Legal Definition of Flying Under the Influence
The statutes that govern FUI are very complex because a pilot has to adhere to both California laws and Federal Aviation Regulations (FAR) enacted by the FAA. The FAA has strict rules regulating flying under the influence among crewmembers of a civil airplane. The agency makes it illegal for any individual from acting or trying to act like a crewmember of a civil aircraft under the following circumstances:
- Within eight hours of a flight after consuming alcoholic beverages or drugs
- While drunk
- While under the influence of drugs that impairs judgment or physical control, thus interfering with the safety of the plane and passengers.
- While having a blood-alcohol level of .04 percent or more after a breath or blood test
Any crewmember that violates these regulations is subject to incarceration, fines, and suspension of the pilot’s license, and the penalties will apply whether you were in the air, on the ground or water. The regulations by FAA are stricter than those of California, although the definition of FUI under CPC 21407.1 is similar to the federal law definition.
When you compare the BAC legal limit for DUI and FUI in California, you will realize that crewmembers are held at a higher standard than drivers because the BAC for DUI is .08 percent or above.
Keep in mind that an arrest for FUI occurs the same way as that of DUI. The CHP official must have a probable cause to investigate you for drunk or drugged flying.
Pilots, just like drivers, operate under implied consent. This means that whether the pilot is operating a plane in the air, on the ground, or water, he or she is considered to have given consent to chemical testing of a blood or urine specimen to establish the drugs or alcohol concentration in the body. A police officer can take the sample where they believe you have violated CPC 21407.1 or when the officer requests to conduct a chemical test as part of the investigation for suspicion of FUI.
Before conducting the tests, the officer must inform you that failure to submit to or complete the test will result in the suspension of the pilot’s license for more than a year. Upon conviction under CPC 21407.1, you will face potential penalties, including imprisonment, fines, or license suspension.
Remember that if you are lawfully arrested for FUI of alcoholic beverages, you have the right to choose between blood or breath tests, and the arresting officer will advise you that you have the right to choose. You might also submit a breath sample and still be instructed to submit a blood or urine sample, but only if the officer has reasonable suspicion to believe you were flying the aircraft under the influence of both alcoholic beverages and drugs.
Penalties for California FUI
If you face charges of operating an aircraft when drunk or drugged, a conviction will attract multiple penalties. Some of the consequences of a drunk or drugged flying include:
- A mandatory one to six months incarceration in county jail
- Up to fifteen years in prison if you are charged under CFR 91.17
- Court fines no more than $250,000
- Revocation of the pilot’s license
Take note that whether you will be charged under state or federal laws is the decision of the prosecuting agency. But under federal law, the penalties are severer, which is why you need a criminal defense attorney to help you fight the charges by all means. If an airline is involved in an accident, the crash is usually catastrophic. And because drunk or drugged flying increases the risk of a plane crashing, the penalties for FUI are more severe than any other charge in California expect for DUI murder.
If you speak to The Law Offices of Ross Howell Sobel when faced with these allegations, we will discuss the broad range of penalties that you will be subject to under the state and federal laws, and come up with various defense strategies to prevent a conviction or lower the punishment.
Legal Defenses for California Flying Under the Influence
When you are accused of FUI, you shouldn’t lose hope despite the severity of the charge. There is always something a criminal defense attorney can do to have the outcome of the case in your favor. Some of the arguments that a good attorney can promote to challenge FUI charges include:
The Pilot wasn’t Drunk or Drugged
There are several reasons why a chemical test might read the wrong results showing the pilot is drunk or drugged, whereas, in actual sense, he or she is not. One of the things that can cause a wrong reading is faulty or poorly maintained blood or breath testing devices. Your defense attorney can challenge the prosecution’s evidence if it requests for maintenance record of the device used for chemical testing. If the equipment is not regularly calibrated and maintained, it means the results from the tests are not reliable. If this is the case, the test results used as evidence will be inadmissible in court, which will result in the removal or reduction of the charges.
In case the maintenance record shows the device used for testing was accurate, your attorney could argue that you have a medical condition like GERD that caused the breath or blood testing equipment to record false results. Another thing that could cause a false reading is if the pilot had used Listerine for rinsing before getting on the airplane. Any residue of Listerine in the mouth will cause a false reading, and if your attorney can prove this is the case, the evidence will be thrown out.
Remember that in California, the prosecutor has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you were under the influence at the time of operating the plane. As such, if you make the prosecution doubt the accuracy and reliability of the test results, the decision of the jury is most likely to be in your favor, and the prosecutor will not attain a conviction.
The Pilot Was Not Operating a Plane
As mentioned earlier, the prosecution carries the burden of proof. One of the things they must demonstrate before the jury is that you were operating an airplane in the air, on the ground, or water. So, if you were not operating the plane at the time of intoxication, then you are not guilty of FUI. If you, as the pilot, didn’t begin to drink or consume drugs until you left the aircraft or completed your flight, then even if you are arrested, you will be innocent of flying under the influence because, at the time of arrest, you were not operating the plane.
Four Hours Had Elapsed Before Chemical Tests Were Administered
The law requires that after suspicion of operating a plane under the influence, a blood or breath test should be administered within four hours. If the four hours elapse before the tests are done, then the test results will not be admitted in court as evidence. If your criminal defense attorney can prove that it took more than four hours before administration of the tests, the readings from the test will be dismissed as evidence meaning the prosecution will be left with a weak case that might force them to dismiss the charges or offer a plea deal for a lesser charge.
The Pilot was Forced to FUI to Prevent a Bigger Problem
Emergencies can happen any time without people being prepared. In case of an emergency that requires a pilot to fly the plane to avert a bigger issue, even if the pilot is under the influence, he or she will be innocent. Your attorney could argue that there was no one else to fly the aircraft, and if you didn’t fly the plane at the time, a bigger catastrophe or problem could have occurred.
Another argument an attorney could make to challenge the charges is asserting that the pilot didn’t consume alcohol or drugs intentionally. You could argue that someone spiked the pilot’s drink or food without his or her knowledge.
How DUI Sentencing Affects Pilots
Pilots don’t risk losing their licenses only for FUI. Even a DUI conviction can affect a pilot’s license if the pilot fails to report the conviction or DMV license suspension to the FAA within 60 days. The good thing with reporting a sentence to the FAA is that they will not suspend your license. Still, instead, they will impose a mandatory psychiatric examination or undergo a substance abuse program.
In California, FUI statutes are a combination of state, federal, and administrative laws. With this kind of complexity, innocent pilots or crewmembers can end up with wrongful accusations. Because you are fighting for your career and freedom, it is wise to retain the services of The Law Offices of Ross Howell Sobel. Call our defense attorneys today at 818-582-2350 for a free evaluation of your flying under the influence case if you are in San Fernando Valley.