Federal Charges for Disruptive Passenger on Orange County-Bound Plane
Recently, a passenger who created a disturbance on a flight from Chicago to an Orange County airport had to appear in court to face federal charges.
“The case illustrates how legislation proceeding the terrorist attacks of September 2001 has changed the consequences for causing disturbances during flights,” explained California personal injury lawyer James Ballidis.
When the incident occurred, Arash “Ash” Durrani was returning to California to deal with an arrest warrant pending against him. According to the reports in the Times, Arash first began to act out during the safety presentation, walking towards the first class section of the plane and interrupting the flight attendant. He subsequently refused to turn his cell phone off; harassed female passengers who were on the plane; and screamed, “I’m from Afghanistan and I will murder all of you.”
Fellow passengers eventually restrained him with flex ties and belts from their pants. Arash fought back, screaming at and biting passengers. He remained restrained for more than two hours, and reports indicate that he slipped in and out of consciousness. Some indicated that he appeared to be intoxicated, and, when the flight landed, he was removed from the plane and hospitalized. He was charged with interfering with flight crewmembers, a federal crime.
A number of regulations govern behavior at airports and on airplanes. In fact, USAM Title 9 Criminal Resource Manual section 1405 outlines the “Special Aircraft Jurisdiction of the United States.” The relevant code section indicates that once an aircraft is in flight (as soon as all external doors are closed), certain crimes fall under the jurisdiction of the federal government and will be tried in federal court. Further, special aircraft jurisdiction also covers behavior on any aircraft in flight in the U.S. or when the airline carrier is an American carrier such as Southwest, Delta, United, American Airlines or other U.S. airline companies.
Federal laws specify that specific types of offenses fall under special aircraft jurisdiction when committed on a plane that meets the above descriptions. Title 49, Chapter 465 outlines the conduct that becomes a federal offense including sexual abuse (Chapter 109A); assault (18 USC 113); maiming (18 USC 114); robbery (18 USC 2111); receiving stolen property (18 USC 662); attempted manslaughter or murder (18 USC 1113); manslaughter (18 USC 1112) and murder (18 USC 111).
Certain other behaviors specific to air travel are also defined as federal crimes:
•49 USC 46502: Airline piracy or attempted airline piracy. Piracy is defined as an attempt to violently take over an aircraft.
•49 USC 46503: Interference with airline security personnel.
•49 USC 46504: Interfering with a flight crewmember or attendant.
•49 USC 46505: Possessing a loaded firearm, explosive or incendiary device.
•49 USC 46507: Threatening to commit any of the above listed offenses.
Federal crimes, in general, have more serious penalties than state crimes. Arash “Ash” Durrani, therefore, may be sentenced to a variety of offenses under federal criminal law, including interfering with a flight crewmember or attendant.
The federal laws have long allowed airlines to have broad discretion in prosecuting those who commit crimes or cause disturbances on airplanes. According to the Los Angeles Times, however, the prosecution of those who create a disturbance has increased since the passage of the Patriot Act. Further, the Los Angeles Times also indicates that inappropriate behavior aboard an aircraft can now be classified as an act of terrorism.
Prior to September 11, airlines largely used Federal Aviation Administration rules, rather than federal criminal laws, to keep order on planes. The Federal Aviation Administration has a series of administrative guidelines, published as FAA regulations, and passengers who behaved in a disruptive manner often were simply considered guilty of an infraction and fined. In fact, the Los Angeles Times quoted the FAA regulations from 2007, which stated: “ ‘interference or intimidation of a crew member by itself is not chargeable under the [criminal] statute unless it rises to the level of physical assault, threatened physical assault or an act posing an imminent threat to the safety of the aircraft or other individuals on the aircraft.’ "
Following September 11, however, more than 200 people have faced federal prosecution under the Patriot Act for disruptive behavior on airlines. Given his behavior and the types of threats he was making, it is likely that Arash Durrani is one of those who will be prosecuted and who fill face serious penalties under federal law.
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