Tim (littlebluedog) wrote,

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is "harass" one word or two?

Here's an Oregon law I didn't know this law existed until earlier this morning.


      166.090 Telephonic harassment. (1) A telephone caller commits the crime of telephonic harassment if the caller intentionally harasses or annoys another person:

      (a) By causing the telephone of the other person to ring, such caller having no communicative purpose;

      (b) By causing such other person’s telephone to ring, knowing that the caller has been forbidden from so doing by a person exercising lawful authority over the receiving telephone; or

      (c) By sending to, or leaving at, the other person’s telephone a text message, voice mail or any other message, knowing that the caller has been forbidden from so doing by a person exercising lawful authority over the receiving telephone.

      (2) Telephonic harassment is a Class B misdemeanor.

      (3) It is an affirmative defense to a charge of violating subsection (1) of this section that the caller is a debt collector, as defined in ORS 646.639, who engaged in the conduct proscribed by subsection (1) of this section while attempting to collect a debt. The affirmative defense created by this subsection does not apply if the debt collector committed the unlawful collection practice described in ORS 646.639 (2)(a) while engaged in the conduct proscribed by subsection (1) of this section. [1987 c.806 §2; 1999 c.115 §1; 2005 c.752 §1]


Section (1) defines the act, section (2) classifies it as a crime, and section (3) explains a defense to the crime.  I can take a guess at what the law is trying to prohibit, but I really can't figure out what the law actually does prohibit (or allow).

The main problem is the inclusion of  "intentionally harasses or annoys another person" in section (1).

In statutes, the default assumption is that every word has significance -- otherwise interpretation of the statute would be hopeless, because no one would really be able to tell which words are ok to ignore and which have meaning.

So in this statute, the quoted language indicates that even if a phone call harasses or annoys you, unless it is the caller's intent to have this effect, the action does not constitute telephonic harassment.  The telemarketer that you demand not call you is not guilty of telephonic harassment (under this law) if his intent is to sell you something.  He might know you're annoyed, but unless he intends to annoy you, and you can prove this, he's committed no crime (under this law).

But if this language is taken out or ignored, removing the subjective "intent" from the definition of the crime, and leaving only the objective action to define the crime, then the statute prohibits all kinds of things.

For example, if you get in an argument with your mom and tell her not to call you, and she does so anyway in order to tell you that your father is in the hospital, then she's committed a crime (subsection (b)) ... she commits another crime she leaves a voicemail because you decide not to pick up (subsection (c)).

A friend calls you up, you're kind of busy, so you ask if there's a reason for the call.  "Nope, no reason," says your friend.  It's a crime, under subsection (a).

Also, I'm confused by "person exercising lawful authority over the receiving telephone."  I'm assuming I have lawful authority over my cell phone and the phones in my house, but I probably don't at work.  Looks like my mother could avoid committing a crime by calling me at work.  I'd better tell her.
Tags: teh law

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