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Can Prank Calls Get You Arrested?

By Andrew Lu on November 29, 2012 4:03 AM

At some point in your life (probably when you were a teen), you may have made a prank call to a friend or neighbor. While making and receiving prank calls may seem like something we just have to deal with, you should be aware that there are laws affecting prank calls and that you could get arrested for this practical joke.

The most likely criminal law that applies to prank calls is harassment. However, depending upon your jurisdiction, other laws like laws prohibiting disorderly conduct, wiretapping, and even hate crimes may apply.

Here's a look at a few ways your prank calls could potentially get you arrested:

  1. Harassment. There's a thin line between an obnoxious prank call and an illegal, harassing prank call. In general, it may be unlawful to call someone late at night and say something stupid. However, if you start calling every ten minutes day after day, or make threatening remarks, then you may be violating the law.
  2. Disorderly Conduct. Some states' definitions of disorderly conduct include offensive and abusive language intended to arouse anger in others. Similar to harassment, for a prank call to constitute disorderly conduct, the call typically needs to be more severe than just a dumb joke. Instead, think verbal abuse and other demeaning conduct.
  3. Hate Crimes. Hates crimes are similar to harassment, except the underlying motive for the crime is the victim's underlying characteristic like his religion, race, national origin, etc. So if you call someone and that person has a heavy accent, you may be committing a hate crime if you start mocking that person's voice or nationality.
  4. Wiretapping. It's illegal in many states to record phone conversations without the other party's consent. Still, many teens record prank calls with the hope of catching some funny exchange and then sharing it with all their friends. Be aware that this recording of phone calls may constitute a felony.

If your dumb joke has indeed resulted in criminal charges, get in touch with an experienced criminal defense attorney. Just make sure the lawyer understands you're really looking for help, and not just making a prank call.

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