At a recent NFL game a Detroit Lions fan shone a laser pointer beam into the eyes of the Buffalo Bills’ quarter back, center, and field goal kicker. This individual was later identified and charged with a disorderly conduct by the Detroit City Prosecutor’s Office. In Florida, shining a laser pointer beam in the eyes of a police officer or at an illuminating vehicle is a 3rd degree felony. In 2012 it became a federal crime to point a laser at any aircraft and violations are punishable by up to five years in federal prison.
The Laser Pointer
A laser pointer is a hand-held laser that is most often used in educational settings. Professors use it to highlight words or objects on a projected image and astronomers use green laser pointers to identify constellations in the night sky. While not as powerful as those used in medical or manufacturing applications, laser pointers contain a true laser which can cause permanent blindness if shone in someone’s eyes.
Recent Criminalization of Certain Laser Pointer Usage
In the last ten years many states have enacted laws making it a crime to point lasers:
- At law enforcement personnel
- For purposes of harassment
- At or in an airplane cockpit
- At anyone’s eyes
Some states ban their ownership and use by minors or regulate the intensity of the laser that can be purchased. Federal laws are more recent and specifically make it illegal to aim laser pointer beams at aircraft or its flight path.
State vs. Federal Court
Since many state laws and the federal law make it a crime to shine a laser beam at an aircraft these cases could be could be tried in either state or federal court. There is great advantage to the defendant for the case to be tried in the state court, making it critical to hire an attorney as quickly as possible. Through their efforts it is possible to keep the case within the state judicial system.
At the state level a court can dismiss a case when the defendant is a minor and there is no intent to do harm. Judges can also sentence a defendant to probation rather than incarceration. Within the federal system these options do not exist. Incarceration or a finding of innocence are the only outcomes.
The best defense begins with hiring a board certified federal criminal defense attorney who understands both state and federal judicial processes and can guide the case to the best possible outcome.