Teen who pointed laser at aircraft jailed for 30 months

CNN's Aaron Cooper reports on the consequences for aiming laser pointers at aircraft.
U.S. District Judge Stephen V. Wilson sentenced a 19-year-old man on Monday to 30 months in federal prison for shining a laser pointer at a plane and police helicopter, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney's Office, which prosecuted the case.


    1. Sunglesses won’t protect your eyes from most lasers.  Even the laser safety glasses I’ve seen are only rated for certain laser wavelengths and not for others.

  1. The kid was stupid, and what he did was dangerous, but 30 months and a felony conviction that will follow him around for his entire life seem like overkill.  He won’t be able to get a real job now.  Ever.  His life is basically ruined.

    It’s not like he held up a 7-Eleven or something.  This should have been handled at the local level and he should be doing community service and paying a hefty fine.  The poor bastard is being made an example of.  The judge even admits it.

    1. Blinding a pilot while landing a plane is not a minor thing. People could have gotten killed. A seriouse crime with seriouse consecuences.

        1. Exactly—so 30 months seems entirely reasonable to me. Zero sympathy for this guy. At 19, he knew perfectly well what he was doing.

          1. The guy should consider himself lucky that there wasn’t an accident otherwise that 30 months would be looking very attractive.  Unless he’s a complete sociopath I doubt he will actually serve a full 30 months.

            I think the reason some feel this is an excessive penalty is because the idea of waving a laser pointer in the air seems pretty innocuous.  If the guy had boarded a plane and tried to interfere with the pilot’s control, 30 months would seem a light sentence.  It has to do with proximity to the crime.

          2.  Congress did away with parole for new felons a couple decades ago.  He will serve 30 months in a federal penitentiary, unless Obama pardons him, which won’t happen.

            Meanwhile, most drunk drivers lose their licenses, pay a fine or do some community service, and have to take classes.

        2.  Just because people weren’t killed doesn’t mean it’s not a serious crime. When someone is charged with attempted murder someone “could have” been killed, but weren’t. I’m not saying the kid should be charged with attempted murder or equating what he did to that crime, as his intent was likely not to kill anyone, but the potential for lots of innocent lives to be lost was still very real.

          Bottom line, it was a stupid thing to do, and now, hopefully, he realizes it.

          1.  The real questions have the words should, can and wiill in them.
            For should I be convicted of a felony that depends on your reason (in multiple senses of the word) and the conditions at the time (middle of the night, middle of the day, lots of traffic, little traffic, no traffic).

            For can I be convicted of a felony that probably depends most on the factors above and the prosecuting attorney. For example if you drop a brick on an empty freeway in the middle of the day many people might answer no to should, but the prosecutor can still turn it into a CAN by pursuing felony charges.

            Will I be convicted of a felony depends again on the  list of conditions, the prosecutor pursuing felony charges, and the amount of a money you have available to mount a defense and various other conditions such as your race, the region you live in etc.

            There is also the question as to whether you will end up in federal or state court.

            The class of felony you are convicted on is also dependent on the same variables, how much time you might do is dependent on the how your particular state’s legal system is set up. For example if you have a state where the parole board is able to determine when to let you out and felonies are sentenced in ranges – for example 3rd degree 1-5 years, 2nd degree 5-15 years, 1 degree 15 years to life, well then if the prosecutor tries for a 2nd degree felony (because he figures you will plead it down) and you don’t plead it down then you have a possible 5-15 years.
            In states where the this setup exists the judge can often bypass it by sentencing you to jail for a year, thus escaping putting you in the clutches of the parole board, but probably they judge will give you probation which if you mess up by drinking, doing drugs or something that gets you pulled into court will probably result in you going to prison for your term.

            So if you got the possible 5-15 years probably the judge thinks I’m not going to send this guy away for minimum of 5 years, so I give him one year and a 1 year probation.

            Of course, that is only one possible way the courts can be set up in a particular state.  Another system would be if the judge can give an exact sentence and then you can get good time due to various things you do during your incarceration – hold down a prison job, go to classes whatever. So then maybe he gives you  5 years because he knows that with good time based on doing everything right  in this system you will do only 2.5 years (based on whatever are the good time rules in your particular state)

            So anyway. Please take these issues into account and research your jurisdiction before you drop that first brick.

            TLDR: IT DEPENDS!

          2. If you drop a brick on an empty freeway, someone can still hit it at high speed and roll over or kick it up through someone else’s windshield.

          3.  It might be the case that if someone drops a brick on an empty freeway someone else can still roll over it and so forth, but that does not change the fact that dropping it on an empty freeway and a busy freeway from an overpass are likely to be extremely different levels of dangerousness and to be argued as such in a court of law.

            Also if I drop a brick from an overpass I gotta think when it hits the road it is not going to be a solid brick anymore – is that incorrect? I’m thinking stereotypical red brick here.

            so let’s say we have three different brick droppers:

            dropper 1 drops it on a busy freeway from an overpass

            dropper 2 drops it on an empty freeway from an overpass and it shatters into 6 pieces of various sizes.

            dropper 3 drops it from their hand as they are crossing the empty freeway.

            I can’t help but think these things are arguably different, at least in a court, and will probably be treated as different.

            I guess it needs A/B testing.

        3. You’d probably feel differently if you were in the plane. I’m not a big fan of letting attempted mass murderers walk just because he failed to get a kill.

        4. Attempted murder? Now honestly, what is that? Do they give a Nobel prize for attempted chemistry? Do they?

        5. The operating phrase there is “could have”, not “did”. Had there been an accident, he’d deserve life.

          So you’re saying that if he’d been a competent jackass and actually succeeded in what he was apparently attempting then he’d deserve much worse punishment, but because he was lucky and/or incompetent then he deserves much less punishment. Interesting notion of justice.

          Reminds me of the ol’ “Sideshow Bob” defense:

          Hah! Attempted murder? Now honestly, what is that? Do they give a Nobel prize for attempted chemistry? Do they?

          1.  Was he really a jackass trying to kill someone or was he a jackass trying to annoy someone in a way that could lead to that person getting killed?

            Frankly it sounds like attempted manslaughter.  Which is really not a thing because you don’t attempt manslaughter, you instead commit a potential manslaughter.

      1. That’s right, but I’d call it attempted manslaughter from a distance, for nothing more than a quick laugh.
        Even thinking about it, “Hey, I just punk’d that airplane pilot, LOL!”, should boil anyone’s blood.  If you’re going for the effing Darwin Award, point it at yourself!

    2. I know a felon that has a very real and good job.

      But this laser guy did something dangerous and stupid, as you say, and when someone points a laser and a plane and kills people, everyone will wonder why we weren’t harder on people who do this.

  2. I’m torn here. Being the victim of a high powered 3B laser injury, I do believe too many people deny lasers the respect they deserve. 30 months in prison for a non injurious event seems much.

    1. Someone WAS injured.  From the article:
      “The pilot of the corporate jet was hit in the eye multiple times and had vision problems through the next day, court documents say.”

      That the pilot got better the next day doesn’t make it not an injury, nor does it mean there was no yet-undiscovered long-term damage to his/her eyes.

      Further, the idiot did this more than once, because they caught the guy after a completely separate incident.

      30 months for 2+ incidents of potentially blinding people and/or crashing airplanes and killing people seems fair or perhaps even generous.

      1.  Once could be an accident, twice is obviously intentional. And his defense of “I didn’t know how strong it was” is idiotic, just like saying “I had no idea that gun would shoot a bullet that far”

  3. Right, so 30 months seems reasonable since his actions could have led to deaths of many people.  Not to mention his shining of a laser pointer is no isolated incident.  There were over 3,000 reports from pilots last of being lased in flight, some of which led to temporary blindness lasting hours.  Actions have consequences.  This seems to be a lesson lost on us recently.

  4. Are there any reports of an airplane crashing or anyone killed? bruised? made late? anything?
    Looking at the videos and photos, the most I can see happening is an annoyance to the pilot. Even the lasers during landing simulations do not seems to be the problem they are presented to be. Pilots land in zero visibility conditions all the time.Even the FAA simulations provide such a week case they had to go to the argument 

    the FAA pilots were in a simulator and knew they would be illuminated by a laser. A pilot in a real aircraft, surprised by an unexpected light flash, would probably have even more difficulty in reacting.

    Watch this video. http://youtu.be/nUpmLbkzyEI The laser light is recorded with a low light camera and it still does not bother the pilot. In addition, the most they say happens is that it makes things look green and they don’t know “if it’s a laser or lightening and you certainly don’t want to be in lightening”.It concerns me that we have a law based on what might happen and not based on what has happened and that this law has been used to deprive a citizen of their freedom for 2.5 years.

    1. Pilots land in zero visibility because they can still see their instruments.  Blind them and they cannot land safely.  This is a penalty for doing something incredibly dangerous.  This citizen earned his loss of freedom.

    2. The law is rife with regulations that are based on what might happen.  If there was an accident and no regulation in place, would there not be an outcry about nothing was done to anticipate this?  You seem to be suggesting that pointing a laser at plane is a responsible act until proven otherwise.  Should we have laws about shooting guns at planes?  When was the last time a bullet brought down airliner in a civilian environment? Is it responsible to shoot a gun at a plane since the odds of actually hitting are low and the odds even lower that it would crash as a result?

      Not to mention the potential harm from a laser depends upon the power and distance of the laser from the target.  Typical laser pointer is is about 5 mW which is what the FAA simulation used, but there more powerful lasers available that are easily purchased on the Internet.

      For a perspective on what is at stake lets put you in a car moving at 130 mph with no brakes.  You have to enter a 20 foot wide tunnel in a concrete wall.  You are not approaching the tunnel on a road but on a broad swath of cement.  1,200 feet from the tunnel, about six seconds from the entrance, you are lased with a 5 mW laser for one second.  The fade out in this scenario, based on the FAA simulation, is two and half seconds. If you got off course on when you flinched to shield your eyes you have three seconds now to correct before impacting the cement wall.

      Would it be responsible to laser the driver in this situation?

    3. I’m not sure that video can be used as proof the light does not bother the pilot. In the video it’s obvious that the pilot is actively trying to locate the user of the laser pointer. If a laser was pointed at an aircraft during takeoff or landing evena  slight distraction can be dangerous.

      Additionally, the laser might be low powered. The video was uploaded in 2008 and technology has gone a long way since then.

      Finally I’m not sure why you’re concerned about a law depriving a citizen of their “freedom” to point lasers at pilots. Given a strong enough laser that simple act can cause actual damage to the eye of the pilot, let alone possibly cause issues with flying. 

      Finally, I believe you should include the paragraph before your selectively quoted portion of laserpointersafety.com:

      “Implications for laser pointer users
      The exposures in this study were very short (just 1 second) and relatively dim (50 to 5000 times lower than Class 3A exposure limits). Some laser enthusiasts may think that this is a reasonable light level: “I can easily handle this, so professional pilots should not have a problem.” However, the study found that pilots clearly had problems including aborted landings. Thus, the effects of laser light on a pointer enthusiast may not be the same as the effects on a pilot concentrating on landing a commercial aircraft.

      In addition, the FAA pilots were in a simulator and knew they would be illuminated by a laser. A pilot in a real aircraft, surprised by an unexpected light flash, would probably have even more difficulty in reacting.”


    4. Exactly, where is the research? You try holding a laser dead still on moving target at several hundred meters for long enough to cause eye damage.

  5. This guy is 19. He is not a “teen” or a “kid”. At that age he is a fully grown up adult and if he pointed a laser intentionally and repeatedly at passing aircraft then he should be locked up. 

    30 months sounds about right to give him time to reflect on his dumbassery.

      1. Not really. BB is using the word “teen” to make it sound like the courts are coming down hard on a little kid. He’s not. He’s a grown-ass adult. The word may be used accurately according to Webster, but it’s clearly meant to slant the opinion of the reader, particularly those who don’t click through.

        1. NineTEEN.  Not really such a difficult concept.  Or are you using a different base?

  6. Three guys (one 19, others early 20s) drove by me in the middle of town, middle of the day, and shot at me (two guns). Target practice, I guess, and glad they missed. I dove for cover, crawled back to my car, and called the police who actually chased them down and caught them. They got probation. This guy gets 30 months?

    1. There’s disparity here, but I don’t thing that the problem is the 30 month sentence.  Under what circumstances does someone shoot at you and only get probation?  Because I’d like to think that shooting at strangers should net you a more serious sentence

  7. From the article: “Adam Gardenhire deliberately pointed the commercial grade green laser at a private Cessna Citation that was landing at the Burbank Bob Hope Airport in California on March 29, 2012”

    Commercial grade laser pointer while the small plane (autopilot?  co-pilot?) was landing certainly make this worse than some of the commenters have implied.  However, I say 30 months is insane.  One month would get the message across and 6 would be adequate for “setting an example.” 

    I looked up the jail time for drunk driving in California and if you would have to get convicted of drunk driving 3 times with the max penalty to get 30 months.


    1. That’s because if they gave you 30 months for a single DUI much of the US Congress would be in the slammer.

    2. 30 months would maybe be a little steep for abusing a high powered laser on the ground in an effort to permanently blind someone, but not much.

      Because of the significant risk of collateral damage, aviation crimes are penalized more severely than those on the ground.

      Even on the ground, assaulting and attempting to kill the police (he also pointed it at a police helicopter, remember) can even get you shot.

      The sentence seems reasonable given the evidence: deliberate multiple assaults on aviation, including police aviation, with a high powered laser capable of causing permanent blindness.

  8. Back of the envelope calculation tells me that the power density of most laser pointers is very low at any reasonable distance.  Common sense tells me that the angle of incidence makes it very difficult to hit a pilot in the eye from the ground.  Playing with my dog who loves chasing laser pointers tells me that it is simply not possible for a human to hold a laser beam accurately enough to hit a pilots eye at a couple of kilometers.  Experience tells me that prosecutors and media routinely exaggerate, aka lie, and encourage their witnesses too.  

    Hey, what’s going on with that NASA spy headed to China with two laptops full of sekrit information – wait, you tell me he’s been released and the prosecutor admitted he has no evidence, that it was all a panic?  Huh.

    I think it’s a stupid thing to do.  But most likely a pilot gets an annoying flash in the cockpit.  It might affect the pilot’s night vision.  But it  shouldn’t be a federal crime, and it shouldn’t get a 30 month sentence.  Where are the planes falling out of the sky because of this?  Has a single accident ever occurred because of this? If you want to start pulling out Wicked lasers and edge cases and what ifs, then also pull out the Gaussian optics equation and start figuring power densities and angles of incidence and point a laser at a wall and see how steady you can hold it.  Maybe I just drink too much coffee.

  9. you guys realize the laser pointers people use to do this aren’t the dollar store ones. they use those 400$ Green lasers that can light matches & pop baloons

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