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Can Prank Calls Get You Arrested?

By Alex Sirek | Last updated on

Making a prank phone call to your local McDonald's may seem like nothing more than a funny joke. What's the worst that could happen? Is Ronald McDonald going to drag you to county jail?

Well, we hate to disappoint you would-be pranksters, but law enforcement could easily get involved depending on the kind of prank call. There are laws affecting prank calls and you could potentially serve jail time for your practical joke. A prank call gone wrong could easily leave someone with a misdemeanor or even a felony!

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

Here's a look at a few types of prank calls that could potentially get you arrested:

  1. Harassment: There's a thin line between an obnoxious prank call and an illegal, harassing prank telephone call. In general, it may be unlawful to call someone late at night and say something stupid. However, you may be violating the law if you start making repeated calls every 10 minutes daily or make threatening remarks.
  2. Disorderly Conduct: Some states' definitions of disorderly conduct include offensive and abusive language intended to arouse anger in others. For a prank call to constitute disorderly conduct, it needs to be more severe than just a dumb joke. Instead, think verbal abuse, obscene language, and other demeaning conduct.
  3. Hate Crimes: Hate crimes are similar to harassment, except the underlying motive is to attack the victim's underlying characteristic, such as religion, race, sexual orientation, etc. So if you call someone who has a heavy accent and you mock their voice or nationality, you may be committing a hate crime.
  4. Wiretapping: It's illegal in many states to record cell phone conversations without the other party's consent. Still, many teens record prank calls hoping to catch some funny exchange and then share it with all their friends. Be aware that this recording of phone calls may constitute a felony.
  5. Bomb Threats: Regardless of the circumstances of a bomb threat, the prank caller has committed a very serious criminal offense. Obviously, using mass violence to make a prank is incredibly dangerous and irresponsible. Due to the immense danger of bomb threats, emergency services and local police departments could also get involved.

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

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