I got a citation for criminal trespass flying over farmland in Utah


Rand
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I got a citation for flying over remote farmland in Utah. I am unable to find any laws restricting flying over private property in Utah. In Nevada there is a restriction at least 250 feet above ground. Any good illegal advice?

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5 hours ago, Rand said:

Any good illegal advice?

You probably want legal advice.  Who issued the citations?  What number is the citation and does it state that you were “flying” over private property?  Airspace is national and the only government agency authorized to regulate it is the FAA.  
 

I have no idea how much the fine will be for trespassing, maybe it’s not worth fighting this but I’d recommend you find an aviation attorney and have a discussion with them.  Are you a member of AOPA?  

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It's not exactly cut-and-dried. 

If you have the permission of the landowner, you can fly over their property (as long as you don't run into restricted airspace for other reasons). 

But I assume that's not what you are talking about, or it wouldn't be a matter of trespassing. 

There is no definite answer to ownership of airspace over property.  There is a convention that the government owns over 500 feet, but since drones are usually restricted to a ceiling of 400', that isn't really relevant. In the 1946 Supreme Court case US vs Causby, a military plane flew 83 feet over a farm, panicking animals that then died. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the farmer, establishing a precedent that a property owner "owns" the airspace up to 83 feet, anyway.  If you were flying between 83 and 400 feet, you can *argue* that it is public airspace - but the property owner can validly argue it is *his* airspace. Causby went up to the Supreme Court (and the "trespasser" lost, even though it was the US military) - are you willing to take on that sort of fight?

As far as whether local laws apply - Yes they can, below 500', at least to some extent. Local authorities can control how someone can use "theirr" airspace; that's why they can limit the height of buildings or enforce solar exposure.  There may also be applicable 'peeping tom' laws against spying -- whether with binoculars from the ground, or when using a camera on a drone. You also can be cited for doing something that interferes with someone's enjoyment of their own property - that's one reason why a someone can call the cops on a neighbor playing super-loud music. 

And then there are the laws specifically applicable to drones. You can't fly directly over people. You can't hover over a highway. You can't fly at night without special certification. You can't fly our of sight. You have to observe any NOTAMs or restricted airspace. 

The moral of the story is that it's best to ask permission of a landowner. If they give it, and you stay below 500', and are not in restricted airspace, you should be fine.

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  • 2 weeks later...
On 4/26/2021 at 4:42 PM, Av8Chuck said:

You probably want legal advice.  Who issued the citations?  What number is the citation and does it state that you were “flying” over private property?  Airspace is national and the only government agency authorized to regulate it is the FAA.  
 

I have no idea how much the fine will be for trespassing, maybe it’s not worth fighting this but I’d recommend you find an aviation attorney and have a discussion with them.  Are you a member of AOPA?  

The citation was in Utah I believe I was charged with criminal trespassing because no other law exists in Utah. Pertaining to trespassing by drone. 76 - 206(2)(a) the prosecution offered me a minimal fine time on probation and restrictions on flying. I chose not to accept those conditions. When I felt I was well within the law as was my understanding of it.

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