Is Flying A Drone A Crime In California?

As drones grow in popularity, states across the nation are adopting laws to protect privacy and limit drone usage, but what about California? Drones are classified as unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), and often carry cameras, video recording devices, or, sometimes, weapons. While sometimes the visual and audio aids help the operator to fly the drone or create videos, they can also be used for more nefarious purposes.

Air Space Regulations

According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), drones may fly above private property if they are not engaging in criminal activities or causing harm or injury. The FAA also requires all drones between 0.55 and 55 pounds to be registered by their owners, who must carry the registration certificate whenever the drone is in flight. Failure to do so could lead to fines of up to $27,500, or, in more serious situations, criminal penalties may include 3 years in prison and fines of up to $250,000.

California Law

While California has not enacted any legislation specifically against drone use, there are other laws in place that may apply to improper drone operation.

In California, the following civil and criminal laws may apply to drone use:

  • Civil Code Section 1708.8: Trespassing, or the physical invasion of privacy, either by entering private land or air space without permission, especially to take images or recordings in an offensive way.
  • Civil Code Section 3481: Protection against private nuisances, such as the disruptive noise of the blades of the drone near an individual or his or her premises.
  • Penal Code Section 632: Privacy regarding eavesdropping or unlawful recording of conversations where the recorded parties did not give consent.
  • Penal Code Section 634: Trespassing on private property and committing, or attempting to commit an act in violation of Penal Code Sections 631, 632, 632.5, 632.6, 632.7, or 636.
  • Penal Code Section 646.9: Stalking, or purposefully repeatedly following another person, sometimes with malicious intent or to intentionally cause fear.
  • Penal Code Section 647: Invasion of privacy, especially using technology, including cameras and voice recorders.

Also, according to the Code of Civil Procedure Sections 525-526, and 527.6, someone who has been harassed may obtain a temporary restraining order or injunction against the responsible party (or drone operator).

California Penalties and Punishment

Violating these laws with drone snooping or other misconduct could result in misdemeanor or felony charges, depending on the severity of the crime. The resulting punishment may also be more severe if the accused already has previous convictions.

Penalties for violating the following civil and penal codes may include:

  • Civil Code Section 1708.8: Repayment of up to 3 times the amount of damages caused by the invasion of privacy, and a fine between $5,000 and $50,000.
  • Civil Code Section 3481: Compensation for the victim’s damages and any additional civil fines.
  • Penal Code Section 632 (Eavesdropping): If charged as a misdemeanor, up to 1 year in jail and a fine of $2,500. If charged as a felony, up to 3 years in prison and up to $2,500 in fines.
  • Penal Code Section 634 (Trespass-Invasion of Privacy): For a first offense, the punishment is up to $2,500 in fines, up to 1 year in jail or up to $10,000 in fines and 1 year in jail for later offenses.
  • Penal Code Section 646.9 (Stalking): If charged as a misdemeanor, up to 1 year in jail and court fines. If charged as a felony, up to 5 years in prison.
  • Penal Code Section 647 (Disorderly Conduct): Charged as a misdemeanor and punishable by up to 6 months in jail and a fine of $1,000 for first-time offenders, or a year in jail and $2,000 for later offenses.

Local Laws

To crack down on local drone usage, Los Angeles city enacted laws in October of last year to limit where and how they are flown. However, while these laws are all to be upheld, it is also illegal to shoot a drone in response to the following violations.

In Los Angeles, drones may not:

  • Fly within 5 miles of an airport
  • Interfere with any manned aircraft
  • Fly out of the sight of the operator
  • Fly within 25 feet of another person, except during takeoff and landing
  • Fly at night
  • Exceed 400 feet in flight.

Failure to follow these Los Angeles drone laws may lead to a misdemeanor charge, and up to 6 months in jail and a fine of $1,000.

As legislation about drone usage continues to develop, and technology continues to advance, know your rights about privacy and compensation for harm. Regardless of the lack of specific laws, it is still very possible to take legal action to defend yourself from improper or invasive drone usage.

Contact Stephen G. Rodriguez & Partners to discuss your legal situation and learn what defenses and options are available to you.

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