Few people know that it is a crime to stop someone from calling 911 to report a domestic violence crime. Although that may seem logical that the legislature would not want people to stop another person from reporting a crime, some nuances of the law make this law problematic in reality.
Interfering with the reporting of domestic violence is a gross misdemeanor punishable but up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine.
A person is guilty of interfering with reporting of domestic violence when he or she:
- Commits a crime of domestic violence; and
- Prevents or attempts to prevent the victim (or a witness) to the crime from calling 911 or other emergency reporting agencies.
There are two critical questions to ask in assessing the viability of this charge in a particular case.
Question 1 – Did a domestic violence crime actually occur to the “victim”?
This may seem a silly question, but is staggering how often people abuse the 911 reporting system. People often call 911 to report crimes that have not occurred or allege things that did not occur when calling the police. Here are a couple of examples.
Example 1: A husband and wife argue about finances. They’ve both been drinking. The wife knows that the husband will go to jail for a night if she calls 911 on him and alleges that he pushed her. The husband says some things that make the wife mad and she calls 911 to make a false report. Husband knows that the wife is lying so he takes the phone away from her and hangs up. The husband could very easily be charged here with two crimes: DV assault and Interfering with reporting of domestic violence. At trial, the prosecution must not only prove that he interrupted the call, but they must also prove that he pushed his wife. Without proving both, the jury is required to acquit the husband.
Example 2: A husband and wife argue about finances. They’ve both been drinking (see a recurring theme?). The wife gets mad and pushes her husband. The husband pushes her away to stop her from hitting her. The wife gets mad and calls 911. She says that the husband pushed her but omits the part about her pushing him first. The husband takes the phone away from her because she’s lying. This presents a similar problem in that he can be charged with two crimes. However, the prosecution must prove that the husband did not employ self-defense when he pushed his wife, because pushing her away in self-defense is not a crime of domestic violence.
It is therefore required by Washington law that the prosecution prove another domestic violence crime alongside this criminal charge. As an experienced DV attorney, Roger Priest has never seen a case where a person is charged only with Interfering with reporting of domestic violence. It is always joined with another charge like DV assault, DV harassment, or DV malicious mischief.
More importantly, a defense to assault, harassment or malicious mischief is usually a defense to Interfering. If you can defeat one charge, you should be able to defeat both charges. In other words, stopping someone calling 911 to make a false report (which is itself a crime) is not against the law and claiming as much might present a defense to the charge at trial.
Question 2 – Was it clear the person was going to call 911?
Another potential defense to this crime is whether or not it was apparent that the alleged victim was attempting to call 911. During an argument, people may use their phones for a number of reasons. Sometimes people call for a ride, call their parents, or call a cab. They may even use their phone to try to record or video record the other person for posterity. Taking away someone’s phone under these circumstances are not necessarily criminal and may not rise to the level of the crime of Interfering with reporting of domestic violence.
Example 3: A husband and wife are arguing. The husband pushes his wife and she gets her phone out to record him. He takes the phone away because he doesn’t want to be recorded. The wife then fights with him over the phone. Then flees to a neighbor’s house to call 911 there. The husband gets charged with Interfering with reporting of domestic violence because he took her phone away. However, because she was able to call 911 he did not prevent her from calling. It might be argued that he attempted to prevent her from calling, but he can legitimately claim he took her phone to stop her from recording him. Washington does not allow people to be recorded without their consent, so he has a somewhat legitimate reason for taking her phone away. This might not be enough evidence to convict the husband for Interfering under the law.
As an experienced DV attorney, Roger Priest has seen innocent people charged with Interfering with reporting of domestic violence on numerous occasions. Often the situation is murky and the stories vary differently between the parties. In these situations, a charge for Interfering or other domestic violence criminal charges might not be easily provable. There may be contradictory evidence or a lack of credibility by the prosecution’s witnesses. It pays to hire an experienced domestic violence attorney to handle your case like Roger Priest. He has the knowledge, negotiation prowess, and litigation experience to help you reduce or beat criminal charges in many types of cases. Call today for a free domestic violence case evaluation.