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Federal criminal charges for sexual abuse and assault on international airline flights – 49 USC § 46504, 18 USC § 2244(b) and 18 USC § 113(a)(5)

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 guidelines.

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 The Law Office of Matthew Galluzzo. 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.

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