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Is it really a federal offense to aim a laser pointer at an aircraft?

| May 10, 2017 | Federal Crimes |

We’re officially entering graduation season for high schools, colleges and universities throughout the Chicagoland area, across Illinois and around the nation. While this is a time to reflect on the past, contemplate the future and celebrate accomplishments, it’s also a time to blow off some steam.

While there’s certainly nothing wrong with teens or young adults having some much-needed fun, it’s also important for them not to allow this celebrating to cross any legal boundaries. While this naturally covers all potentially criminal actions involving alcohol and drugs, it also extends to many of the so-called pranks that soon-to-be graduates like to pull.

To illustrate, one prank that has become something of staple over the years is for young people to target others with laser pointers, placing the red, green or blue dot on bystanders without their knowledge.

Even though this might seem like a relatively harmless prank, there is, of course, always the possibility of eye injuries. Furthermore, if a prankster decides to aim their laser pointer skyward, targeting passing airplanes, it can present a very real safety risk to the pilot.

In case you are tempted to discount the danger posed by laser pointers to passing airplanes, consider that statistics from the Federal Aviation Administration reveal that pilots reported over 17,700 laser pointer incidents from 2010 to 2014.

Those still not convinced should consider that federal lawmakers have actually criminalized this conduct, such that those who knowingly aim a laser pointer at an aircraft or in its path face a fine of up to $250,000 and/or up to five years in prison.

Furthermore, the FAA Extension, Safety, and Security Act of 2016 signed into law by former President Obama this past summer increased the maximum civil penalty that can be imposed by the FAA against those aiming laser pointers at airplanes from $11,000 to $25,000.

What all this serves to underscore is that young people — or anyone for that matter — would be well served to keep their laser pointer use limited to presentations, as the consequences for failing to do so are far graver than they might imagine.

If you are under investigation or have been charged any manner of federal offense, consider speaking with a skilled legal professional to learn more about your rights and your options.

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