Domestic Violence Interfering With 911 Call
More than 15 million 911 calls are made in Florida every year. Roughly 100,000+ are for alleged incidents of domestic violence (though that’s likely a low estimate). Anyone who interferes with a 911 call in Florida could find themselves facing a serious felony charge.
As outlined in F.S. 365.172, Florida’s 911 system is recognized as the universal emergency line in this state when someone is in need of immediate assistance - for medical emergencies, crimes that have just happened or are in progress, and potentially dangerous situations.
Once that 911 call is made, it is too late for any third party to intentionally stop it - legally anyway. Interfering with a domestic violence 911 emergency call is a crime, as outlined in F.S. 914.22(1)(e). This is true even if the alleged victim isn’t seriously hurt or appears to be lying or exaggerating the reality of the situation.
The statute prohibits knowingly exercising physical force, intimidation, threats, or the promise of some benefit for the purpose of hindering, delaying, or preventing communication to law enforcement of information pertaining to the commission - or possible commission - of an offense. In layman’s terms, prosecutors will need to show the defendant intentionally restricted or prevented one’s ability to place or continue their 911 call, usually during the commission of a crime (domestic violence, battery, assault, etc.).
Interfering with a 911 call doesn’t always mean simply grabbing the phone and hanging up. It can also be use of:
- Intimidation or force.
- Misleading conduct.
- Offering a benefit or gain for not calling the police.
To interfere with a 911 call is essentially a form of witness tampering. Other examples of it include taking an action that forces or compels a witness in a formal investigation or proceeding to:
- Lie during an official investigation or official proceeding.
- Alter, destroy, conceal, or mutilate an object with the intent to impair the integrity or availability of the object for use in an official investigation or proceeding.
- Be absent from an official proceeding to which a person has been summoned by legal process.
The statute on witness tampering doesn’t expressly pertain solely to domestic violence situations, but many 911 hang-ups are related to domestic disputes. As our Fort Lauderdale domestic violence defense lawyers can explain, this may have to do with the general nature of domestic disputes. Typically these are very heated, emotional arguments between spouses, partners, or family members taking place in an intimate space, such as in the home or side-by-side in a car. The shared history and close physical proximity of the parties make it relatively easy for one to reach out and grab the phone out of the other’s hand - usually without much thought in hopes of resolving their argument without involving law enforcement.
However, not only is it a crime to do so, but you’re very likely to face charges for it. Remember that most 911 systems automatically report both the telephone number and location from which the call originated. Once that call is placed, there is no stopping an emergency response - even if you hang up or someone insists it isn’t necessary. Police and other first responders are trained to respond to 911 hang-ups - even if no operator on the other end had a chance to pick up.Penalties for Interfering With a 911 Call in Florida
To secure a conviction for interfering with a 911 call in Florida, prosecutors must show evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that:
- The alleged victim was attempting to contact law enforcement at the time of the incident.
- The accused intentionally took some action to prevent, stop, or delay the alleged victim from contacting law enforcement to share information relating to the commission of a crime or possible commission of a crime.
Defendants in domestic violence cases are often surprised to learn that the punishment for interfering with a 911 call can be a more serious charge than what the underlying offense the alleged victim was calling about in the first place.
Exact penalties for interfering with a Florida domestic violence 911 vary depending on the severity of the underlying offense. If the caller sought to report a misdemeanor battery (punishable by up to one year in jail if convicted), the interfering charge will be a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison.Defenses to Interfering With 911 Call Charge
Interfering with a 911 emergency call isn’t a domestic violence crime, but it is one very commonly tacked on to domestic violence arrests. It’s not uncommon in the midst of a heated fight for someone to threaten to call the police or even tauntingly dial the numbers, only to hang up when they realize they don’t actually want to involve the police. But that split-second action could have the other party defending themself against a felony charge. Often there is a dispute about who actually placed the call and/or who hung it up.
Your Fort Lauderdale defense lawyer’s strategy may involve one of the following elements:
- The 911 recording itself. All emergency calls are automatically recorded. If you are innocent, the recording itself may work in your favor. Your lawyer will likely file a motion immediately to ensure that particular recording is preserved as evidenced. (Recordings may be erased automatically according to protocol within 30-60 days, which is why hiring an attorney right away is in your best interests.)
- Witness statements. Those who saw what happened may testify in your favor to set the record straight. That may include the alleged victim, or it could be third parties who saw what happened.
- Evidence you did not realize the other person was on a 911 call/were not intentionally interfering with an emergency call. The accused may have ended the call without realizing it was a 911 call. Intention matters for this charge.
- Evidence that it was not the defendant who hung up. If the call was disconnected, what evidence do prosecutors have that it was actually the defendant who did it? It is not unheard of for 911 callers to dial the numbers and press send only to quickly change their minds and abandon the call. No one else should be facing criminal charges for that.
If you are arrested for domestic violence, interfering with a 911 call, or any related offense in South Florida, our dedicated criminal defense team in Broward County can help.
If you have been charged with Interfering With a 911 Call, call the South Florida criminal defense lawyers at The Ansara Law Firm at (954) 761-4011 for quality legal representation.