The mask mandate is a distant memory and travel bargains are still available. So, if you haven’t flown for a while, the summer of 2023 might be the time to change that. Almost all of the three million Americans who take to the skies every day arrive at their destinations without any incident, aside from parking problems, ludicrously high concession prices, and other everyday hassles.
However, the handful of dangerously disruptive incidents that occur always make the headlines. Those incidents will be the focus of this post.
Some in-flight incidents become embarrassing Tik Tok videos. Others have much more serious direct and indirect consequences. A Marietta criminal defense lawyer cannot do much about unflattering social media posts. Believe us, we’ve tried. However, an attorney can reduce or eliminate the consequences of a serious incident.
Until recently, no state or federal agency clearly had jurisdiction over in-flight crimes, so an airplane ride resembled the Wild West, at least from a legal perspective. Then, an obscure rule change gave the FBI exclusive jurisdiction over in-flight offenses. Now, every crime committed aboard an aircraft in flight, no matter how trivial, is a federal offense.
For most purposes, in-flight crimes occur between the time the airplane’s door closes and the moment it opens again.
18 U.S.C. 113 basically uses the common-law definition of battery, which is a harmful or offensive touch. Bumping into a fellow passenger or flight crew member during a mad rush to the bathroom is technically assault under federal law.
Legally, utterances like “I’m sorry” or “Excuse me” are not defenses. If anything, these statements are admissions that the harmful or offensive touch was intentional. These statements are usually admissible in criminal court.
Before you call a Marietta criminal defense lawyer because you stepped on someone’s foot, bear in mind that these prosecutions are very rare, especially if the alleged victim was a fellow passenger. These matters only go to court if the alleged victim files a complaint with the FBI, if these agents forward the complaint to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and if the USAO decides to proceed with the matter. Those are three very big ifs.
Basically, theft is taking any property without the consent of the owner, and with the intent to deprive the owner of the full use and enjoyment of that property.
Therefore, the same basic principles apply. Grabbing the wrong bag is robbery, even if you immediately return it. Similarly, sitting in the wrong seat could be robbery, even if you immediately, albeit grudgingly, move from first class to the cattle car.
The same practical principles also apply. In-flight theft cases rarely, if ever, see the light of day in a Georgia federal court.
Receiving Stolen Property
As mentioned, airplanes in flight were once legal Neverland. Therefore, many rapscallions conducted criminal transactions in airplanes. Many of these individuals apparently didn’t get the memo about Classification 164.
Under the Federal Sentencing Act, receiving stolen property is basically the same offense as stealing property. Technically, the FSA sentencing guidelines are discretionary, but as far as many federal judges are concerned, they’re practically Biblical.
Interference With a Member of a Flight Crew
This is the big one. 49 U.S.C. 46504 criminal cases are considerably more common. Airlines often protect flight crew members from harassment, mostly to keep them from jumping to other airlines. Furthermore, airlines have lots of clout with the FBI and USAO. When airline bosses talk, government bureaucrats generally listen.
This federal law is also broad and harsh. The penalty for “assaulting or intimidating a flight crew member or flight attendant of the aircraft, interfere[ing] with the performance of the duties of the member or attendant or lessen[ing] the ability of the member or attendant to perform those duties, or attempt[ing] or conspire[ing] to do such an act” could be twenty years in federal prison.
This broad law encompasses pretty much any statement which doesn’t include “yes, please” or “no, thank you,” and any behavior other than immediately returning to your seat when the seat belt light comes on.
Much like assaults and thefts, these matters often have proof problems. A Marietta criminal defense attorney can use these proof problems to keep these cases from going to court.
As always, in-flight criminal offenses often have direct and indirect. Also as always, the indirect consequences are often worse than the direct consequences. The big difference between in-flight crimes and other crimes is that these indirect consequences could occur whether or not a defendant is convicted, or even charged, in federal court.
The controversial FBI no-fly list is a good example. People with ties to terrorist organizations cannot board flights.
This list is controversial because no one, other than the FBI agents who manage it, knows how an individual gets on this list. The best guess is that the individual has an Arabic name and has some connection to terrorism, such as working in a building that houses a terrorist money launderer or viewing a terrorist manifesto online.
Generally, passengers who are drunk and disorderly in flight, or who get high during flight, receive warnings, whether or not the airplane must make an unscheduled landing. Airlines could place repeat violators on their own no-fly lists. These people cannot fly the friendly skies on that airline ever again.
On a similar note, in most cases, passengers who appear intoxicated at the gate cannot board the plane, once again under the COC. If they are extremely disruptive, they could also face state drunk and disorderly charges or federal interference with a flight crew charges.
Safe travels this summer. For a free consultation with an experienced Marietta criminal law attorney, contact The Phillips Law Firm, LLC. Convenient payment plans are available.