• Is prank calling illegal?

    Date: 09.06.07 | by Judge Tom.

    Although the following prank calling case is over forty years old, it is still relevant as far as current prank calling laws. Prank calling is illegal in most states as it is often considered a form of harassment, stalking or bullying.

    When Gerald Gault* was fifteen years old, he made an obscene telephone call. The call was traced to Gerald′s house in Globe, Arizona. He was taken into custody, prosecuted, and placed in the state′s school for boys. This is an extreme but true example of the consequences for telephone harassment or prank calling. This case ended up in the U.S. Supreme Court and led to a 1967 decision that changed the rights of all minors.

    Before the now famous Gault decision, juveniles who got into trouble with the police had very few rights. They were treated more like property belonging to their parents. As a result of Gault, the Supreme Court stated that children enjoy some of the same rights in the criminal system as adults. This includes the right to remain silent, the right to a lawyer if you′re unable to afford one, the right to receive a notice of the charges filed against you, and the right to face your accuser in a court of law.

    Photo by Heated Ground Photography

    Laws regarding telephone use haven′t changed since Gerald′s call. Using a land-line, cell phone or Blackberry to harass, annoy, scare, threaten, or swear at someone is against the law. If caught, you′ll be explaining yourself to a judge.

    If you′re a victim of telephone harassment, tell your parents. Write down the date and time of the call, and what was said or save the text or voice message. By taking immediate action, you can put an end to the harassment and assist in identifying the caller. The police and telephone/cell phone company may get involved if the calls continue.

    *In re Gault, 387 U.S. 1 (1967).

    Read more about Gerry Gault and his case in “Teens Take It To Court [Young People Who Challenged the Law and Changed Your Life]” by Free Spirit Publishing (2006).

    Judge Tom

    This post was written by Judge Tom. Judge Tom is the founder and moderator of AsktheJudge.info. He is a retired juvenile judge and spent 23 years on the bench. He has written several books for lawyers and judges as well as teens and parents including the recently published 'Teen Cyberbullying Investigated' (Free Spirit Publishing). When he's not answering teens' questions, Judge Tom can be found hiking, traveling and reading.

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    2 Comments subscribe to these comments.

    • ms h
      Mon, 23 Apr 2012 at 08:19

      If someone uses the internet to create a make the receiver believe they are someone else, is it a crime especially if you ask the individual to identify themselves and inquire how they got your number
      Dear Ms. H: It may be a crime depending on the specific laws in your state. Impersonating another, online or off, to do harm or injure someone may cross the line into criminal behavior. Many states are wrestling with digital crimes and passing laws about cyberbullying and false impressions. Good luck.
      (This is information only – not legal advice).

    • Anonymous
      Thu, 05 Jul 2012 at 01:29

      uhm, I was just messing around with my friends and they had me call one of their friends as a prank. i did a movie clip, it wasnt even threatening…it was from something about mary. i said have you theen my batheball? the guy on the other end of the call said hes calling the cops on me…can i get in trouble for that? i didnt even know it was bad….if so, how much trouble? Ive never done anything wrong in my life…
      Dear Anonymous: Whether you could get in trouble will depend on the specific facts (what was said) as well as the laws in your state. Even if charges could possibly be filed based on your phone call, it’s unlikely since you’ve never been in trouble, only made one call and did not threaten or repeatedly harass the person. It’s a good learning lesson though as you don’t want to have to deal with the police simply for fooling around with your friends by making goofy phone calls.
      (This is information only – not legal advice.)

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