Penal Code 247.5 PC - Malicious Discharge of a Laser at an Occupied Aircraft

Penal Code 247.5 PC is the California statute that makes it a crime for a person to maliciously discharge a laser (e.g., a handheld laser pointer) at an occupied aircraft.

According to this statute:

“Any person who willfully and maliciously discharges a laser at an aircraft, whether in motion or in flight, while occupied, is guilty of a violation of this section, which shall be punishable as either a misdemeanor by imprisonment in the county jail for not more than one year or by a fine of one thousand dollars ($1,000), or a felony by imprisonment pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170 for 16 months, two years, or three years, or by a fine of two thousand dollars ($2,000).”

Examples of illegal acts under this code section include:

  • Marissa intentionally points a laser into the cockpit of a helicopter.
  • Roberto shines a laser pointer at an airplane to change the course of its path.
  • Monique discharges a laser at a private airplane to cause problems with its landing.

Defenses

Luckily, there are several legal defenses that a person can raise if accused of a crime under Penal Code 247.5. These include showing that:

  • the defendant did not act maliciously,
  • there was no aircraft, and/or
  • the defendant acted under duress.

Penalties

A violation of PC 247.5 is a wobbler offense. This means that the crime can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony.

If charged as a misdemeanor, the crime is punishable by:

If charged as a felony, the offense is punishable by:

Our California criminal defense attorneys will highlight the following in this article:

man pointing laser at aircraft
Penal Code 247.5 PC is the California statute that makes it a crime for a person to maliciously discharge a laser (e.g., a handheld laser pointer) at an occupied aircraft

1. What is prohibited under California Penal Code 247.5 PC?

Penal Code 247.5 PC is the California statute that makes it a crime for a person to:

  1. willfully and maliciously discharge a laser, and
  2. to do so at an occupied aircraft – either in motion or in flight.1

“Willfully and maliciously” means to do something purposefully and with wrongful intentions.

Note that an “aircraft” means any object built for the goal of transporting people through the air, and it can include a:

  • commercial aircraft,
  • private plane,
  • helicopter, or
  • law enforcement aircraft.2

2. Are there legal defenses to PC 247.5 accusations?

If a person is accused of pointing a laser at an aircraft, then he can challenge the accusation by raising a legal defense. A good defense can often get a charge reduced or even dismissed.

Three common defenses to PC 247.5 accusations are:

  1. no malicious act
  2. no airplane and/or
  3. duress

2.1. No malicious act

Please recall that a defendant must act willfully and maliciously in order to be guilty under this statute. This means it is always a legal defense for an accused to show that he did not act with this requisite intent. For example, perhaps a defendant shined a laser on accident.

2.2. No aircraft

Please note that PC 247.5 only applies to aircraft. A solid defense, therefore, is for a defendant to say that while he may have discharged a laser, he did so at a vehicle or some other object that was not an aircraft.

2.3. Duress

Duress is a legal defense in which an accused basically says: “He made me do it.” The defense applies to the very limited situation in which a person commits a crime (here, unlawfully pointing a laser at an aircraft), because somebody threatened to kill him if the crime was not committed.

man behind bars
A violation of this law can result in a fine and/or jail time

3. Penalties, punishment, and sentencing

A violation of PC 247.5 is a wobbler offense under California law.3 This means it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony depending on:

  • the facts of the case, and
  • the defendant's criminal history.

If charged as a misdemeanor, the crime is punishable by:

  • imprisonment in the county jail for up to one year, and/or
  • a fine of up to $1,000.4

Note that a judge may award a defendant with misdemeanor (or summary) probation in lieu of jail time.

If charged as a felony, the offense is punishable by:

  • imprisonment in the county jail for 16 months, two years, or three years, and/or
  • a fine of up to $2,000.5

Note that a judge may award a defendant with felony (or formal) probation in lieu of jail time.

4. Related Offenses

There are three crimes related to discharging a laser at an aircraft. These are:

  1. shining a light at an aircraft to interfere with operations – PC 248,
  2. pointing a laser scope at another person – PC 417.25, and
  3. possession of a silencer – PC 33410.

4.1. Shining a light at an aircraft to interfere with operations – PC 248

Penal Code 248 is the California statute that makes it a crime for a person to shine a light at an aircraft in order to interfere with its operation.6

A prosecutor must prove three things to successfully convict a defendant of this offense. These are:

  1. the defendant willfully shined a light at an aircraft;
  2. the light had an intensity capable of impairing the operation of an aircraft; and,
  3. the defendant intended to interfere with the operation of the aircraft.7

A violation of PC 248 is charged as a misdemeanor.

The crime is punishable by:

  • imprisonment in a county jail for up to one year; and/or,
  • a fine of up to $1,000.8

4.2. Pointing a laser scope at another person – PC 417.25

Penal Code 417.25 is the California statute that makes it a crime for a person to point a laser scope at another person.9

Note that, per PC 417.25, the pointing must be made in a threatening manner.

A violation of this statute is charged as a misdemeanor. The crime is punishable by imprisonment in the county jail for up to 30 days.10

4.3. Possession of a silencer – PC 33410

Penal Code 33410 PC is the California statute that makes it a crime for a person to possess a silencer.11

A “silencer” is a device that reduces the sound of a gun when it is fired.

A violation of PC 33410 is charged as a felony. The crime is punishable by:

  • imprisonment in the county jail for up to three years, and/or
  • a fine of up to $10,000.12

Were you accused of pointing a laser at an aircraft in California? Call us for help…

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Call us at (855) LAW-FIRM

If you or someone you know has been accused of a crime under Penal Code 247.5 PC, we invite you to contact us for a free consultation. We can be reached 24/7 at 855-LawFirm.


Legal References:

  1. California Penal Code 247.5 PC. This code section states: “Any person who willfully and maliciously discharges a laser at an aircraft, whether in motion or in flight, while occupied, is guilty of a violation of this section, which shall be punishable as either a misdemeanor by imprisonment in the county jail for not more than one year or by a fine of one thousand dollars ($1,000), or a felony by imprisonment pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170 for 16 months, two years, or three years, or by a fine of two thousand dollars ($2,000).  This section does not apply to the conduct of laser development activity by or on behalf of the United States Armed Forces.”

  2. See same.

  3. See same.

  4. See same.

  5. California Penal Code 1170h PC.

  6. California Penal Code 248 PC.

  7. See same.

  8. See same.

  9. California Penal Code 417.25 PC.

  10. See same.

  11. California Penal Code 33410 PC.

  12. See same. See also California Penal Code 1170h PC.

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