From time to time, an individual en route to the United States via commercial
airplane gets arrested for groping or getting into a fight with another
passenger. Because these crimes do not occur on U.S. soil, they generally
fall under federal jurisdiction. Specifically, 49 U.S.C. § 46506
confers "special maritime jurisdiction" upon those criminal
acts that occur whilst the plane is flying to or over the United States.
See 18 U.S.C. § 7.
Unwanted sexual contact with another person on an incoming international
airline flight can subject the offender to prosecution pursuant to 18
U.S.C. §2244(b). That charge makes it a felony punishable by up to
two years in prison for engaging in unwanted sexual contact.
Pursuant to the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, this crime is normally classified
as having a base offense level of 12, meaning that a defendant without
a criminal record convicted of this crime will generally be looking at
a sentence of between 10 and 16 months in prison. If one accepts responsibility
by pleading guilty in advance of trial, however, one can normally expect
an offense level reduction of two levels, meaning in this case that the
Sentencing Guidelines would suggest a level 10 base offense level, resulting
in a sentence of from 6 to 12 months in jail.
In the case of regular (non-sexual) assaults on airplanes, those federal
charges are typically brought pursuant to 18 USC § 113 (for assaults
on other passengers)or 49 USC § 46504 (for assaults on the crew or
airplane staff). There are different subsections of this charge that apply
to different sorts of assaults, including fatal assaults and assaults
with weapons (and of course each of these charges carries different penalties).
These sorts of assaults usually involve intoxicatedpassengers fighting against airplane staff members or
alleged terrorists. Conrad Hilton – Paris’ brother – was
recently arrested and charged with a crime of this sort (49 USC § 46504).
These cases can be difficult to defend. There are obviously potentially
a lot of witnesses on the airplane, including other passengers and crew.
Unlike in many sex crimes cases, in these cases the victim and the perpetrator
are typically strangers, meaning that there is generally less reason to
suspect that the victim has fabricated his or her story. Finally, defendants
in these cases just don't have a very good track record of prevailing.
For example, a rabbi accused of sexually abusing a sleeping Israeli solider
was convicted after trial recently in federal court in Brooklyn. Despite
proclaiming his innocence on the witness stand, he was found guilty and
sentenced to sixty days in jail. Other examples include a man in New Jersey
federal court who was arrested after arriving at Newark Airport and was
ultimately sentenced to one year in jail. Notably,
however, the author of this article was able to persuade a federal judge
to give his client no time in jail on a conviction for this crime, which
represented a significant downward variance from the federal sentencing
In short, these cases are very serious and need to be defended carefully
and by a thorough and tough criminal attorney.
If you or a loved one have been accused of sexually abusing or assaulting
another individual on an international airline flight, you should strongly
consider contacting the experienced criminal defense attorneys at
Galluzzo & Arnone LLP. Their attorneys have
defended against these charges very successfully and have considerable experience defending individuals accused of sexual
crimes and assaults in a variety of contexts.