Aerial Drone Trespassing Trial Wednesday

We got this press release yesterday. Looks to be an interesting case that could create groundbreaking case law. We’ll be covering it.

Lincoln Parish Man Facing Charges of Aerial Trespass
Louisiana Seeks Jurisdiction of Airspace in Spite of FAA Warning and Lack of Statue

Ruston, LA, February 9, 2020: The Lincoln Parish courthouse in Ruston, Louisiana will be the focus of drone operators from across the state on Wednesday, February 12th, 2020 at 9:00am.

Mr. James Benson of Dubach, Louisiana has been charged with trespassing after flying a small drone in his back yard and briefly flying over a neighboring property at a height of 400 feet. The FAA, who was provided sole jurisdiction of airspace by Congress through the passage of the Federal Aviation Act of 1958, allows drones to be flown recreationally up to height of 400 feet so long as they do not interfere with manned aircraft.

The neighbor, Mr. Matt Henderson, a sheriff deputy with Lincoln Parish, and his wife Erin Henderson took offense to the drone’s flight. Henderson’s colleague subsequently made an arrest and Benson was jailed for 12 hours. The alleged incident took place on April, 11th, 2018 while the arrest was not made until four days later. It is only now being heard by the Honorable Bruce Hampton as multiple prosecutors refused the case in over the past 21 months.

This case has significance in the budding drone industry as a verdict against Mr. Benson could negatively impact commercial drone operations around the state with the threat of aerial trespassing. It would also put Louisiana at odds with the FAA over jurisdiction of airspace and flight regulations. As drones are classified in the same realm as kites, weather balloons, and model rockets, there are potential consequences for those enthusiasts as well.

In 2015 the Chief Legal Counsel for the FAA warned against states or local governments creating or enforcing their own drone ordinances in an UAS fact sheet arguing that doing so creates a “‘patchwork quilt’ of differing restrictions could severely limit the flexibility of FAA in controlling the airspace and flight patterns, and ensuring safety and an efficient air traffic flow.” Similarly a case in federal court, Singer v. Newton City, MA, was decided in September of 2017 and struck down a local government’s attempts at preempting the FAA’s control of airspace.

While 17 states have passed laws over the last three years to specifically disallow local governments from attempting to usurp FAA authority over flight, this case sees Louisiana as the first state to challenge the Congressional Act that regulation of airspace resides with the federal government.

Louisiana’s trespassing law was recently modified to include drones. It states: “No person shall enter upon immovable property owned by another without express, legal, or implied authorization.” “For purposes of this Subsection, the phrase ‘enter upon immovable property’ as used in this Subsection, in addition to its common meaning, signification, and connotation, shall include the operation of an unmanned aircraft system as defined by in the air space over immovable property owned by another with the intent to conduct surveillance of the property or of any individual lawfully on the property.”

The incident and arrest took place four months before the state law changed to add unmanned aircraft systems. Mr. Benson claims there was no surveillance, but instead was purely recreational in intent and had no interest in his neighbor’s property or any persons on the land.

Attorney Jordan Bird is counsel for Mr. James Benson: https://www.cookyancey.com/attorney-profiles/jordan-b-bird/

7 Responses to “Aerial Drone Trespassing Trial Wednesday”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    Why even be a deputy if you can’t arrest whomever you like?

  2. George Webb Says:

    Following this case with interest to the outcome.

  3. Anonymous Says:

    Looks like a unlawful arrest took place!

  4. Anonymous Says:

    Who is the prosoecutor?

  5. Anonymous Says:

    Attorney General

  6. dlr938 Says:

    This is why I keep a long-barreled 10-gauge handy…

  7. Anonymous Says:

    Assistant attorney and the first 3 letters explains everything!

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