What can I do about Unwanted Texts and Calls in the Washington State?
Understanding Unwanted Texts and Calls
Unwanted messages and calls often come from telemarketers, debt collectors, or even you can get harassed, threatened, or stalked via messages and calls by a neighbor, friend, co-worker, or even a complete stranger. In Washington State, these communications are regulated by both federal and state laws, primarily the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) and the Washington State Consumer Protection Act (CPA).
Washington State allows individuals to obtain an Anti-Harassment Protection Order (AHPO) against someone who is harassing them, including through unwanted calls and messages. This order aims to prevent further contact and harassment.
The Legal Perspective: TCPA and CPA
Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA)
The TCPA, a federal law, was enacted to protect consumers from unwanted calls and texts. It restricts telemarketing calls, the use of automated dialing systems, prerecorded voice messages, SMS texts, and fax messages.
In Washington State, the TCPA prohibits:
Robocalls: Calls made using automated dialing systems without prior consent are prohibited.
Unsolicited Text Messages: Similar to calls, the law also covers unsolicited text messages sent without consent.
Do-Not-Call Registry: Telemarketers are required to adhere to the National Do-Not-Call Registry, honoring individuals' preferences to not receive marketing calls.
Washington State Consumer Protection Act (CPA)
The CPA complements the TCPA, providing additional protection at the state level. It broadly prohibits unfair and deceptive acts or practices in trade or commerce. Under CPA, the following actions related to unwanted texts and calls can be considered unlawful:
Harassment: Repeatedly calling or sending texts, causing annoyance or distress to the recipient.
Deceptive Practices: Making false claims or misleading statements to solicit or promote products/services via calls or texts.
Failure to Comply with Opt-Out Requests: Failing to honor requests to stop receiving texts or calls after being asked to cease communication.
Seeking Legal Recourse
If you find yourself bombarded with unwanted texts or calls, there are steps you can take to address the issue:
Document the Communications: Keep a record of the dates, times, and content of the unwanted messages or calls.
Opt-Out or Block: Utilize options provided in the messages or through your phone service provider to opt-out or block such communications.
File a Complaint: Report the issue to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the Washington State Attorney General's office, or relevant consumer protection agencies.
Filing for a Criminal Case
Unwanted text messages and calls that violate are generally a gross misdemeanor in Washington, but these can be elevated to a Class B felony depending on the severity and intent of the violation..
The victim needs to inform about the unwanted text messages and calls to the law enforcement e.g. by calling 9-1-1. The case is then pursued by the law enforcement and criminal charges are brought if there is evidence that unwanted text messages and calls involve:
- Harassment, surveillance, unwanted contacting occurred
- The actions of the accused were intentional
- The actions occurred more than one time
- You were fearful that the accused wanted to harm you or your property
- The accused should have known that their behavior would create fear
So while pressing for criminal charges remains the strongest action against the accused, it is also requires the most evidence.
Civil Penalties: Fines imposed for each violation, ranging from a few hundred to thousands of dollars, depending on the severity and frequency of violations.
Injunctions: Court orders prohibiting further violations of the law.
Criminal Charges: In extreme cases involving intentional harassment or fraudulent activities, criminal charges may be filed, leading to imprisonment or heavy fines.
Getting Anti-Harassment Protection Order
What is Anti-Harassment Protection Order?
An anti-harassment order is a special type of protection order that prohibits the respondent (the person who is harassing you) from contacting you and keeping you under surveillance. It also requires the respondent to maintain a certain distance away from your home or workplace.
Process for Getting Protection Orders
Gather evidence to support your case
To obtain an Anti-Harassment Protection Order you need to prove that the individual is harassing you. This can include unwanted calls, texts, or any other form of communication that causes distress or fear.
The harasser doesn’t necessarily need to have a specific relationship with you; it can be anyone causing you distress.
The fallowing are considered as evidence of stalking violence
Photos or screenshots of unwanted text messages, calls or any other communication or contact
You can take screenshots of text messages and attach them. Similarly you can print emails and attach them as pictures or PDF files.
Rather than just saying you called 911 or any specific hotline, you can make your case stronger by listing the following items
- The number dialed in case of the stalking protection
- The date and time (or approximate date and time) when the call was made
- Who made the call
- What was reported on the call
- Any specific details of the person who answer the 911 call e.g. male/female voice
You can attach a copy of the police reports filed against abuser for stalking.
A testimony from a witness. The witness can be anyone such as a family member, neighbor a co-worker or a bystander. The testimony is just an essay written describing the incidents witnessed, with as many specifics as possible.
How to Apply for an AHPO?
Get a copy of court forms
In order to apply for a civil protection order, you need to fill and submit a specific set of official Washington court forms. These have questions aimed at understanding your situation and the people involved.
The most important form is the petition, and it’s called Petition for Protection Order
The complete set of documents is at the Washington Courts website. While these forms are used in most courts, certain courts use modified versions of these forms, and its important to uses those versions.
You can check your local court’s website to see the exact versions and set of court forms needed. You need to prepare these forms. Courts also offers a free self help center where you can take forms. Alternatively you can use a free website such as LegalAtoms to prepare the restraining orders paperwork online.
Nothing happens until you file the forms. So its a good idea to step through the forms even if you think you don’t plan to file for a protection order right now, to get
You can then file them online when you’ve thought through all aspects. There are special protections for victims, and you’re protected even if your immigration status is undocumented in United States.
Step 1: File the Court Forms
Typically these are filed at your county’s Superior Courts or District Court. Some of these courts are also called Family Justice Center.
How to File Online
You can file online by preparing the court forms on LegalAtoms.com and then filing them with a single click. LegalAtoms covers all courts and jurisdictions such as Seattle area, Spokane and so forth.
Step 2: Get a Temporary Order
Depending on the facts and evidence presented, a Judge can issue a protection order with immediate effect until the hearing, called an Emergency Temporary Order. In relatively less risky situations, a temporary order is issued in a few days.
If there are no grounds or if the application is incomplete or the jurisdiction is incorrect the application may be rejected.
The temporary order is only valid for about 3 weeks which is the amount of time until the hearing. If the hearing is delayed for any reason, you need to check with the court to ensure the temporary order is renewed until the hearing.
Step 3: Serve the abuser
Step 4: Present Evidence in a Court Hearing
The court holds a hearing within a couple of weeks where the evidence is examined. If there is sufficient supporting evidence as determined by a Judge, a full restraining order is issued. At this point it becomes a crime for the abuser to break the conditions of the restraining order.
Step 5. Collect the Final Order
After the hearing, a final order may be issued. You can take a paper copy of the order with you. The order is typically valid for five years.
Some of the civil protection orders have no cost, owing to their use in protecting victims.
You can get a temporary protection order the same day as you file.
Courts can have a cutoff of around 2 p.m. for the same day service, so you need to file before then. Otherwise, the order would be issued the following day when courts open.
Courts are generally open Monday-Friday and closed on Saturday-Sunday.
The temporary order is valid until a formal hearing is held in which both parties need to be present. Typically a hearing is scheduled in 2 weeks of filing.
At the hearing a formal order may be issued
What do the courts consider before making the decision?
The court considers the following when determining whether a person’s actions serve a legitimate purpose:
- Is the respondent contacting you, or are you contacting each other?
- Has the respondent received clear notice that you do not want any further contact?
- Is the respondent’s behavior designed to annoy, alarm, or harass you?
- Are the respondent’s actions disturbing your privacy or establishing an unfriendly, threatening, or offensive living environment for you?
- Has there been a previous court order that limited the respondent’s contact with you or your family?
The AHPO’s Conditions
If granted, the AHPO outlines specific conditions, which usually include:
- Prohibiting them from further attempts to make any calls or messages or any communication with you.
- Staying away from the usual places petitioner is at such as home, work or school
- Specifying a distance they must maintain from you and your residence, workplace, or other locations you frequent.
Violation of the AHPO:
If the harasser violates the terms of the AHPO, it becomes a legal issue, and law enforcement can intervene. Violating a protection order can lead to legal penalties for the harasser.