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Interference With Emergency Calls in Texas

Have you been arrested for interfering with an emergency call in Texas? If so, you need the help of an experienced Houston criminal defense attorney. Intentionally preventing someone from placing a 911 call can carry significant criminal penalties, including fines, probation, and even time behind bars. You have the right to defend yourself against any allegations of criminal wrongdoing, and Board Certified Houston criminal defense attorney Doug Murphy can help.

Doug Murphy has nearly 20 years of experience fighting to secure the rights and freedoms of his clients. He is Board Certified in criminal defense and is highly knowledgeable of the law and thoroughly informed of the court systems in the region. Doug Murphy is well known among his peers for his legal capabilities and, as such, is frequently invited to speaking engagements in Texas and throughout the United States. His former clients also confirm his dedication and commitment to them and their defense.

Call the Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C. today to schedule a free consultation with our skilled legal team. We will review the details of your alleged crime, determine the best legal strategy for your defense, and answer any questions you may have. The state will begin to build its case against you the moment you are placed under arrest, so it is important to call us now.

Interference With Emergency Request for Assistance

In Texas, it is illegal to interfere with another person's attempt to request emergency assistance. You can be charged with interference with an emergency request for assistance, as defined in Texas Penal Code §42.062, if you:

  1. Knowingly or recklessly
  2. Prevent or interfere
  3. With another's ability to place an emergency call or to request assistance
  4. In an emergency
  5. From a law enforcement official, medical facility, or other entity with the purpose of providing safety to individuals.

In other words, you can face charges under §42.062 if you knowingly and intentionally prevent another person from calling for help when it is needed in an emergency situation.

However, you cannot be convicted of the crime unless the state is able to prove each of these elements beyond a reasonable doubt. We'll discuss what each of these elements means, specifically, and what the state will have to prove.

What Does it Mean to Act Knowingly?

You may be surprised to learn that "knowledge" is actually defined in Texas law. According to Penal Code §6.03(b), "a person acts knowingly, or with knowledge...when he is aware of the nature of his conduct or that the circumstances exist."

Put another way, to act knowingly means that you understand what you are doing and the potential consequences of your actions. As a result, behavior that is unintentional or accidental may not fall under this definition.

What Does it Mean to Act Recklessly?

You don't necessarily have to knowingly prevent someone from calling for help in an emergency situation. If your reckless behavior destroys an electronic device that would allow another person to call for help, you can be guilty of a crime under §42.062(b).

According to Penal Code §6.03(c),

a person acts recklessly, or is reckless, with respect to circumstances surrounding his conduct or the result of his conduct when he is aware of but consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the circumstances exist or the result will occur.

Reckless behavior can also be defined as a "gross deviation from the standard of care that an ordinary person would exercise" under similar circumstances.

In other words, your conduct will be considered reckless when you should have known that a certain result is the likely consequence of your actions.

What Does it Mean to Prevent or Interfere?

In order to face charges under §42.062, you must knowingly "prevent or interfere" with another person's attempt to call for help in an emergency situation. The type of behavior that can be classified as "prevention or interference" is fairly broad.

Prevention or interference can be physical (e.g., hiding, destroying, or disconnecting a telephone or electronic device) or verbal (e.g., using threats to intimidate another person so they will not call for help).

The bottom line is that any behavior or conduct that prevents or interferes with another person's ability to call for help in an emergency situation will violate the law.

Placing an Emergency Call or Requesting Assistance

Texas law prohibits conduct that prevents or interferes with a person's ability to place an emergency call or request assistance. What counts as an emergency call or request for assistance? There are two primary calls for help that can't be subject to prevention or interference:

  • Calls to request medical assistance, and
  • Calls to report criminal activity.

This means that you can't stop someone from calling the authorities (or another agency tasked with protecting the safety of individuals) to get emergency medical help or to report you for committing a crime. This applies to crimes that are being committed at the moment, as well as crimes that have been committed in the past.

What Is an Emergency?

So, what exactly is an "emergency" for the purposes of Texas law? Penal Code §42.062(d) defines emergency to mean

a condition or circumstance in which any individual is or is reasonably believed by the individual making a call or requesting assistance to be in fear of imminent assault or in which property is or is reasonably believed by the individual making the call or requesting assistance to be in imminent danger of damage or destruction.

That's a fairly complex way to say that an emergency exists when a person believes, or reasonably believes, that they:

  1. Fear an imminent assault; or
  2. Believe their property is about to be damaged or destroyed.

This means that emergency calls do not necessarily have to be made for the purpose of asking for medical help. Emergency calls can also be made to report fears of immediate harm or crimes that have occurred.

Recipients of Emergency Calls for Assistance

It's not necessarily a crime to stop someone from placing any call they want. Interference with an emergency call or request for assistance requires that the individual is attempting to (1) report an emergency or request medical assistance; and (2) contact a specific type of recipient.

You cannot prevent or interfere with another person's efforts to contact a:

  1. Law enforcement agency,
  2. Medical facility, or
  3. Other agency or entity that helps to provide for the safety of individuals.

Examples of recipients of emergency calls may include:

  • Local police officers,
  • State police officers,
  • Federal law enforcement agencies (e.g., DEA, FBI, ATF),
  • 911 operators,
  • Hospitals and/or a doctor's office, and
  • Fire departments and/or Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs).

So, it is a crime to prevent someone from calling 911 to report a crime. However, it would likely not be a crime to prevent someone from calling a friend or spouse to report that same crime. The recipient of the emergency call for assistance must be law enforcement, a medical facility, or another entity tasked with protecting the public.

Examples of Interference With Emergency Calls

Sometimes it is easiest to understand when the law applies by having some relatable examples. Here are a few scenarios in which a person may be guilty of interfering with an emergency call, in violation of Texas law:

  • Example #1: Bob and Sue are married but have a very contentious relationship. Bob is laid off from his job and begins to abuse Sue as a way to assert his dominance and cope with his stress. In order to prevent Sue from calling the police to report the domestic violence, he cancels her cell phone service and destroys the house's landline phone. Bob has knowingly interfered with Sue's ability to contact local law enforcement to report his abusive conduct.
  • Example #2: Alex is not going to be able to pay his rent in full next month. In order to get some quick cash, he decides to rob a local convenience store. During the robbery, he sees that the clerk is reaching for an emergency panic button, which will immediately alert the police about the crime. Alex sticks a gun in the clerk's face and demands that he move out from behind the counter so that he can't press the button. Alex has knowingly prevented the clerk from contacting the police to report a crime.
  • Example #3: Ralph breaks into a home in a wealthy neighborhood one evening, believing that no one is home. During the burglary, Ralph is surprised to learn that someone actually is home. That person happens to fall down the stairs, unaware that Ralph is there. Ralph immediately cuts the cord to the phone so that the victim cannot call for medical help. As a result, Ralph has knowingly prevented a person from contacting the authorities for medical help.
  • Example #4: Jeff and Amy are having marital problems and decide to get a divorce. Amy is fighting for sole custody of their 14-year-old child, Sam. Jeff is outraged by Amy's attempt to cut him off from his daughter and decides to take matters into his own hands. Jeff kidnaps his daughter and begins to drive across state lines. When Sam becomes upset and realizes what is happening, she attempts to call 911 to report her father. Jeff grabs her phone and throws it out of the car window while they're driving down the interstate. Jeff has knowingly prevented his daughter from calling the police to report a crime.

Consequences of Interfering With an Emergency Call

You can face criminal charges if you knowingly prevent or interfere with another person's effort to place an emergency call. In most cases, the crime of interfering with an emergency call will be a misdemeanor offense. However, there are certain times when the crime can be aggravated to a felony.

Criminal Consequences of Interfering With an Emergency Call

In most cases, the crime of interfering with an emergency call will be a misdemeanor offense. Specifically, interfering with an emergency call is a Class A misdemeanor. In Texas, a Class A misdemeanor is punishable by:

  • A maximum of 12 months in jail;
  • $4,000 in fines; and/or
  • Probation.

There are certain times when the crime can be aggravated to a state jail felony. If you have been convicted of this crime in the past, you will face felony charges. In Texas, a state jail felony is punishable by:

  • No less than 180 days, but no more than 2 years in a Texas state jail;
  • $10,000 in fines; and/or
  • Probation.

Collateral Consequences of Interfering With an Emergency Call

You may think that the consequences of your crime end once you've served time behind bars, paid your fine(s), and/or successfully completed the terms of your probation. However, you may be surprised to learn that you will still be subject to the collateral consequences of your crime.

Collateral consequences aren't criminal in nature, but rather social and civil penalties that exist because you have been convicted of a crime. These penalties are not necessarily related to your specific crime. Instead, they exist because you now have a criminal record.

Collateral consequences of interfering with an emergency call can include:

  • Difficulty finding gainful employment,
  • Prohibitions from working in certain fields (e.g., education, healthcare, government),
  • Difficulty renting or buying a home,
  • Inability to secure financial loans,
  • Inability to participate in government welfare programs,
  • Loss of your professional license(s),
  • Adverse child custody decisions, and/or
  • Limitation of gun ownership rights.

This is not an exhaustive list of collateral consequences in Texas. Simply having a criminal record can affect every aspect of your life. These are simply a few of the most notable consequences that can occur.

Defending Charges for Interfering With an Emergency Call

Just because you've been accused of a crime does not mean that you'll be arrested, charged, and/or convicted. You have the right to defend yourself at every stage of the criminal proceedings. Hiring an attorney who is well-versed in local law and procedure to lead your defense will help you secure the best possible outcome in your case.

There are two primary ways to approach a defense to criminal charges. The first is to offer explanations and/or justifications for your alleged behavior. The second is to attack the state's case against you and cast doubt on your guilt. Remember, you cannot be convicted unless it is proven that you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. If the state does not have a persuasive case, or if there is not strong evidence to support its argument, prosecutors may be more willing to discuss a plea or drop the charges.

Defenses that may be helpful in a case for interference with an emergency call include:

  • You did not act knowingly to prevent or interfere with an emergency call;
  • Your actions were not reckless;
  • You have been falsely accused of criminal behavior;
  • You have been mistakenly identified as the person guilty of the crime; or
  • The state has gathered evidence against you in violation of your Constitutional rights.

Contact the Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C. to learn about which defense(s) may be most applicable in your specific case.

Contact Our Houston Interference With Emergency Calls Attorney

Have you been accused of interfering with another person's ability to make an emergency call? Contact the Houston criminal defense attorneys at the Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C. for immediate legal assistance. We know that your future is in jeopardy, and we will fight to minimize the consequences of your arrest.

It is important to act quickly, because the state will begin to build its case against you the moment you are accused of committing the crime. The sooner you contact our experienced attorneys for help, the sooner we can begin to strategize your legal defense. Call us today at 713-229-8333 or contact us online to schedule your free case evaluation. Our Houston criminal defense attorneys are ready to help you fight for your future.

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