PROTECTING Emerging Technology.
PROTECTING Your Industry.
I know, I know... of course it would be cool if one day soon you could simply press a button on your phone to order a pizza, and a drone could buzz over and deliver it within minutes. Or, if I could place an Amazon order while I was at work, and a drone could drop it off in my backyard so some punk couldn’t steal it off my porch. That would be great too.
But I’ll tell you what would be even cooler: if drones could deliver life-saving drugs to sick people in remote areas. Or if drones could fly in and out of flooded and storm-ravaged areas to search for people trapped in their homes.
Well, guess what? Both of those things are already happening.
Drones are more than just tech-toy novelties. They're game-changers.
Drones are more than just tech-toy novelties. They’re game-changers. If it’s “dull, dirty, or dangerous,” the chances are a drone can do it. So whether it’s the shipping industry, retail, film and photography, or even construction and real estate—drones are increasingly becoming part of the new normal in business. The same is true for individuals like you and I. You don’t need a pilot’s license to fly a drone for fun. All you need is interest, a drone, some open space, and the skies are yours to aviate.
That’s why our victory in The People v. Arvel Chappell III was so critical. The case was the first in the country to go to trial on a drone-specific criminal charge. Had we lost the trial, cities and counties all over the country would’ve continued to unreasonably clamp down on drone usage and pass their own hodgepodge of individual local flight regulations. As an operator, it would’ve been virtually impossible to keep up with it all. The drone rules in one city could be completely different one town over. And by the time you figured it out, it might’ve been too late: a police officer may have given you a ticket, perhaps you might’ve been reported to the FAA, and to top it off, your drone may been seized until the authorities can “sort it all out.”
Had we lost the trial, cities and counties all over the country would’ve continued to unreasonably clamp down on drone usage and pass their own hodgepodge of individual local flight regulations.
If you’ve been charged with a drone-related crime, or have some other drone-related issue that you need help resolving, please contact me and let’s talk about how we can make it right.
You can read more about the Chappell case below.
THE PEOPLE vs. ARVEL CHAPPELL III
In 2016, I was able to obtain a complete acquittal in what is thought to be the first case in the country to go to trial on a drone-specific criminal charge. I represented a gentleman named Arvel Chappell III, a filmmaker and aerospace engineer, who was accused of violating the City of Los Angeles’ newly enacted “anti-drone” ordinance (LA Municipal Code 56.31). Chappell was charged with violating provisions of the ordinance that purport to dictate when, where, and how one can operate a drone within city limits—regardless of whether the city’s municipal rules are inconsistent with those proposed by the federal government (namely, the Federal Aviation Administration). The ordinance potentially subjects violators to imprisonment for noncompliance.
Because Chappell was the first person prosecuted under the ordinance, the case garnered significant media coverage. The Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office issued a press release touting its first drone prosecution, and as a result, the story was covered by NBC, CBS, and the Los Angeles Times, among other media outlets. The government contended that Chappell flew his drone into the path of a LAPD helicopter. The case also resulted in significant attention from industry insiders, including those in the filmmaking industry, the aerospace industry, as well as the retail and shipping industries—all of which want local ordinances set aside so that the federal government can continue to develop national regulations.
Significantly, I brought a motion to dismiss early in the case on grounds for which those in the drone industry had been clamoring for the opportunity: a challenge to the constitutionality of the ordinance on the basis of “federal preemption.” In other words, the challenge was based on the notion that the federal law is the supreme law of the land, and therefore, only the federal government can enact aviation-related laws—not city councilmen.
In response to the motion, the government dismissed all of the charges—a tacit admission that the city’s ordinance is in fact trumped by federal law, and a not-so-subtle effort to avoid a formal court ruling on the issue.
Yet rather than just dropping the case and moving on, the government decided to re-charge Chappell under a different provision of the ordinance—this time alleging that Chappell operated his drone in a “careless or reckless” manner, a standard that is defined by federal law.
Chappell was unwavering in his innocence. Ironically, his most recent film—Compton: The Antwon Ross Story—is the story of a young African American male who turns to aviation as a means of avoiding getting caught up in the criminal justice system. So we took the case to trial and won, vindicating Chappell as well as the wider drone community.
As the civilian drone industry continues to grow, I want to grow with you to help ensure your success as well as that of the industry. That's why the victory in Chappell’s case was so important—because I want to stand beside innovation, not in the way of it. Drones are an emerging technology that should be embraced, not stifled. And despite the release of the FAA’s final rules on the operation of small Unmanned Aircraft Systems for routine commercial use (Part 107), I know that the drone community, along with those in the retail, shipping, and filmmaking industries, among others, continue to grapple with the patchwork of state and local drone laws that are being passed throughout the country. I'm here to help in whatever way I can.