Unlawful Communications: Everything You Need to Know
Formerly called “Improper Telephone Communications,” the criminal charge in La. R.S. 14:285 is now called Unlawful Communications. It is a misdemeanor offense in Louisiana.
Humans have come a long way in terms of communicating with each other – from using smoke signals to messenger pigeons to the invention of telephones, then electronic mails and now iPhones and social media. Using technology in communication has, without a doubt, become a necessity. It has integrated itself into our lives and has impacted us in more ways than we could imagine. It changed the way we interacted with one another and made it easier and cheaper to create new relationships or even reconnect with the old ones. Therefore, the criminal charge of Unlawful Communications was created in Louisiana.
It is true that technology has revolutionized the modern world, but it also has its fair share of downsides such as its utilization for unlawful communication or even for the perpetration of more sophisticated crimes. Although the right of the people to communicate is a constitutionally protected right, its exercise is nonetheless subject to certain restrictions and conditions. As such, it is crucial that its use is regulated by proper rules and laws. In Louisiana, the improper use of telephone communications or now known as unlawful communication, is a misdemeanor offense. Because it is considered only as a misdemeanor offense, it means that unlawful communication is penalized only by a fine and/ or up to a year of incarceration as provided by the Louisiana Criminal Cod. Under its state laws, the following acts are prohibited and are therefore penalized:
Examples of Unlawful Communications in Louisiana
Using Obscene Language
The express provision of the statute provides that the act of a person of using obscene, lascivious or otherwise vulgar language or making any indecent proposal as well as making threats to a person and coercing them into doing any illegal act or omission, directly or anonymously, either during a telephone conversation or contained in a text message shall constitute the unlawful communication contemplated by law and shall be punished.
In other words, the law specifically prohibits the use of bad language during a phone call or when sending a text message to another person. It is the clear intention of the law to protect a person against unwarranted sleepless nights, fright, mental shock, and serious anxiety caused by fear for one’s personal or his family’s safety by reason of such threats.
Sending Repeated Messages
The law sanctions the act of any person by sending repeated correspondence to another either directly or anonymously through the use of any telecommunication devices with the intent to harass or abuse the offended party. The law also states that whether or not there would be a conversation is immaterial in order to convict a person accused of sending repeated abusive messages. Therefore, despite the recipient responding, it would not be available as a defense to the offender in order to escape liability.
Failure to Hang Up
The provision of the law is explicit and direct in prohibiting the act of making crank calls or making telephone calls to another person, which is solely meant to annoy or vex the latter. It normally involves a repeated phone call in which the caller would not say anything but would not hang up.
Exposure of Minors to Graphic Language
The main purpose of the law against unlawful communication is to protect minors from being exposed to obscene language. The offender may be convicted of unlawful communication under this provision if he communicates with another through a phone call, text message, or recorded communication a graphic description of a sexual actor other immoral acts using obscene language and that it would be reasonable that a minor would have heard or read such messages. Whether or not the defendant knew the age of the minor is immaterial since lack of knowledge regarding the same is not available as a defense.
Permitting Others to Use Your Phone
This provision of the law basically aims to avoid the situation wherein the offender who uses someone else’s telecommunication device in order to perpetrate the offense or make an unlawful communication may escape liability by shifting the burden to another person who is the owner of the same. It also intends to protect the interest of the offended party by not making it difficult to identify the person responsible for causing injury to him.
In other words, although the owner of the device did not actually commit the offense, he may be held liable for unlawful communication if he knowingly allowed another person to use his device in order to do the illegal act, he may still be held liable unless such person proves that he has no knowledge of the offenders use of his device.
Any violation of the foregoing is cognizable by either the court of the place where the unlawful communication originated or the court of the place where such communication was received.
Unlawful communications is generally considered as a mere misdemeanor in Louisiana and is therefore punishable by imprisonment for a period not exceeding six months or payment of a fine in an amount, not more than $500, or both. However, if the offender has already been convicted of unlawful communication before and he is subsequently charged and found guilty of the same offense, it shall be deemed as a felony thereby imposing a higher penalty of serving in jail for a period not exceeding two years and payment of a fine not more than $5000, or both.
If any person has been on the receiving end of an abusing or harassing phone calls or text messages, it is important to immediately contact the local police in order to identify and eventually punish the harasser. The subsequent hiring of a criminal defense attorney is imperative to guide the offended party through the complicated legal system since personal injury and damages have been suffered by the victim.
When a person is charged with the alleged commission of this offense, it would be best for him/ her to immediately consult his/ her lawyer. The repercussions brought about by the commission of this offense may be lightened or altogether evaded with the help of a competent lawyer with expertise in this area.