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US: UPDATED - Arizona law adds penalties for aiming at aircraft

A law signed April 30 2014 by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer makes it illegal to aim a laser pointer at an occupied aircraft. A violation is a Class 1 misdemeanor, with a maximum penalty of up to six months in jail and/or a fine of up to $2,500.

In addition, if the pilot is unable to safely operate the aircraft, or if anyone onboard has a serious physical injury, the act becomes an assault. Apparently, under Arizona law, an “assault” would add to the seriousness of a Class 1 misdemeanor (possibly increasing the jail term and/or fine), but would not put it into another category such as a felony. (For more details, see this discussion and this page.)

House Bill 2164 was introduced January 13 2014. It amended existing Arizona statute Section 12-1213, which prohibited aiming a laser pointer at a peace officer. HB 2164 added a prohibition on aiming at an occupied aircraft.
The bill also expanded the definition to include any laser emitting device (not just laser pointers). Interestingly, though, the full definition includes only pointing characteristics: “ ‘Laser pointer’ or ‘laser emitting device’ means any device that is designed or used to amplify electromagnetic radiation by stimulated emission, that emits a beam designed to be used by the operator as a pointer or highlighter to indicate, mark or identify a specific position, place, item or object.”

The original version of the bill had a stiffer penalty. It would have been a Class 5 felony to aim at an occupied aircraft, and a Class 4 felony if it unsafely affected the pilot or caused serious physical injury to anyone on board. After committee discussion, an age limit was added. Aiming at an occupied aircraft would be a Class 3 misdemeanor if done by someone under 19 years of age; for persons 19 or older, the act would remain a Class 5 felony for aiming, and a Class 4 felony for unsafe or injurious actions.

The Senate version changed this. Aiming at an occupied aircraft would be a Class 1 misdemeanor, or an assault for unsafe or injurious actions (regardless of the perpetrator’s age). This is the version which was eventually passed by the Senate with 27 “Aye” votes, 1 “Nay”, and 2 “Not voting”. The House then assured final passage with 46 “Aye” votes, 7 “Nays” and 7 “Not voting”.

The bill was sent to Governor Brewer on April 24 2014; she signed it on April 30.

From the Arizona State Legislature legislative history of HB2164. The full text of the bill is at the Arizona State Legislature website, as well as here at LaserPointerSafety.com.

UPDATE - September 23 2014: The Arizona Police Association and other law enforcement groups want to increase the penalty to a felony. They hope to introduce a measure when the legislature re-convenes in January 2015.