Getting through the airport and catching your flight on time is already stressful enough. Imagine being charged with a federal offense while inside an airport or flying on a commercial airline. Do different laws apply when you’re traveling? What happens if you’re charged with a federal offense in an airport or on a plane?
Because federal laws typically involve more serious penalties, including prison time, compared to state laws, being charged with a federal offense can be an overwhelming ordeal — especially if the incident took place far away from home. Whether you’re a frequent flyer or just an occasional traveler, it’s important to understand your rights.
Common Federal Offenses in Airports
Ever since the horrifying events of September 11, 2001, airports across the country have become much more secure. The presence of law enforcement and security personnel is more widespread, as are screenings of passengers and luggage. This means that everyone is subject to more scrutiny, which increases the likelihood of an individual being caught in the commission of a criminal act.
While law enforcement officers and security personnel have the authority to search your luggage and your person and to ask you questions related to your citizenship and where you’re traveling, they must still adhere to the law. For example, they are not permitted to perform stops, searches, or seizures based on a person’s race, gender, ethnicity, national origin, political beliefs, or religion. Evidence seized pursuant to an unreasonable and illegal search is not permissible in a prosecution.
In the airline travel industry, some crimes are more common than others. These offenses include:
Assault of Airline Workers
Airports generally mean long lines, long waits, and frustrated passengers. In recent years, lines have gotten even longer and wait times have increased. Understandably, frustration over a delayed or missed flight can cause some people to lose their temper.
However, a momentary lapse in judgment can lead to harsh long-term consequences. Assaults in airports are punishable by federal law. In 2017, the Los Angeles Times reported that a California congressman had received a clarification ruling from the U.S. Department of Justice regarding a federal law designed to protect Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents and law enforcement officers.
The Justice Department ruling held that federal law protects TSA agents, law enforcement personnel, and airport ticket agents from violence carried out by passengers. Anyone convicted of assaulting one of these workers is subject to a maximum fine of $250,000 and up to 10 years in prison. As the LA Times reports, “The Communication Workers of America, the union that represents airline workers, praised the ruling, saying it will help protect airline agents from being victims of air rage.”
Passengers may also be charged with a federal offense for violated weapons laws. For example, federal law only allows passengers to travel with firearms that are unloaded, secured in a hardcover case, and transported in checked baggage. It is a violation of federal law for passengers to travel with a firearm in their carry-on luggage or on their person.
However, some passengers may be unaware of the rules, as many states have concealed carry laws that permit individuals to keep a concealed and loaded firearm on their person. As the TSA told Time, “If you’re grabbing a bag, suitcase, briefcase, jacket or other items you haven’t used in a while, be sure to give it a once over so you don’t accidentally take something prohibited to the checkpoint.” Even if you enter a TSA checkpoint with a firearm in your carryon luggage on accident, you may have a difficult time convincing the agents that you didn’t intend to board your flight with a weapon in violation of federal law.
While each state has its own drug laws, many types of drug crimes are prosecuted by federal prosecutors — especially when a drug offense occurs in an airport or on a commercial flight. The reason federal authorities tend to get involved in these cases is that investigators who discover drugs in a person’s baggage or concealed on their person tend to suspect the individual is involved in drug trafficking or some other serious drug-related crime.
In recent years, the legalization and decriminalization of marijuana in many states have also resulted in some confusion for passengers when it comes to airline travel. What may be a legal amount of marijuana in one state may be completely prohibited in another state. In other states, a person must possess a specific license before they can purchase or possess marijuana. This is why it’s important for individuals who use marijuana to be very clear on the law before they travel. If possible, it’s a good idea to leave all drugs and drug paraphernalia at home to avoid any violation of federal law.
Broden & Mickelsen
Broden & Mickelsen, LLP
2600 State St Dallas, Texas 75204
Main Phone: (214) 720-9552
Prior results cannot and do not guarantee or predict a similar outcome with respect to any future case. Recoveries always depend upon the facts and circumstances of each case, the injuries suffered, damages incurred, and the responsibility of those involved.