Shooting down an aerial drone is a federal crime and could result in criminal liability. Regardless of how a property owner feels about a drone’s (perceived) invasion of privacy over their private property, there are more civil solutions available.
State Privacy Laws Favor Property Owners
We established in our May 2019 blog that case law has favored property owners for altitudes up to 500 feet above their property. So, the wise drone pilot will ensure that they’re flying in accordance with FAA regulations and avoiding any appearance of: (1) the drone is causing a nuisance: (2) being flown recklessly; or (3) violating your state’s privacy laws.
Federal Aviation Laws Favor Drone Pilots
For obvious safety reasons, a drone hit by gunfire could crash, causing injury to persons or damage to property on the ground, or it could collide with other objects in the air. So, shooting at an unmanned aircraft could result in criminal or civil liability, just as firing at a manned airplane. The FAA has cited federal law in their declaration that shooting a drone constitutes a federal crime and could result in criminal liability. Where does it say that?
Federal Law states it in U.S. Code Title 18, Section 32 “Whoever willfully sets fire to, damages, destroys, disables, or wrecks any aircraft in the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States . . . shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than twenty years or both.” Under subsection (c), threatening a drone or a drone operator would also be a federal crime subject to five years in prison.
What if My Drone is Shot Down?
Aerial drone pilots who have an FAA registration number affixed to their aircraft, are Part 107 certified, and flying in accordance with FAA rules will probably have a good case for filing a criminal complaint . . . As long as they’re respecting the rights of property owners! However, case law can go against the drone pilot if it can be shown that they were depriving the property owner of their rights, particularly invasion of privacy.
Drone pilots must be careful about flying over other people’s property, especially at low altitude. State laws control property rights and in at least one case have favored an owner for shooting down a drone that was allegedly used for spying. In light of Amazon’s recent approval to deliver small packages by drones, the gray areas between federal and state rights certainly need to be clarified.
Drone pilots should know their rights but also avoid situations that may place their drone in jeopardy. Getting entangled in the legal system is expensive and should be avoided if at all possible.
Don’t miss our next blog on your right to retrieve a drone that lands/crashes onto private property.