Delayed flights, crowded airplanes, rude people, and stressful rides to the airport can make airline travel particularly stressful. Sometimes, rude flight attendants or passengers fueled by alcohol can cause tempers to flare, and physical fights sometimes erupt during the flight. These fights or disputes can result in federal criminal charges, as “the special maritime jurisdiction” of federal courts applies to airplanes coming into the United States or traveling across state lines.
Federal assault charges can apply to any person who causes an offensive physical touching to another person on the airplane. Certainly, that can apply to physical violence, but it might also apply to unwanted sexual touching of another person as well. Assaulting another person on an airplane is normally a petty offense under federal criminal law, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 113(a)(5). (Those accused of sexually assaulting others on airplanes can also be prosecuted with the more serious felony charge of 18 U.S.C. § 2244(b), however, and attempts to maim or murder can be prosecuted as felonies, as well). That means that the crime is a misdemeanor with a maximum prison penalty of six months and/or a fine of $5000.00. Also, it means that the defendant is not entitled to a jury trial. Instead, the defendant must have his case tried by a federal magistrate judge.
Locating and interviewing witnesses in these cases is of paramount importance to the defense. Occasionally, shaky cell phone video footage might be available of the incident or dispute, and it may actually vindicate the accused person. Sometimes defendants have even acted unknowingly or unintentionally, by virtue of intoxicated or sleep disorders, and such defense should be explored and developed if applicable.