Exclusively Practicing Criminal Defense for
Two Decades
David Olshansky

Telephone Harassment

Phone harassment might seem like a minor offense but it can become quite frustrating and stressful for the victim. There are some remedies available for people affected by harassing phone calls, such as blocking the number or getting a protection order.

Continuing harassment over the phone can also be charged by the state prosecution as a misdemeanor which results in jail time for the accused.

Telephone harassment is a broad term which covers a range of behaviors including stalking, obscene phone calls, prank calls and threatening people over the phone.

State Legislation

Harassment by telephone is covered under 720 ILCS 5/26. The law states that a person commits harassment by telephone when he or she uses telephone communication for any purpose listed below.

  • Makes any comment, proposal, request or suggestion which is obscene, lewd, filthy or indecent with an intention to offend.
  • Makes a telephone call with the intent to abuse, threaten or harass another person, regardless of whether any conversation takes place or not.
  • Makes or causes the telephone of another person to repeatedly ring with the intent to harass the person at the dialed number.
  • Makes repeated telephone calls to another person where conversation takes place with the sold intention of harassing the person.
  • Makes a telephone call with the purpose of harassing another person who is under 13 years of age, regardless of whether the under-aged person consents to the harassment.
  • Knowingly allows any telephone under one’s control to be used for any of the purposes mentioned above.

First time offenders are charged with Class B misdemeanor for telephone harassment which is punishable by up to six months in prison. A second offense can be charged as a Class A misdemeanor punishable by a maximum of one year in prison. The court may additionally impose community service of 14 days or 240 hours.

The offense of telephone harassment can be elevated to a Class 4 felony if one of the following is true.

  • The defendant made a death threat to another person.
  • The defendant has 3 or more previous convictions for harassment over the last 10 years.
  • The defendant has a previous forcible felony conviction in the last 10 years.
  • The defendant was out on bond, probation or parole.
  • The defendant is over 18 years of age and the victim of harassment is under 18 years old.

A Class 4 felony is punishable by 1 -3 years in prison. Apart from the sentence, the court may also order a convicted person to undergo a psychiatric examination.


The legislation surrounding telephone harassment is quite broad and can be interpreted in a variety of ways. Due to its broad application, most people accused of the offense don’t even know that they have done something wrong.

Consider the possible scenarios. Ringing someone a couple of times without even getting through can be charged as telephone harassment.

Calling someone you know and the line dropping before you have a chance to say anything can be charged as telephone harassment. Sharing a joke on the phone can be taken as a lewd comment and charged as telephone harassment.

People accused of telephone harassment will usually get contacted by the law enforcement authorities. Admitting to any of the behaviors noted above to the police can be charged as telephone harassment.

If you get contacted by the police in relation to any calls you’ve made recently, it is best to stay quiet and start looking for a competent lawyer.

Examples and Court Cases

A man was recently arrested for making threatening phone calls to the riverside police department’s emergency call center.

Lawrence O’Keefe, 68, was arrested when the department identified him as the suspect. Records showed that the defendant had lived in the neighborhood previously when he was arrested several times by the Police between 2005 and 2006.

O’Keefe kept calling the 911 service and stating that he was going to murder a retired police sergeant, the police chief and another officer who was still working for the department. The police reported that the man had claimed he was the State’s Attorney and he was going to take all the Riverside police officers to the grand jury to take away their guns and bullets.

O’Keefe claimed on the recorded calls that the police had arrested him previously, causing him to lose his job and pension from the railroad.

The man has been charged with threatening a public official, a Class 3 felony as well as telephone harassment. If convicted, he could be sentenced for 2 – 5 years in prison.

A person can be charged for telephone harassment if a call is made from a phone under their control. However if the defense can show that the call was made without the defendant’s knowledge, the case would be dismissed.

A man was recently charged for making lewd calls to a number of victims who accused him of soliciting indecent sex. The police later traced and arrested the accused from his home as the calls were made over his landline.

The man denied all charges and hired a defense team. Call records showed that the calls were indeed made from the defendant’s resident. The man was charged with telephone harassment and solicitation of sex by the state office.

The defense argued that the defendant had hired the services of a home renovation company who had access to the defendant’s landline phone during the time of the calls. The defendant was not on the premises and did not have knowledge if the phone was used by the servicemen.

The defense produced evidence that showed the servicemen were on the premises and had access to the defendant’s landline.

The case was dismissed on grounds of reasonable doubt.

Possible Legal Defenses

The most common defense to charges of telephone harassment is to deny that the accused was responsible for the harassing behavior. The burden of proof lies on the prosecution to show that the defendant made the calls, beyond all reasonable doubt. If the defense can show that there was another person who could have made the calls, without the owner’s knowledge, the case is likely to be dismissed by the judge.

Another defense is to argue the accusation of harassment itself. The definition of telephone harassment has been expanded too broad and even the most harmless comment or attempt to contact another person can be charged as telephone harassment.

An experienced defense lawyer can show that the defendant’s behavior was reasonable and an acceptable social behavior which should not be classified as obscene.