Pointing Lasers at Helicopters Can Lead to Arrest

By Brett Snider, Esq. on March 04, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Laser pointers can be fun, useful gadgets, but pointing them at helicopters can land you in handcuffs.

Laser pointer pranksters may think these helicopter hijinks are funny, but state and federal law enforcement aren't laughing.

Multiple Arrests for Laser-Pointing Helicopters

In recent months, laser pointer pranksters from coast to coast have been arrested for incidents involving laser pointers and helicopters. Here are just a few examples:

  • In California, 19-year-old Jenny Gutierrez of San Bernardino County was arrested Thursday for allegedly shining her green laser pointer at a sheriff's helicopter -- which then followed the car she was riding in and relayed her location to deputies on the ground. If Gutierrez is convicted, she could face up to five years in federal prison, Los Angeles' KCBS-TV reports.
  • In Ohio, 46-year-old Nicholas Vecchiarelli of Hubbard is currently under court order to "stay away from lasers" after allegedly pointing one at a TV news helicopter in October, reports Youngstown's WFMJ-TV.
  • In Nevada, a man with a prior record of aiming lasers at police helicopters in Phoenix is accused of doing the same with Las Vegas police copters. James Zipf, 30, of Henderson, is now facing six federal felony counts, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reports.
  • In Oklahoma, 42-year-old Carl Don Floyd of Tulsa has been charged in federal court with allegedly shining a green laser at a Tulsa police copter, striking the tactical flight officer in the eyes, reports the Tulsa World.
  • And in Texas, San Antonio's WOAI-TV reports that Don Ray Dorsett, 28, of El Paso, was charged in federal court with pointing a laser a helicopter owned by the Texas Department of Public Safety.

Each of these laser-pointer offenders may have particular state or local dimensions to their cases, but they've all allegedly run afoul of federal law.

Pointing Lasers at Helicopters Is a Federal Offense

For those who didn't get the memo in February, the FBI and other law enforcement agencies are cracking down on laser pointing when it involves aircraft. While this strict enforcement effort is somewhat new, the federal law against pointing lasers at aircraft has been on the books since 2012.

Federal law prohibits knowingly pointing the beam of a laser at an aircraft or "at the flight path of such an aircraft." ("Aircraft" is defined by federal law as "a civil, military, or public contrivance invented, used, or designated to navigate, fly, or travel in the air" -- which includes helicopters.) Violators can face up to five years in federal prison.

Accidentally flashing a helicopter while using a laser pointer for stargazing isn't prohibited. But if you're worried about your potential criminal liability for laser-pointing, or if you've been charged with such a crime, contact a criminal defense attorney today.

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