New York Drone Attorney | Reckless Endangerment Attorney NYC
Drone arrests have been making the news recently, from one landing on the White House lawn to a crash landing in the stands on the U.S. Open, but it doesn’t require a newsworthy event to get into trouble with a drone in New York.
Federal, state and local laws impact drone usage, which means there’s a lot to know and understand if you want to avoid legal trouble. To further complicate matters, the law is in flux. Most state and local laws relating to drones were written with hobbyist model airplanes in mind, and their application to the range of drones widely available today isn’t entirely clear. In New York state, several bills are working their way through the legislature, primarily geared toward regulating safety and privacy issues.
Most of the regulations regarding drone use issued by the FAA relate to commercial use. For recreational users, much is currently left to good judgment and common sense.
One key regulation you should be aware of is that drone operation is banned within 1.5 miles of an airport, and altitude is strictly regulated within 5 miles of an airport. The airport proximity ban covers large sectors of Queens, Manhattan, the Bronx and Nassau County. The safest course is simply to avoid drone use within a 5-mile radius of an airport. One additional clear restriction is that drones have a ceiling of 400 feet.
Drone Use and Reckless Endangerment in New York
When a drone crashes somewhere, the most common charge is Reckless Endangerment.
Reckless Endangerment in the Second Degree
Most often, the charge will be Reckless Endangerment in the Second Degree, Penal Law Section 120.20, which is a class A misdemeanor. The crime is defined simply as engaging in reckless behavior that creates a substantial risk of serious physical injury.
Serious physical injury is defined as a substantial risk of death as a result or protracted disfigurement, impairment of health or function of a bodily organ. However, it is important to note that serious physical injury need not actually occur to charge this section. The prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant ignored a known and substantial risk that could create a serious physical injury. The act of flying a drone in an area where people are gathered or known to gather may itself be sufficient to charge and prove Reckless Endangerment in the Second Degree because a drone may be heavy enough to cause injury and carry a risk of crashing, being misdirected by the wind, or otherwise going astray.
Reckless Endangerment in the First Degree
Reckless Endangerment in the First Degree, Penal Law Section 120.25, is a more serious crime. It is defined as acting with depraved indifference to human life and engaging in conduct that crates a grave risk of death to another.
Of course, this charge presents a higher burden for the prosecution and is out of proportion with most recreational drone use. Thus, in this arena, it is charged less frequently than the Second Degree crime. During the summer of 2014, two men were charged with the First Degree crime after flying drones near to an NYPD helicopter. Even under those circumstances, the bar proved too high and the charges were ultimately dismissed.
Reckless Endangerment in the First Degree is a class D felony, carrying a possible penalty of up to 7 years in prison.
The burden on the prosecution is high in a drone-related Reckless Endangerment in the First Degree case, but the law is evolving and outcomes may be unpredictable. If you’re facing these serious charges, get help from an experienced defense attorney.
New York City Drone Laws
In addition to the FAA regulations and the New York state laws such as Reckless Endangerment that may apply to drone use, New York City has its own rules regulating drones and model aircraft, most notably New York City Administrative Code Section 10-126(c) and New York City Park Rule 1-05(r)(2). Due to the airspace around New York City, which is designated as Class B, all of Manhattan and the Bronx are no fly zones.
New York City Administrative Code Section 10-126(c)
In New York City, drone users are most cited under this section of law. New York City Administrative Code Section 10-126(c) states: “Take offs and landings. It shall be unlawful for any person avigating an aircraft to take off or land, except in an emergency, at any place within the limits of the city other than places of landing designated by the department of transportation or the port of New York authority.” The term “avigating” or avigation is a fancy word for navigation of an aircraft.
Unfortunately, Administrative Code Section 10-126(c) is used to charge drone users who are behaving responsibly. Under the law, it is illegal to take off or land any aircraft, which includes a drone. Making matters worse, violations of Administrative Code Section 10-126(c) are punished as a misdemeanor. That means a conviction of an Administrative Code Section 10-126(c) charge results in a criminal record. Of course, an experienced and aggressive drone lawyer is often able to obtain dismissal of the drone charge or a favorable non-criminal plea bargain.
New York City Park Rule 1-05(r)(2)
In addition, New York City Park Rule 1-05(r)(2) prohibits flying a drone in a park, except within prescribed areas. Violation of the law may result in up to 90 days in jail, a fine of up to $1,000, or both. If a person operates a drone outside of the 5 designated New York City parks, then he or she could also be cited under Administrative Code Section 10-126(c). Police have the discretion to choose the charge.
For information about where drone use is permitted in public parks, contact the Parks Department. Several parks in Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island have been designated for legal drone and model aircraft usage. But, most of New York City is off limits to drones because of the proximity to airports and the designation as class B airspace.
A Word to the Wise about Drone Use in New York
While there are only a few clear rules regulating recreational drone use at the moment and the law is in flux, exercising good judgment will go a long way toward avoiding criminal charges with regard to your drone use. For example, don’t fly drones over roads, near other aircraft, or in populated areas. In short, safety first.
Being charged with a drone-related crime doesn’t necessarily mean a criminal conviction. The state of the law offers many possible defenses for a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help.