney will help you rely on the following defenses upon facing the charge:
The Damaging Actions Were an Accident
Damaging phone, electrical, or utility lines can present a valuable defense for you during an accident, as your actions will have been genuinely unforeseen. Therefore, your criminal defense lawyer can help you source evidence to support the accident claim to help in building your credibility. This is because presenting your claim without backing may be an effort to avoid criminal liability.
Therefore, you can present the defense and evidence showing that you lacked the intention to destroy the lines. For example, if a witness saw you tripping over the utility lines, they can testify to the unintended nature of the damage caused. Similarly, the nature of the destroyed lines after the incident can reveal whether you acted intentionally or not, based on the messy and unpremeditated outcome.
An accident defense also requires you to elaborate on why you were around the lines, mainly if they have restricted access to civilians and unemployed parties. You can state that the lines are along your daily route to different locations, meaning that interacting with them is inevitable.
You Did Not Act With Malice
Alternatively, you may show that your actions were not malicious, meaning that you lacked the criminal intent necessary for conviction. You can use this defense if you intend to fix or repair the lines to benefit the general community. This is plausible if you live in a remote area where electric professionals may not access it easily.
Therefore, if you tampered with the lines with a genuine intention to fix them, you want to elaborate on your actions that caused the damage. You can further support your case by relying on general information on how lines should be handled to fix them or prevent further damage. Thanks to the reference source, you can demonstrate that your actions relied on the instructions but were not forthcoming with the outcome.
You Acted Out of Necessity
Lastly, your actions may have been necessary, leading you to disconnect or cut off the lines in question. This defense will be helpful in an emergency, especially after a heavy storm or a severe accident on the power lines.
Your only option may have been to disconnect the lines to avoid dealing with lasting power outages or fires after a short circuit. The judge presiding over your case will allow the defense as long as you justify your actions and back them with sufficient evidence.
Penalties for the Offense
If you are found guilty of damaging phone, electrical, or utility lines, you may face felony or misdemeanor penalties, depending on the case circumstances and your criminal history. This is because the offense is classified as a wobbler crime in California.
You may face up to one year in county jail if charged as a misdemeanor crime, while a felony charge attracts up to three years in jail.
Contact a Criminal Defense Lawyer Near Me
When you or a loved one faces charges for damaging an electrical, phone, or utility line, the consequences may be overwhelming if the judge issues a guilty verdict. Consequently, the accused party must avoid this by working with an experienced criminal defense attorney. With their help, you can establish strong defenses throughout the case and cast reasonable doubt on the prosecutor’s argument.
At Darwish Law, you will access reliable criminal defense services from the most experienced attorneys. Over the years, we have handled diverse criminal cases, including where clients were accused of damaging electrical, phone, or utility lines. Thus, our wealth of experience is sufficient for clients facing the charges in Santa Ana, California, to increase the chances of receiving a favorable case outcome. For more information on how to partner with us, call us today at 714-887-4810.