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1979. Special Considerations In Obscene Or Harassing Telephone Calls

Past experience has indicated that approximately one-third of offending callers are mentally ill. United States Attorneys presented with cases involving such individuals should explore with defense counsel the possibility of voluntary submission to psychiatric treatment by the accused. If he/she does agree to undergo such treatment, a stern warning and declination of prosecution may be considered. Another third of all calls are juvenile pranksters. Cases involving juveniles may, in the discretion of United States Attorneys and in conformity with the Federal Juvenile Delinquency Act (see 18 U.S.C. Sec. 5031 et seq.), be appropriately handled under diversion programs. As a practical matter, almost all matters referred to the United States Attorneys involve repeated calls; therefore, it is recommended that when a violation of this statute is alleged, the defendant should be charged under 47 U.S.C. §  223(a)(1)(E) rather than 47 U.S.C. § 223(a)(1)(A) (obscene phone calls).

United States Attorneys can expect to receive occasional complaints from citizens who have received annoying and harassing telephone calls or messages by computer. If such a call or message is received, it is suggested that:

  1. The citizen be informed of the jurisdictional requirements of the statute;
  2. The citizen be referred to the telephone company for possible verification of the calling number and notification of federal authorities by the telephone company if a violation of a federal law has occurred; and
  3. The citizen be advised that the telephone company may protect him/her from receiving harassing calls either by changing the telephone number or by intercepting and identifying all persons attempting to call his/her present number.

[updated April 2000] [cited in USAM 9-75.050]

Updated June 11, 2015