What’s an “Emergency”? — Interference with a 911 Call

In many cases, a heated situation may result in raised voices, household items thrown, or even an assault or other physical element. The police may be called out, and when they are, one or more parties may be arrested. Oftentimes, it is common for someone during the heat of the moment to take away the one line the other person has for reaching out – the telephone. And the taker may find himself charged with ‘Interference with an Emergency Telephone Call’, a class A misdemeanor. This can be charged in combination with any other alleged offenses, including assault, even though it may seem that the taking of the phone is simply part and parcel of the overarching incident.

The Penal Codes provides for two methods of charging someone with Interference with a 911 call. First, an individual can be charged for allegedly interfering with or preventing someone’s ability to place a call during an emergency to an agency who would under normal circumstances provide assistance, such as the police, medical personnel or a facility, or the like. Or, a person may be charged for allegedly “rendering unusable” a phone that would be used or is being used to place a call to request assistance in an emergency. Under these provisions, then either the alleged destruction or damage to a phone or simply the taking of a phone by the caller can result in a charge of Interference.

But proving the “emergency” element of either of these allegations can also be extremely difficult for prosecutors to prove, which can be good for you if you find yourself charged with this kind of case. According to the penal code, “emergency” in this context means “a condition or circumstance in which any individual [making the call] is or is reasonably believed [by himself] to be in fear of imminent assault  or…property…is in imminent danger of damage or destruction.” Tex. Pen. Code 42.062(d). So in non-legal terms what exactly does that mean? It means that in addition to proving that a phone was taken or damaged or destroyed, the State also would have to prove that the person making the call was reasonable in believing himself or property to be in imminent danger (that it’s going to happen pretty much right then and there). If there’s simply a fear of a future assault or a threat of a future assault or destruction, then it’s not an “emergency” per se. If the person is simply not “reasonable” by the standards of a “reasonable person,” then it’s not an “emergency” per se.

This doesn’t mean that proving Interference with a 911 call is impossible, but it requires much more convincing on a subjective level than many other offenses. This can be used to your advantage if you find yourself charged with this offense alone or in conjunction with another offense, like assault. An experienced attorney who can understand and articulate the nuances of this law can assist you in determining the strengths of your defense and how to protect your record.

Written by: Rosenthal Kalabus & Therrian Last Updated : August 14, 2023