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When are 'harmless' pranks against Virginia law?

Everyone likes a good laugh, although unfortunately sometimes it is at another's expense. Some people in Virginia, especially teenagers, find it funny to make prank phone calls, for example. They may think that in the end, they are doing no harm. After all, it's just a joke, right? Not always. Sometimes prank phone calls constitute illegal harassment.

In Virginia, if an individual, through a phone call or text message, utters obscenities, uses vulgar language, or threatens the person they are talking to may be charged with harassment. Additionally, an individual who indicates that they'll break the law or do something else immoral, intending to force the person to do something, intimidate the person, or harass the person, may face charges for illegal harassment. This criminal offense is considered a Class 1 misdemeanor.

In fact, if a person makes a phone call or sends a text message intending to annoy the recipient, then the person who made the call, along with whoever owns the phone, can be charged with a Class 3 misdemeanor. Also, if a person calls 911 or calls the fire department or police department directly with the intention to annoy, harass, or keep the emergency personnel from doing their jobs, then both the person who made the call, along with whoever owns the phone, can be charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor.

As this shows, while making prank phone calls may seem like it's all in good fun, it can actually lead to harassment charges. This is unfortunate, especially for teenagers who have their whole lives in front of them and should not have their future marred by criminal convictions. Therefore, those who are facing such charges may want to talk to an attorney, who can assist in developing a solid defense strategy that may lead to lesser charges or an outright acquittal.

Source:, "Crimes Against Persons," accessed Dec. 16, 2017

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