Man Charged With Criminal Damage To Drone Gets Diversion In Lake Havasu City Court.
One of the most popular news stories of 2015 in Lake Havasu's Today's News-Herald was a story about a California man that threw a t-shirt at a drone in the Bridgewater Channel. “Tossed T-shirt causes drone to crash in Lake Havasu City”.
Back on Memorial Day Weekend 2015 a hobby drone was flown over the crowds at the Bridgewater Channel in Lake Havasu. The Bridgewater Channel is a popular beach for boaters and swimmers on the Arizona lake. A California man named Nolan Pollard who was at the channel, allegedly threw a T-shirt at the drone causing it to fall down and break.
Mr. Pollard told the police that the incident was an accident after he looked up and was scared by the drone flying in front of his face. Despite his self defense argument, Mr. Pollard was cited for criminal damage (a violation of Arizona Revised Statutes 13-1602).
In September of 2015, Mr. Pollard entered into a Deferred Prosecution Agreement with the city prosecutor so that the charges will ultimately be dismissed after he completes a probation period.
Drone Attacks Soar in 2015
The story buzzed the internet at a time when the popularity of personal drones was soaring to new heights. Justifiable concerns about privacy and safety conflicted with hobbyists flying the high tech gadgets.
This was not an isolated incident. Later this past summer another man was charged with criminal damage to a drone in Encinitas California after being afraid that the drone was approaching him on the beach. Another man in Huntington Beach California swatted down a drone in his neighborhood with a T-shirt because he thought a drone was spying on him.
Like Mr. Pollard, all of these men were charged with criminal damage to personal property of another.
Damaging a Drone is a Criminal Offense in Arizona
Nolan Pollard was cited into the Lake Havasu City Municipal Court for prosecution under the Arizona criminal damage statute.
An individual can be charged with criminal damage by “recklessly defacing or damaging property of another person.”
If the value of the property is under a $1,000 it is a misdemeanor. If the value of the property is over $1,000.00 it can be charged as a Felony and a defendant could face possible prison time. Mr. Pollard was originally charged with a misdemeanor offense. The retail value of many hobby drones vary between $500 to $1,500.00.
Deferred Prosecutions Rarely Given
On August 3rd, Nolan Pollard entered a not guilty plea at his arraignment/initial appearance at the Lake Havasu Consolidated Court. On September 17th, 2015, the Court entered a “Deferred Prosecution Agreement” in Mr. Pollard's Case. If Mr. Pollard stays out trouble and does not commit any similar offenses, ultimately the case will get dismissed against him.
A Deferred Prosecution is essentially an agreement between the defendant and the prosecutor to continue the case. It is NOT an admission of guilt. A defendant gives up their right to a speedy trial so that they can essentially demonstrate to the prosecutor that they will stay out of trouble. If they do, the prosecutor will ultimately file a motion to dismiss the case.
It was likely that the prosecution considered the possibility that the defendant was justified in self defense in attacking the drone. Conduct that would constitute a criminal defense is justified if a reasonable person had no reasonable alternative to avoid imminent injury. A.R.S. 13-417. There is no civil liability if a defendant is justified under self defense. A.R.S. 14-413. If a defendant raises the affirmative defense of necessity, the prosecution has the burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the conduct was not justified or necessary.
It is interesting to note that in Mr. Pollard's case and the cases of the two men in California involved damaging drones with T-shirts. It would be a fair assumption that whatever drones were involved had to be in close proximity to the mens' personal space for such a “weapon” to be effective.
Under the facts of this case it appears that the prosecution could not rule out that Mr. Pollard may have been justified in swatting away the drone but could not simply condone his actions of damaging property of another person by dismissing the case out right. Since most criminal cases get resolved with plea agreements or criminal trials, it is very unusual that a case gets resolved with a deferral of prosecution and not requiring the Defendant to make any admission of guilt.