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NY Penal Law § 270.15: Unlawfully refusing to yield a party line

A party line is a type of telephone service in which more than one subscriber uses the same line. Each subscriber would have a unique telephone number and would know that an incoming call was theirs by a distinctive ring. While party lines are relatively rare nowadays, they still exist. Party lines necessitate a certain amount of courtesy. However, because people are always as courteous and understanding as they should be, New York has a law that requires you to relinquish a party line if the line is needed to make an emergency call. In other words, if the phone is needed to call 911 because a house is on fine, the law requires that you end your call so that the emergency call can be made. Under New York Penal Code § 270.15 you will be charged with unlawfully refusing to yield a party line if you refuse to hang up the phone after being told that the party line is needed to make an emergency call. An emergency call is defined as a call to the police, fire department, ambulance service, or for medical aid that is needed in order to save someone life, or to save property.


Susan had a party line that she shared with 3 other households. Much to the frustration of the other 3 subscribers, Susan loved to use the phone and was often on it for hours at a time. Susan would consistently ignore pleas from her neighbors to use the phone. One day Louis, one of the other party line subscribers, passed out. His wife, Olive, believed that he had suffered a heart attack. When Olive picked up the phone to call 911, Susan was on the phone. Explaining the situation, Olive begged Susan to get off the phone. Susan, not believing Olive, refused. Olive ran down the street to a neighbor's house and was able to use the phone. Sadly, because of the delay in contacting 911, Louis passed away. Susan could be charged with unlawfully refusing to yield a party line.

Related Offense
  1. Reckless endangerment in the second degree: New York Penal Code § 120.20

You would not be guilty of unlawfully refusing to yield a party line if the emergency was not a true emergency as defined by the statute. For example, if someone is ill but not gravely ill you would not have committed unlawfully refusing to yield a party line if you refused to relinquish the line so that another person could use it to make an appointment with a doctor.


Because unlawfully refusing to yield a party line is a class B misdemeanor if you are convicted you could be sent to jail for up to 3 months and you may be ordered to pay a fine of up to $500. It is also possible that in lieu of jail the court may order you to serve a probation term of 1 year.

New York Penal Code § 270.15: Unlawfully refusing to yield a party line
  1. As used in this section: (a) "Party line" means a subscriber's line telephone circuit, consisting of two or more main telephone stations connected therewith, each station with a distinctive ring or telephone number. (b) "Emergency call" means a telephone call to a police or fire department, or for medical aid or ambulance service, necessitated by a situation in which human life or property is in jeopardy and prompt summoning of aid is essential.
  2. A person is guilty of unlawfully refusing to yield a party line when, being informed that a party line is needed for an emergency call, he refuses immediately to relinquish such line.
Contact the Law Offices of Stephen Bilkis & Associates

Because unlawfully refusing to yield a party line is a misdemeanor and not a felony you may be inclined not to take it the charge seriously. It is still a crime with serious consequences, including being sent to jail. The best way to avoid these consequences is to be represented by someone with experience. The staff at the Law Offices of Stephen Bilkis & Associates has years of experience successfully defending clients in New York criminal courts who have been charged with felonies and misdemeanors in violation of New York state law and federal law. Contact us at 800.696.9529 to schedule a free, no obligation consultation regarding your case. We represent clients in the following locations: the Bronx, Brooklyn, Long Island, Manhattan, Nassau County, Queens, Staten Island, Suffolk County and Westchester County.

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