Friday, June 27, 2014

Two years in prison for Idiocy.

The Eighth Circuit has affirmed the two year prison sentence against Michael A. Smith, of Nebraska, for basically being an idiot. Specifically, he was charged under 18 U.S.C. 39A(a), which imposes criminal liability on anyone who "knowingly aims the beam of a laser pointer at an aircraft in the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States, or at the flightpath of such an aircraft."

Mr. Smith's problems started on July 11, 2012 when authorities in Omaha, Nebraska, learned that the cockpit of a Boeing 737 had been illuminated by a laser while flying over the city. The local police dispatched a helicopter to locate the laser. As the helicopter approached the approximate location of the laser's source, Smith, standing in his backyard, directed his laser's green beam at the helicopter. Smith's beam struck the helicopter several times, but when the helicopter got close, his beam disappeared.

Unable to pinpoint Smith's location, the helicopter was forced to depart. But as the helicopter began to do so, Smith again shone his laser's beam on the helicopter. At that point, the helicopter pilots described a back-and-forth game of "cat-and-mouse," during which the helicopter pilots feigned departure from the scene several times to get Mr. Smith to reveal his location. The helicopter pilots engaged Mr. Smith until an officer on the ground was able to walk right into his backyard and catch him in the act.

What an idiot. He had plenty of opportunities to stop. He could have stopped at any time and got away. Plus he was standing in his own backyard while fighting a laser battle with a police helicopter. Someone didn't think this plan all the way through.

At trial, Mr. Smith admitted shining the laser at the airplane, but denied intentionally shining the laser at the helicopter. His defense was that he did not "knowingly" aim the laser at the airplane because he did not believe that the laser could travel far enough to actually hit the airplane. He didn't know he could hit the airplane. The trial court ruled that the knowing requirement only applied to the aircraft element of the statute. As long as he knew that he was pointing a laser at the airplane, he violated the statute. The Eight Circuit affirmed.

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