Did you know that pointing a laser at a plane or helicopter is a crime in California? A San Diego man recently learned this lesson the hard way when he was arrested for doing just that. According to reports, crew on a police Helicopter flying over San Diego notified central dispatch that a laser was being pointed in their direction. Police tracked the laser to a car at Fiesta Island, where the man was promptly arrested for aiming it at the chopper.
Pointing a Laser at an Aircraft
The FAA receives thousands of notices each year involving laser pointers. Under California law, it is a crime to direct a laser pointer in the direction of aircraft. Why? Research shows that the laser can “distract and incapacitate” pilots. In some cases, lasers can cause blindness and eye damage. This increases the risk of the aircraft being involved in an accident, which is dangerous for passengers and individuals on the ground.
California State Law
When is it illegal in California to point a laser at an aircraft? Under California Penal Code 247.5 PC, you can face criminal charges when you:
- Willfully and maliciously
- Discharge a laser at an aircraft in motion or in flight
- While occupied.
Willfully and Maliciously
In order to face charges under California law, you must willfully and maliciously point a laser at an aircraft. This helps to prevent individuals who accidentally or mistakenly point a laser at an airplane or helicopter from being charged with a crime. You will be considered to have acted willfully and maliciously when you act with purpose and have an understanding that those actions can cause harm.
Discharge a Laser at an Aircraft in Motion or Flight
You can only be convicted under 247.5 PC if you direct a laser beam at an aircraft that is in motion or flight. In other words, the craft must be in the air or moving in some way. California law defines aircraft to include any vessel that is designed and capable of “transporting persons through the airspace.”
Again, this language helps to protect individuals who shine a laser beam at an unoccupied aircraft. A danger only exists when the aircraft (a) is in motion and (b) is occupied.
Penalties for Aiming a Laser at an Aircraft
Aiming a laser beam at an aircraft in California can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony. Any charges that are filed will depend on the details of a specific case. Factors that may be relevant in determining whether the crime should be a misdemeanor or a felony include:
- The degree of harm suffered by any victims
- Whether the laser caused the pilot to lose control of the aircraft
- The defendant’s intent and purpose, and/or
- The defendant’s criminal record.
When charged as a misdemeanor, aiming a laser at an aircraft is punishable by:
- 12 months in a San Diego County jail, and/or
- $1,000 in criminal fines.
When charged as a felony, aiming a laser at an aircraft is punishable by:
- 16 months, 2 years, or 3 years in a California state prison, and/or
- $2,000 in criminal fines.
Defending Criminal Charges in San Diego
The San Diego man is not automatically guilty just because he has been arrested by police. The state will have to gather evidence and prove that he is guilty of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. He will have the opportunity to defend himself against all criminal charges. A strong defense will make it difficult for the state to satisfy its burden of proof.
Defenses that may be helpful in contesting charges for aiming a laser at an aircraft include:
- It was an accident
- The defendant lacked the intent and motive necessary to commit the crime
- The defendant did not have a laser, as defined under California state law
- False accusation, or
- Mistaken identity.
Contact the San Diego Criminal Law Center
You have the right to defend yourself against criminal charges in San Diego. Hiring an experienced criminal defense attorney to handle your case will help you secure the best possible outcome in your case.
If you have been arrested in San Diego do not hesitate to contact the San Diego Criminal Law Center for help. During your free consultation, we will review the charges against you and explain your rights as a defendant in California.