Jurisdiction: Railroad vs. FAA ... is this similar to National Parks

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#1
I recently launched a drone near, but not on, a railroad's right of way. My flight was to take a video from a 60' altitude at a time between scheduled commuter trains. I flew within all FAA rules but received tickets from both local and transit police for trespassing. The court costs and the lawyer retainer fee were in the $1000's. As my drone footage and AIRDATA GPS data showed I was clearly not on RR property, the criminal charges were dropped. BUT ... the transit police, who have issues with "train enthusiasts" who take hand help photos on rail right-of-ways creating dangerous situations, asked the judge for a "lessor included offense" and a fine of $1000. The question I have is whether, from current law, the railroad transit police had any right to charge me for anything as I was not on railroad property and my drone was in FAA airspace. BTW, before the flight, I used AIRMAP and came up with no restrictions. I feel I accrued significant expenses due to uninformed police, a lawyer unfamiliar with the appropriate law, and a judge (possibly not a drone advocate) who finally set the sentence at $900. I am 75, have no criminal record, and over 450 hours of safe legal drone flying. I have passed the 107 remote pilot in command license and interpret the FAA rules very conservatively. So ... any one familiar with the correct law in this situation.
 
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#2
Russ....I sure can't advise you on the above : But i hope that all charges are dropped and it was a way way overreaction by the ones that wrote the tickets/ citations ! please let us know what happens...i have a area like that and i sure will not be on railroad right of ways because i want to do a video like you done.....I'm going to watch what happens here..with replys.
 
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#3
I've always thought that "Transit Police" were actual LEO's, assigned to the Transit division or whatever it's called. I don't live in a city where they have them ...

When charging with trespass, the infraction location has to be noted and if you can show that you were was not there, then the charge should be dismissed.

What is the actual "lessor included offense" charge?

I doubt the FAA rules have anything to do with this whole thing, except the common misconception of that flying over something is the same as being on it. If that's that's the case then the FAA statement about this would be good to submit to them.
 
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#4
So, just so we can all understand... You physically were not standing within the railroad right-of-way, but were flying your drone at 60 ft AGL within that right-of-way corridor (between scheduled train runs)?

My guess is that they considered a mere 60' above active railroad tracks to be interfering with the safety of their operations. Had you been higher, like maybe 200 ft AGL, it would have been more of a stretch that your flight was a safety hazard. I think historically the rule of thumb has been that land owners have a right to the private use of the immediate airspace above their property if they depend on that airspace for any aspect of their operations. It's a gray area, and I think you may have fallen into it. I think flying 60 ft above an active railroad track (commuter trains), could be deemed a possible safety danger. Don't ever rely on AIRMAP for flight warnings. There are too many variations and local ordinances for AIRMAP to possible be aware of them all.
 
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#5
I recently launched a drone near, but not on, a railroad's right of way. My flight was to take a video from a 60' altitude at a time between scheduled commuter trains. I flew within all FAA rules but received tickets from both local and transit police for trespassing. The court costs and the lawyer retainer fee were in the $1000's. As my drone footage and AIRDATA GPS data showed I was clearly not on RR property, the criminal charges were dropped. BUT ... the transit police, who have issues with "train enthusiasts" who take hand help photos on rail right-of-ways creating dangerous situations, asked the judge for a "lessor included offense" and a fine of $1000. The question I have is whether, from current law, the railroad transit police had any right to charge me for anything as I was not on railroad property and my drone was in FAA airspace. BTW, before the flight, I used AIRMAP and came up with no restrictions. I feel I accrued significant expenses due to uninformed police, a lawyer unfamiliar with the appropriate law, and a judge (possibly not a drone advocate) who finally set the sentence at $900. I am 75, have no criminal record, and over 450 hours of safe legal drone flying. I have passed the 107 remote pilot in command license and interpret the FAA rules very conservatively. So ... any one familiar with the correct law in this situation.
The LE officials who are IMO legally harassing you need to bring up chapter and verse of what they believe you were in violation of, the judge sounds like a knucklehead as well. There may be local laws or ordinances that play into this but I think the biggest factors is 1) you weren't fouling the track or in violation of anything found in CFR 49 Chapter II. 2) you were flying IAW Part 107. I would have stressed that I am a "commercial sUAV pilot," certificated through the FAA and was operating within the parameters of CFR 14, FAR Part 107. I think it's a disgrace that you were cited to begin with. I see you're in NH, what town was this in?
 
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#6
I’m sorry this happened to you Russ. We who have been on this forum for a while know your character. If exactly as you explained, I see ignorant law enforcement stepping beyond their boundaries. I’m ignorant also and don’t know if AMA or some organization would stand up for you. You are more conservative then I am in the interpretation of the rules. Yet, you get fingered out. Start a drone defense go fund me and I will help out. Good luck.
 
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#7
I’m glad I don’t live in the USA. Eg: flying over or near train tracks with a drone. Just like a bird, if a drone was to hit a train it would be dead. Question how did they catch you if the ticket came in post at later date?
 
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#9
I’m glad I don’t live in the USA. Eg: flying over or near train tracks with a drone. Just like a bird, if a drone was to hit a train it would be dead. Question how did they catch you if the ticket came in post at later date?
Just a very few words....In the USA since 911.....many new laws have been wrote and went in effect...we in the USA allowed way to much with out proper security laws and rules and now we are doing ever thing we can to prevent another 911 !
 
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#11
I recently launched a drone near, but not on, a railroad's right of way. My flight was to take a video from a 60' altitude at a time between scheduled commuter trains. I flew within all FAA rules but received tickets from both local and transit police for trespassing. The court costs and the lawyer retainer fee were in the $1000's. As my drone footage and AIRDATA GPS data showed I was clearly not on RR property, the criminal charges were dropped. BUT ... the transit police, who have issues with "train enthusiasts" who take hand help photos on rail right-of-ways creating dangerous situations, asked the judge for a "lessor included offense" and a fine of $1000. The question I have is whether, from current law, the railroad transit police had any right to charge me for anything as I was not on railroad property and my drone was in FAA airspace. BTW, before the flight, I used AIRMAP and came up with no restrictions. I feel I accrued significant expenses due to uninformed police, a lawyer unfamiliar with the appropriate law, and a judge (possibly not a drone advocate) who finally set the sentence at $900. I am 75, have no criminal record, and over 450 hours of safe legal drone flying. I have passed the 107 remote pilot in command license and interpret the FAA rules very conservatively. So ... any one familiar with the correct law in this situation.
I’m assuming when you say “a lawyer unfamiliar with the appropriate law...” you mean your lawyer? Was this purely a citation or was this a misdemeanor? I am curious as to how the judge determined the fine in this case, based on what precedence or guidelines. Lots of questions here that would need to be answered to determine what, if anything can be done. The real question is do you have the financial wherewithal to pay for a decent lawyer and fight this out.
 
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#12
I would be curious exactly where this took place. Can you send a link to your flight on airdata or the cords of where you flew?
 
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#13
To answer several of the questions above:
1. the situation took place in NJ ... no issue 2 years ago but now anxiety concerning terrorists prevails
2. the town citation was for "creating a hazardous or physically dangerous condition" and "causing
undue public alarm and risking safety" while operating a drone while "standing in-between tracks".
When the prosecutor saw the drone video and the AIRMAP GPS flight paths, all charges were dropped as
I was clearly outside of the railroad property boundary.
3. the transit police citation (BTW ... this policeman was called in after the fact. He had only second hand info)
was for "defiant trespassing" by flying a drone on the railroad right-of-way. This citation was also
dropped after seeing the drone video and AIRMAP data.
4. the lessor included offense was just drummed up to satisfy the Transit Police ... my lawyer said it
was equivalent to not mowing your lawn in a nice neighborhood. But the prosecutor asked for a $1000
fine. The minimum offense was $200. The judge, who was not open to further explanation, awarded
a $900 fine.
5. I had a choice to fight the case further or accept the lessor included offense charge. Since all criminal
charges were dropped, and since the expected fine was in the $200 "slap in the wrist" range, I accepted
the minor charge.

My concern is that this kind of "justice" will be metered out to many drone pilots. I think a local citizen called
911 to get the police involved. At first, I believe the policeman actually thought I was going to trigger an explosion. At that point, I was "guilty until proven innocent". Since technology is moving so fast ... faster than the regulatory law associated with drones, I believe we drone operators will be subjected to much abuse. I certainly feel I was. This might be a good law case study. What is the prevailing legal argument? Did the town or transit police have any jurisdiction if I did not take off, land, or pilot my drone from railroad property?
 
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#15
The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) is taking drone business in aviation seriously in a positive way. I would first join the AOPA and the legal representation part. You might be able to get free lawyer representation on even the lesser charges. AOPA is for responsible UAV usage and will support you. Especially if you are Part 107
Call the AOPA and ask for Legal Services 1-800-872-2672 Be sure to advise that you are 107 certified.
All UAV pilots should consider joining the AOPA, especially 107's
 
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#17
Very interesting case. You might consider contacting the ACLU. One of my other hobbies is aviation photography, which puts me at airports with a long lens on my camera - not popular with law enforcement, but perfectly legal. We have an informal aviation spotting group that's been run out of publicly-accessible property on the airport many times, and met with airport officials to try to smooth over the matter. They responded by telling us photography is illegal on airport property. We went to the ACLU, who was interested in the case. It never went to court, but the airport backpedaled with a press release stating photography is legal anywhere the public is allowed on airport property. The matter made national news: Plane spotters allege harassment at Connecticut airport
 
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#18
To answer several of the questions above:
1. the situation took place in NJ ... no issue 2 years ago but now anxiety concerning terrorists prevails
2. the town citation was for "creating a hazardous or physically dangerous condition" and "causing
undue public alarm and risking safety" while operating a drone while "standing in-between tracks".
When the prosecutor saw the drone video and the AIRMAP GPS flight paths, all charges were dropped as
I was clearly outside of the railroad property boundary.
3. the transit police citation (BTW ... this policeman was called in after the fact. He had only second hand info)
was for "defiant trespassing" by flying a drone on the railroad right-of-way. This citation was also
dropped after seeing the drone video and AIRMAP data.
4. the lessor included offense was just drummed up to satisfy the Transit Police ... my lawyer said it
was equivalent to not mowing your lawn in a nice neighborhood. But the prosecutor asked for a $1000
fine. The minimum offense was $200. The judge, who was not open to further explanation, awarded
a $900 fine.
5. I had a choice to fight the case further or accept the lessor included offense charge. Since all criminal
charges were dropped, and since the expected fine was in the $200 "slap in the wrist" range, I accepted
the minor charge.

My concern is that this kind of "justice" will be metered out to many drone pilots. I think a local citizen called
911 to get the police involved. At first, I believe the policeman actually thought I was going to trigger an explosion. At that point, I was "guilty until proven innocent". Since technology is moving so fast ... faster than the regulatory law associated with drones, I believe we drone operators will be subjected to much abuse. I certainly feel I was. This might be a good law case study. What is the prevailing legal argument? Did the town or transit police have any jurisdiction if I did not take off, land, or pilot my drone from railroad property?
Interesting, what did they actually call the lessor offense? A typical citation would need to explicitly state the offense and associated fine. A judge doesn’t have leeway to adjust the fine in that case. A misdemeanor does allow for this leeway, but would be a criminal charge and would go on your record as such.

If you were told your fine would be $200 and the judge subsequently fined you $900, you may have grounds for an appeal. You were clearly mislead or didn’t understand what you were pleading to or accepting as a charge. If that is the case, you can always go back and fight the fine.
 
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#19
To answer several of the questions above:
1. the situation took place in NJ ... no issue 2 years ago but now anxiety concerning terrorists prevails
2. the town citation was for "creating a hazardous or physically dangerous condition" and "causing
undue public alarm and risking safety" while operating a drone while "standing in-between tracks".
When the prosecutor saw the drone video and the AIRMAP GPS flight paths, all charges were dropped as
I was clearly outside of the railroad property boundary.
3. the transit police citation (BTW ... this policeman was called in after the fact. He had only second hand info)
was for "defiant trespassing" by flying a drone on the railroad right-of-way. This citation was also
dropped after seeing the drone video and AIRMAP data.
4. the lessor included offense was just drummed up to satisfy the Transit Police ... my lawyer said it
was equivalent to not mowing your lawn in a nice neighborhood. But the prosecutor asked for a $1000
fine. The minimum offense was $200. The judge, who was not open to further explanation, awarded
a $900 fine.
5. I had a choice to fight the case further or accept the lessor included offense charge. Since all criminal
charges were dropped, and since the expected fine was in the $200 "slap in the wrist" range, I accepted
the minor charge.

My concern is that this kind of "justice" will be metered out to many drone pilots. I think a local citizen called
911 to get the police involved. At first, I believe the policeman actually thought I was going to trigger an explosion. At that point, I was "guilty until proven innocent". Since technology is moving so fast ... faster than the regulatory law associated with drones, I believe we drone operators will be subjected to much abuse. I certainly feel I was. This might be a good law case study. What is the prevailing legal argument? Did the town or transit police have any jurisdiction if I did not take off, land, or pilot my drone from railroad property?
I am still confused. You go through the charges that were dropped but you don’t say what the “lesser included offense” actually was. Then you should check the statute or ordinance creating the lesser offense and see what the elements of that offense are and compare them to the elements of the original charges as laid out in the statute or ordinance creating ghose offenses.

An offense is lesser included if all the elements of the lesser offense are elements of the greater offense with which you were originally charged. If there is some factual element of the lesser charge was not a necessary element of the greater offense than you were denied due process because you were not given notice of the charges against you.

That being said if you pleaded guilty to the lesser offense you are probably out of luck as that would waive any defects of lack of notice

If the offense that you were convicted of was not actually a lesser included offense then if you didn’t plead guilty, I would appeal. You obviously were screwed around. You may be out of the box for an appeal though as there are usually time limits for filing a notice of appeal.
 
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