We rely on functioning electrical, utility, and telephone lines to stay connected with our loved ones and ensure emergency responsive services are within your reach. Therefore, willingly and maliciously damaging another person's electrical, phone, or utility equipment is a severe crime that can attract severe penalties upon conviction under Penal Code (PC) 591.

This crime is often associated with domestic violence (DV) cases, but anyone can commit it, especially burglars and those attempting to obtain electricity illegally. If you are under investigation, arrested, or charged with a PC 591 violation, hire a reliable defense attorney to explain and help you comprehend what you are up against and represent you in court for the best attainable outcome.

At California Criminal Lawyer Group, we would be glad to hear your case's details and prepare defenses to challenge the allegations in court for the best attainable results. Do not hesitate to contact our reliable defense attorneys if you or someone you care about has a pending PC 591 charge or is under arrest in Anaheim.

Examples of Acts that Would Attract a Charge Under PC 591

PC 591 makes it illegal to maliciously and willingly damage, remove, injure, cut, disconnect, or obstruct another person's electrical line, cable, or telephone. A PC 591 violation conviction could carry felony or misdemeanor penalties because it is a wobbler offense. Below are examples of illegal acts that can attract a charge under this statute:

  • A man disconnects his neighborhood's electrical wires to cause a power outage.
  • In a DV-related alteration or heat of passion, the husband snatches her wife's phone and removes the battery or smashes it against the wall to prevent her from making a call for help.
  • A lady intentionally cuts her neighbor's cable television lines as revenge or a way to resolve a disagreement or grudge.
  • A man damages another person's cable line with the criminal intent to commit a burglary offense.
  • Unlawful excavation of electrical lines in your apartment or property.

Criminal Court Stages to Expect When Charged With a PC 591 Violation

If you are under arrest or investigation for allegedly damaging another person's electrical or communication lines, you should begin preparing for the criminal court process ahead of time. The criminal court process refers to how your case will move from arrest, sentencing, and probably an appeal.

Explained below are the various criminal court stages or phases to expect when charged with a PC 591 violation:

The Arraignment Phase

After the arrest and booking process, the police could release you on bail or hold you in custody until your first court hearing, also known as arraignment. At this court proceeding, the judge will read the charges the prosecutor has filed against you and inform you of your legal rights, including the right to retain the services of an attorney.

The judge will then allow you to enter a plea of your choice, including:

  • Not guilty.
  • Guilty.
  • No Contest.

When you enter a "not guilty" plea, which is a wise idea, the judge will hold a bail hearing to determine your eligibility for bail and a suitable bail amount for your offense. The judge will consider the factors listed below when determining your eligibility for a release from jail on bail upon an arrest for a PC 591 violation:

  • Your history of returning to court after posting bail.
  • Your criminal background.
  • Your behavior in court.
  • Your likelihood of fleeing the state or country after your release.
  • Your family ties.
  • Whether you are employed.

The Pretrial Phase

The pretrial phase occurs after your arraignment, moments before your case's trial hearing. Depending on the facts of your case and your attorney's mitigating arguments, the prosecutor could agree to drop your charge at this stage. Generally speaking, the pretrial refers to all proceedings that will occur before your trial, including:

  • Court appearances.
  • Discovery issues (exchange of all the relevant evidence associated with your case).
  • Motion practice (a petition by your attorney or the prosecutor for the judge to make a particular ruling based on some aspects of the case).
  • Plea negotiations or bargains.

The pretrial phase of the criminal court process gives your defense attorney a vital opportunity to poke holes in the prosecutor's case against you and cross-examine witnesses, if any, to obtain the best possible outcome. One of the most critical issues addressed during this hearing is the admissibility of the evidence the prosecutor has against you.

If the prosecutor plans to use evidence obtained unlawfully through an illegal search, your defense can file a motion to suppress this evidence. A motion to suppress evidence is typically a request to the judge to exclude certain evidence from your case.

The Trial Phase

If it is impossible to convince the prosecutor to dismiss your case at the pretrial phase of the criminal court process, your PC 591 charge will progress to trial. You have a legal right to a speedy trial, but you can opt to delay your case's trial for weeks or even months.

At trial, you can decide to have a judge or jury decide whether the allegations you are facing are true beyond a reasonable doubt. An experienced attorney can help you understand the difference between a trial by a judge (bench trial) and a jury trial and which could work best in your unique case to obtain a favorable outcome.

To secure a guilty judgment against you for a PC 591 violation, the prosecutor presiding over your case has the burden to prove the following facts or elements of the crime to the judge:

  • You illegally obstructed, damaged, removed, or disconnected a cable television, electrical, telephone, telegraph line, or mechanical equipment linked to the line.
  • You did so willingly and maliciously.

For the sake of this law, you act or behave "maliciously" when you do the following:

  • Intentionally and willingly do a wrongful or illegal act.
  • Do so with the criminal intent to injure or annoy another person.

If the prosecutor cannot prove the above elements beyond a reasonable doubt, the court could return a "not guilty" verdict and allow you to go free. However, when the judge finds the prosecutor's arguments and evidence reasonable and viable, he/she will convict you for a PC 591 violation, and your case will move to the sentencing phase.

The Sentencing Phase

You have a legal right to a sentencing proceeding or hearing after a guilty plea or conviction. A sentencing hearing gives the prosecutor and your attorney a chance to explain what feels like a fair and appropriate sentence for your PC 591 violation conviction to the judge. Your defense attorney will present mitigating arguments and evidence to justify why you deserve a lighter sentence.

On the other hand, the prosecutor will present aggravating arguments to show the judge that you deserve harsher penalties for a PC 591 violation conviction. Since a PC 591 violation is a wobbler, you should expect misdemeanor or felony penalties upon conviction. Whether the prosecutor will file your case as a felony or misdemeanor will depend on various factors, including:

  • Your criminal history.
  • Your unique case's facts.

When the prosecutor files your case as a misdemeanor, a PC 591 violation conviction will attract a fine of up to $1,000 and a maximum of one (1) year in jail. However, if the prosecutor files your case as a felony, a PC 591 violation conviction will carry a jail term of up to three (3) years and a fine not exceeding $10,000.

Whether your case is a felony or misdemeanor, the judge can award you probation or parole instead of jail time. However, during your probation period, you must be ready to adhere to strict court-set terms and conditions, including:

  • Pay restitution.
  • Attend a counseling session.
  • Perform community service.
  • Agree to random check-ups with a court-appointed probation officer.

Unlike misdemeanor probation, which can last for a maximum of three (3) years, felony probation could last for no more than five (5) years. It is worth noting that when you violate the terms of your probation, the court could order a rearrest for probation violation, which is a separate offense. Upon your arrest for allegedly violating the terms of your probation, the court will hold a hearing to determine whether:

  • To revoke your probation and send you to jail for the maximum time required for a PC 591 violation conviction.
  • Reinstate your probation with the same conditions.
  • Reinstate your probation with harsher conditions.

Fortunately, by mounting appropriate defenses, a skilled defense attorney could help you avoid these potential penalties for a PC 591 violation conviction.

The Appeals Phase

If the court finds you guilty of a PC 591 violation, your attorney can help you appeal this judgment. However, you must have proper legal grounds for the appeal. Viable legal grounds for appealing a verdict involve flaws or mistakes in the court process, such as:

  • The prosecutor did not have sufficient evidence to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
  • An error of law prejudiced the outcome of your case.

If there was a mistake in the court process, the appellate court could overturn your PC 591 violation conviction or schedule a fresh trial.

Common Defenses to a PC 591 Violation

Dealing with the officers, prosecutors, and jurors upon an arrest on suspicion that you are a culprit in a PC 591 violation case can be devastating and stressful when you do it alone. A competent and skilled defense attorney can analyze your unique case's facts to inform you of your options and prepare defenses for your situation.

Below are some of the defense arguments your attorney could use to challenge a PC 591 charge for the best possible outcome:

Your Act Was Accidental

Remember, for a PC 591 violation conviction, the prosecutor must prove your act was willful and malicious. If your act was not malicious and you did not have the criminal intent to damage the accuser's electricity, telephone, or utility line, you would not be guilty under PC 591.

For instance, when driving home from a tiresome day at work, you fall asleep while at the wheel and knock down your neighborhood transformer, leading to a blackout. Even though you did not know you would fall asleep while driving, the court could hold you liable for negligence. However, you cannot be guilty of a PC 591 violation because you did not knock down the transformer intentionally.

Your Act Was Not Malicious

When charged with a PC 591 violation, the prosecutor must prove that you had the criminal intent to cause injury or harm to another person (the accuser) to obtain a conviction against you. If your criminal defense attorney can prove that you did not have malicious intentions, you would not be guilty of a PC 591 violation.

You are a Victim of False Allegations

A PC 591 violation is a crime ripe for false accusations, especially in a DV-related case involving a nasty breakup or divorce. Fortunately, the court cannot convict you of a PC 591 violation if you did not physically damage, remove, cut, or obstruct the accuser's electrical wires, utility lines, or telephone lines.

Even lawmakers understand that victims of DV cases can testify falsely about the crime scene's activities to have the defendant convicted and sentenced for a crime he/she did not commit. The court will drop or reduce your charge if this defense argument works to your advantage.

Entrapment by the Police

Entrapment is a viable affirmative defense to particular criminal charges, including a PC 591 violation. When your attorney raises this defense, he/she will argue that the arresting officer coerced or induced you to commit a crime you would not otherwise commit.

For example, if a police officer threatened or harassed you to disconnect your neighborhood telephone lines and electrical wires to benefit an organized criminal activity, you would not be guilty of a PC 591 violation.

There Was No Probable Cause for Your Arrest

The police must have sufficient probable cause to initiate an arrest. That means an officer must have a reasonable suspicion that you are a culprit in a criminal case to initiate an arrest against you. If the arresting officers lacked probable cause to arrest you, the court will not convict you for a PC 591 violation.

For instance, if the police arrest you because the damaged electrical or utility lines are on your premises, your attorney can assert this defense to obtain the best possible outcome.

You are Mistakenly Identified as the Perpetrator

Someone can mistakenly identify you as the perpetrator if he/she finds you at the crime scene or if you have the same height and skin color as the actual perpetrator. It is also possible for someone to point fingers at you because you were at the crime scene with the motive or intent to cover up his/her criminal liability.

If your defense attorney plans to use this defense, he/she must be ready to provide enough clear evidence to prove that you did not commit the offense to obtain a case's dismissal.

There Was a Necessity to Commit the Offense

Your attorney can use a necessity defense for your behavior or act if you had to do so to avoid harm to your property or yourself. For instance, if your house were on fire and you believed the only way to stop the fire was to disconnect or cut the electrical line or gas line, you would not be guilty of a PC 591 violation.

How to Obtain an Expungement for a PC 591 Violation Conviction

Aside from the above legal penalties, a PC 591 violation conviction will stay on your criminal record, affecting several aspects of your life, including (but not limited to) the following:

  • Eligibility for college education.
  • Eligibility for reliable job opportunities.
  • Eligibility to obtain professional licenses.

If you are guilty of a PC 591 violation, you can avoid these detrimental consequences by filing a PC 1203.4 petition to expunge your criminal background or record. However, you must serve your jail term or complete your parole or probation successfully without violations to qualify for expungement.

Once you obtain an expungement of your criminal record, you do not have to disclose the PC 591 violation conviction to anyone, including your potential employers. The judge presiding over your case is likely to grant your PC 1203.4 petition if:

  • You do have a criminal record.
  • There are chances that you will secure employment or hold down a job.
  • You have performed community service.

If your PC 1203.4 petition is unsuccessful, your defense attorney can help you obtain other post-conviction relief options to avoid the detrimental repercussions of a conviction. Other post-conviction relief options you could qualify for for a fresh start in your life include:

  • A Governor's pardon.
  • A COR (certificate of rehabilitation).

If you have an attorney, he/she can attend your expungement hearing on your behalf to convince the court that you are an excellent candidate for this post-conviction relief option.

Offenses Related to a PC 591 Violation

The following common crimes are related to a PC 591 violation. That means the prosecutor can charge you with any of these offenses instead of or alongside the PC 591 charge, depending on the circumstances and particulars of your unique case. Examples of these related offenses include:

Damaging a Communication Gadget to Prevent Help

According to Penal Code 591.5, it is a misdemeanor offense to damage another person's communication gadget to prevent him/her from seeking help using it. When charged with a PC 591.5 violation, a conviction could attract the following penalties:

  • Up to $1,000 maximum fine.
  • A maximum of one year in jail.
  • Misdemeanor probation.


PC 594 defines the crime of vandalism as maliciously and intentionally defacing or damaging another person's property. While a PC 591 charge focuses on the obstruction or damage to electrical, utility, and telephone lines, a vandalism offense under PC 594 focuses on damage to all kinds of property.

Depending on the loss the accuser incurred to repair the damage, the prosecutor can file a PC 594 violation as either a misdemeanor or a felony. If the cost of the repair is below $400, the prosecutor will charge you with a misdemeanor vandalism offense, carrying the following potential penalties upon conviction:

  • A maximum of one (1) year in jail.
  • A fine amounting to up to $1,000.
  • Misdemeanor probation.

If the cost of repairing the damage caused to the property amounts to $400 or more, your vandalism case will become a felony. The potential sentence for a felony PC 594 violation includes:

  • Up to three (3) years of custody in jail.
  • A $10,000 maximum fine.
  • Felony probation.


According to Penal Code 631, you commit the crime of wiretapping when you use a recording gadget to unlawfully tap into another person's telephone line to listen to his/her private communications. However, if you had the person's consent to tap his/her phone, you would not be guilty of a PC 631 violation.

Most people commit this offense to gain an advantage over another in a business or legal dispute. That means there are chances that the prosecutor presiding over your case could file wiretapping charges against you alongside the underlying PC 591 charge. Since a PC 631 violation is a wobbler, a conviction could carry misdemeanor or felony punishment.

A misdemeanor wiretapping offense conviction will carry the following potential penalties:

  • A $1,000 maximum fine.
  • A maximum of one year in jail.
  • Misdemeanor probation.

On the other hand, when charged with a felony wiretapping offense under PC 631, a conviction will attract the following possible penalties:

  • Up to three years of jail time.
  • A fine amounting to up to $10,000.
  • Felony probation.


PC 459 defines the act of burglary as entering another person's house, locked vehicle, or commercial establishment with the criminal intent to commit a petty theft, grand theft, or felony offense once inside. You could be guilty of burglary once you enter another person's house, locked vehicle, or commercial establishment, even if you did not manage to steal anything. 

Auto and commercial burglaries could attract a jail term of three years upon conviction. However, a burglary of another person's residence will attract severe penalties upon conviction, including a jail term of up to six years.

Find a Competent Anaheim Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me

You can rely on our profound and aggressive defense attorneys at California Criminal Lawyer Group for additional legal guidance and representation if you are under arrest or charged with a PC 591 violation. Call us at 714-766-0965 to schedule your initial, cost-free appointment with our Anaheim attorneys.