California Penal Code 247.5 makes it a crime to point a laser beam at an aircraft. The crime is a “wobbler” meaning it can be charged as either a misdemeanor (with up to 1 year in county jail and a fine of up to $1000) or a felony (with 16 months, 2 years or 3 years and a fine of up to $10,000). The severity depends on the circumstances. Any aircraft qualifies, meaning: it doesn’t matter if it’s a commercial aircraft, private plane or a law enforcement aircraft. If you point a laser beam at the aircraft, you’ll go to jail. Especially if it’s a law enforcement aircraft.
Say that you’re on the ground and you see a police helicopter and you point the laser pointer at it. The guy flying the plane can get on his radio and tell the ground patrol exactly where you’re at. They’ll show up before you even think to not have the laser pointer on you. And suddenly, what you thought was funny will land you in jail.
Here’s the reason behind this law: the laser beam can actually blind the pilot and end up crashing the air craft. It’s that serious. It may not seem like a bright light to you. But when you’re flying the plane or aircraft, it’s potentially very harmful.
To be guilty of this crime, the prosecutor has to prove that you did the alleged crime willfully AND maliciously. You had to have intended to blind the pilot. But, look at it this way: do you want to put your intentions in the hands of 12 “impartial” jurors? Do you want to try to explain your actions to strangers who may or may not believe you? Is playing with your laser pointer that important that you want to risk going to jail or prison? Is it worth fines and hiring a lawyer to prove that you weren’t intending to cause harm? Sometimes foolish pranks can end with serious consequences. This is one crime that is so easily avoidable. When you get that new laser pointer, try playing with it pointing toward the ground or a wall far off. Don’t aim it at the sky.
Don’t be like this 18 year old who had to learn the hard way.