New York State Telephone Harassment Laws

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Under New York state law, unwanted communications over the phone can be defined as harassment, which is illegal. One or more unwanted telephone calls or texts to contact a victim can result in the caller being charged with:

Problematic behaviors involving the phone include:

  • One prank phone call or multiple prank calls.
  • Hanging up immediately after a call.
  • Threatening the victim or members of their family or household via a call or text messaging app.
  • Calling the victim from a different phone number after the victim blocked the first number called from.

Levels of Harassment and Penalties

The New York Penal Law indicates that different levels of harassment involve different types of behavior. An assistant district attorney can bring criminal charges against an aggressor for illegal acts. Harassment in the second degree by phone can involve:

  • Threatening to strike, shove, kick or otherwise subject a victim to physical contact through a voice or text conversation on the phone.
  • Following the victim in or about a public place through tracking their location on an app on their phone.
  • Engaging in a course of conduct or repeatedly committing acts by text or phone calls that alarm or seriously annoy the victim, with the acts serving no legitimate purpose.

Harassment in the second degree is a violation. The penalty for a violation is up to 15 days of jail time.

Harassment in the First Degree

Harassment in the first degree using the phone may involve:

  • Intentionally and repeatedly harassing the victim by following them in or about a public place, through tracking their location on an app on a phone.
  • Engaging in a course of conduct, or by repeatedly committing acts, to place the victim in reasonable fear of physical injury. The course of conduct may involve texts or phone calls.

Harassment in the first degree is a Class A misdemeanor. The penalty for a Class A misdemeanor is up to 364 days incarceration and a fine up to $1,000 or twice the amount the aggressor gained from the offense. Aggravated harassment in the second degree is defined as acting with the intent to harass the victim and:

  • Communicating a threat to cause physical harm to, or unlawful harm to, the property of the victim or member of that person’s family or household. The threat can be communicated by phone. The aggressor must know or reasonably should know the communication will cause the victim to reasonably fear harm to their physical safety or property or the physical safety or property of a member of their family or household.
  • Causing a communication to be initiated anonymously or otherwise about a threat to cause physical harm or unlawful harm to the property of a victim or their family or household. The aggressor must know or reasonably should know the communication will cause the victim to reasonably fear harm to their physical safety or property or the physical safety or property of a member of their family or household. The communication may come via telephone.
  • Making a telephone call with no purpose of legitimate communication and with the intent to harass or threaten the victim.
  • Threatening to strike, shove, kick or otherwise subject a victim to physical contact with the intent to harass, annoy, threaten or alarm the victim. The reason for the attack or threat must be related to a belief or perception about the victim’s race, color, national origin, ancestry, gender, gender identity or expression, religion, religious practice, age, disability or sexual orientation, regardless of whether the belief or perception is correct. The threat may be communicated by phone.
  • Committing the crime of harassment in the first degree and having previously been convicted of this same offense within the preceding 10 years.

Aggravated Harassment and Penalties

Aggravated harassment in the second degree is a Class B misdemeanor. The maximum penalty for a Class B misdemeanor in New York is up to three months' incarceration or one year probation and a fine up to $500, or twice the amount the aggressor gained from the offense.

Aggravated harassment in the first degree is acting with the intent to harass, annoy, threaten or alarm the victim because of a belief or perception regarding the victim’s race, color, national origin, ancestry, gender, gender identity or expression, religion, religious practice, age, disability or sexual orientation, regardless of whether the belief or perception is correct.

The conduct to engage in aggravated harassment may involve the use of a phone. Aggravated harassment in the first degree is a Class E felony. The maximum penalty for a Class E felony is up to four years' incarceration and a fine up to $5,000, or twice the amount the aggressor gained from the offense.

Penalties for Subsequent Convictions

Committing aggravated harassment in the second degree and having previously been convicted of this offense for the commission of conduct proscribed by subdivision three of New York Penal Law Section 240.30 (acts relating to a victim’s race, color, etc.) and having been previously convicted of committing aggravated harassment in the first degree within the preceding 10 years can be aggravated harassment in the first degree.

Other Consequences of Phone Harassment

When a law enforcement officer arrests a person alleged to have committed phone harassment, they may seize the phone as evidence. If the phone is locked at the time of arrest, the police officer will likely need to get a search warrant to access cell phone records. The exception is if the person using the phone consents to a search or there is an emergency that necessitates a warrantless search.

Order of Protection in New York

A victim of phone harassment can seek to restrain the aggressor from contacting them by phone through an order of protection. The victim may request a:

  • Family Court order of protection:​ As part of a civil proceeding to stop violence occurring within the family or within an intimate relationship, the victim should submit a family offense petition.
  • Criminal court order of protection:​ An assistant district attorney may request a criminal court order of protection on the victim’s behalf. The victim does not need to have an intimate or personal relationship with the aggressor.
  • Supreme Court order of protection:​ A Supreme Court will issue this type of order as part of an ongoing divorce or criminal proceeding. A party involved in an ongoing divorce case should request a Supreme Court order of protection by making a written request by motion or order to show cause or an oral request at a court appearance.

If an aggressor violates an order of protection, they may face incarceration and a fine.