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Drone Arrests

Drone Law Blog Registration Required

In recent years, drones have become increasingly popular for entertainment purposes. Now anyone can purchase a drone and use it for personal reasons. Also known as an unarmed aerial vehicle (UAV), a drone device is defined as a powered aerial vehicle that does not carry a human operator, uses aerodynamic force, and can fly by the remote pilot or autonomously.

Flying an unmanned aerial system (UAS) in Florida is considered legal. However, there are criminal offenses that may be committed using a drone. There are also specified areas in which a person can face criminal charges if they violate and fly a drone in such a zone. If you have been accused of a criminal offense involving a drone, you should reach out to a defense attorney as soon as possible.

Without the right legal representation, you may get convicted of the crime and face very serious collateral consequences. It is important to consult with an attorney – not only who has a proven track record in criminal defense – but who also understands the rights of drone pilots under Florida law and FAA regulations.

Tallahassee Drone Defense Attorney

If you or someone you know has been charged with an infraction using a drone, it is imperative to hire an experienced attorney who can help reduce your charges or seek a minimal sentence. The attorneys at Pumphrey Law are prepared to fight for you and your case. Contact us at (850) 681-7777 for a free consultation regarding your alleged offense.

Drone Use

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is responsible for providing registration for those interested in owning and flying a drone. Under 49 U.S.C §§ 40103, 44502, and 44701-44735, the federal government has given FAA the authority to regulate the areas of airspace use, management and efficiency, air traffic control, safety, navigational facilities, and aircraft noise at its source. In addition, FAA holds the regulatory authority over aviation safety to ensure the maintenance of a safe and sound air transportation system.

In Florida, there are several steps a person must follow before legally flying a drone:

  1. Registration – Any drone that weighs between 0.55 pounds and 55 pounds is required to register with the FAA.
  2. Age – Operators of a drone must be at least 16-years-old or have adult supervision.
  3. Flying in regulated areas – Those operating a drone must abide by the following flying regulations:
    • Always fly within visual line-of-sight – The drone’s operator must be able to see the drone within their line-of-sight while flying.
    • No flying over people or moving vehicles – It is prohibited to operate a drone to fly over other people or moving vehicles.
    • No flying over restricted airspace – There may be specific areas where flying a drone is prohibited. Operators are responsible for checking if an area has prohibited drones prior to flying.
  4. Respect others’ privacy – Respect the privacy of others while flying a drone and ensure to not fly the drone over someone else’s property without receiving permission.
  5. When to fly – It is recommended to only fly drones during the daylight hours, unless the drone is equipped with lights to see in the dark.
  6. No reckless flying – Operators must fly a drone in a safe manner. Any reckless flying can pose a danger to other people and property.

In addition, the following lists examples of state and local laws of government police power and the ability to use drones:

  • Requirement for police to obtain a warrant prior to using a UAS for surveillance;
  • Specifying that a drone may not be used for voyeurism;
  • Prohibited from using a drone for hunting, fishing, or interfering with a person who is hunting or fishing; or
  • Prohibited from attaching a firearm or other weapon to a drone.

To find out more about the specific regulations for drones, read the Federal Aviation Administration’s page here.

Always make sure to follow the FAA rules when flying a drone, whether you’re flying for fun or flying commercially.

Drone Infractions in Florida

Florida Statute Section 330.41 titled the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Act defined a critical infrastructure facility as any of the following:

  • Electric power generation or transmission facility;
  • Chemical or rubber manufacturing or storage facility;
  • Mining facility;
  • Natural gas or compressed gas compressor station, storage facility, or natural gas or compressed gas pipeline;
  • Liquid natural gas or propane gas terminal or storage facility with a capacity of 4,000 gallons or more;
  • Any portion of an aboveground oil or gas pipeline;
  • Wireless communications facility, including the tower, antennae, support structures, and all associated ground-based equipment;
  • State or private correctional institution;
  • Secure detention center or facility, or a nonsecure residential facility, high-risk residential facility, or maximum-risk residential facility; or
  • County detention facility.

Any person who knowingly and willfully operates a drove over any of the above listed critical infrastructure facilities, when they are enclosed by a fence or clearly marked with a sign to indicate that entry is forbidden and allows the drone to fly over such facility can face a second-degree misdemeanor in Florida. The penalties for a second-degree misdemeanor include up to a $500 fine and up to 60 days in jail.

If the defendant is arrested for a second or subsequent offense of flying a drone over a critical infrastructure facility, they may be facing an increased charge of a first-degree misdemeanor. The penalties for a first-degree misdemeanor include up to a $1,000 fine and up to one year in jail.

In addition, the following is a list of possible criminal offenses which can take place using a drone:

  • Drug Trafficking – Moving drugs via drone is illegal, and a conviction is at least a first-degree felony according to Florida Statutes § 893.135.
  • Stalking or Aggravated Stalking – Using a drone to stalk someone is exactly the same as stalking without a drone, and could be anywhere from a misdemeanor in the first degree to a felony in the third degree according to Florida Statutes § 784.048.
  • Assault – Threatening to hit someone with a drone could be considered assault, a misdemeanor in the second degree according to Florida Statutes § 784.011. If the court chooses to allow a drone to be considered a “deadly weapon,” this could even rise to aggravated assault, a felony in the third degree according to Florida Statutes § 784.021.
  • Battery– Hitting someone with a drone would likely result in a battery charge, which is either a misdemeanor in the first degree, or felony in the third degree after the first offense, according to Florida Statutes § 784.03.
  • Video Voyeurism – Using a drone with an imagining device to secretly film, broadcast, or record another person without their knowledge or consent while they are dressing, undressing, or exposing their body is considered video voyeurism.
  • Destruction of Aircraft/Endangering the Safety of Pilot – Drone users aren’t the only ones who can get arrested while interacting with a drone. Damaging or destroying a UAS is a federal crime according the FAA because UASs are considered aircraft. Further, it is a crime to attack “anyone engaged in the authorized operation of such aircraft.” The FAA believes this applies to UAS pilots. Breaking either of these laws is a federal crime, and a conviction means a fine, up to 20 years in federal prison, or both, according to 18 U.S.C. § 32.

Aside from drone crimes, there are also various civil infractions that drone pilots face.

Pumphrey Law | Tallahassee Drone Defense Lawyers

If you have been charged with a crime while using a drone in Florida, contact the attorneys at the Pumphrey Law to discuss the details of your case. A defendant convicted of a criminal offense using a drone can face serious legal consequences. In addition to paying expensive fines, you may also be sentenced to imprisonment. Finding an attorney who will aggressively fight on your behalf is your best option to avoid severe punishment.

The attorneys at Pumphrey Law Firm are experienced in all areas of criminal defense and may be able to reduce or alleviate your charges completely. Contact us at (850) 681-7777 or leave an online message on our website to receive a free consultation regarding your case.

(Note: We have been contacted by readers lately asking for clarification on the registration requirement. The registration requirement is now MANDATORY for all UAS operators, both hobby and commercial. For some background on why there is a question, check out the Taylor decision from this summer, which ruled that the FAA cannot regulate model aircraft at all. On December 12, 2017, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018 became law*. This bill reinstated the drone/UAS registration requirement that was struck down in Taylor when flying as a model aircraft. Pumphrey Law has always recommended registration, believing it is better safe than sorry. Now hobbyists can be directly fined by the FAA for failing to register. The registration and more information regarding the change can be found here.)

This article was last updated April 14, 2023.

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