Judge Rules it Legal to Shoot Down Privacy-Invading Drones

Oct 28, 2015

Liron Samuels

Liron Samuels is a wildlife and commercial photographer based in Israel. When he isn’t waking up at 4am to take photos of nature, he stays awake until 4am taking photos of the night skies or time lapses. You can see more of his work on his website or follow him on Facebook.

Oct 28, 2015

Liron Samuels

Liron Samuels is a wildlife and commercial photographer based in Israel. When he isn’t waking up at 4am to take photos of nature, he stays awake until 4am taking photos of the night skies or time lapses. You can see more of his work on his website or follow him on Facebook.

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Shotgun-Drone

Several months ago we reported that William Merideth of Kentucky was arrested and charged with first degree wanton endangerment and criminal mischief after firing his neighbor’s drone out of the sky with a shotgun.

Based on the fact that the drone was shot over Merideth’s property and that eyewitnesses said the drone was flying low, a Bullitt County District Court judge decided to dismiss all charges against him.

So can anyone go shooting drones from now on?

Merideth’s court hearing began on Monday and it took the judge all of two hours to drop the charges.

Claiming that his neighbor and drone operator David Boggs was invading his privacy and spying on his family by having the drone hover at low altitude over his property, Merideth said he was in his right to protect his family and his property. “Was it handled the right way, I don’t think so but justice came out in the end,” he added.

When asked by Merideth’s attorney if he “chose to allow that drone to hover over some of those people’s property”, Boggs said that is not true. During his testimony, Boggs also mentioned that flight data proved the drone was flying much higher than Merideth claimed.

Unfortunately the drone’s memory card, which could have settled this matter, was never found and the shooter denied having any knowledge of what had happened to it.

Deciding to ignore or not believe Boggs’ flight data, Judge Rebecca ward ruled it was an invasion of privacy since two witnesses said they saw the drone below the tree line.

“He had a right to shoot at this drone, and I’m gonna dismiss this charge,” the judge concluded.

“The next time something like this happens, they’re gonna refer to it,” Merideth said after the ruling. “Now I don’t encourage people to just go out and start blasting stuff for no reason – but three times in one day, three times over the course of a year, six times total, over one property? That’s not right, that’s harassment.”

Boggs declined WDRB’s request for an on camera interview, but said he will push the Commonwealth of Kentucky Attorney’s office to take the case to the grand jury.

Despite their less-than-affectionate attitude towards drones I’m not sure the authorities will be too pleased with this ruling and with the court basically allowing guns to be fired in neighborhoods, so I’m not sure we’ve seen the end of this case just quite yet.

WDRB added that a drone harassment bill was pre-filed last week by state representative Diane St. Onge, ahead of the 2016 session, aiming to drastically limit the use of drones.

According to the bill, a person will be guilty of drone harassment when they hover over or land on another person’s property with intent to intimidate, harass, annoy or alarm another person.

Using a drone in a way that alarms or seriously annoys said other person with “no legitimate purpose” will also be considered drone harassment.

It will be interesting to see what happens if the recent ruling remains and the bill passes. Will Kentucky drones be freely shot out of the sky by neighbors who were “seriously annoyed” and believed the drone operator had “no legitimate purpose” to be flying in public or high above their property?

Perhaps citizens will call local police armed with the DroneDefender to put an end to the pesky drone?

California Governor Jerry Brown recently made paparazzi drones illegal by signing bill AB 856 expanding privacy protections by changing the definition of a “physical invasion of privacy” to include a drone invading the airspace above private property in order to record video, sound or capture photographs.

[WDRB via PINAC | Lead image based on a photo by Matthew Hogan]

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Liron Samuels

Liron Samuels

Liron Samuels is a wildlife and commercial photographer based in Israel. When he isn’t waking up at 4am to take photos of nature, he stays awake until 4am taking photos of the night skies or time lapses. You can see more of his work on his website or follow him on Facebook.

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18 responses to “Judge Rules it Legal to Shoot Down Privacy-Invading Drones”

  1. Justin Rabin Avatar
    Justin Rabin

    the next step is making it legal for drones to shoot back.

  2. Vladimir Khudyakov Avatar
    Vladimir Khudyakov

    Right decision

  3. Rodney E. Dodson Avatar
    Rodney E. Dodson

    Aren’t we at the point in this country where it is legal to shoot almost Anything with a gun?… A camera, now that’s a different story. Cameras can invade peoples’ privacy!…

  4. HyperJ Avatar
    HyperJ

    Justice. I don’t know why some people with drones feel like all rules and decent behavior suddenly does not apply to them. If someone does not look it when you fly just over their property, just don’t do it. Ask permission.

    1. Craigart14 Avatar
      Craigart14

      Good idea. Should my neighbors check with me before cranking up the leaf blower at dawn on Saturday?

  5.  Avatar
    Anonymous

    “three times in one day, three times over the course of a year, six times total, over one property”

    Sounds like the drone owner wasn’t taking a hint.

  6. Daniel De Bruyne Avatar
    Daniel De Bruyne

    The judge is an idiot. Where does he think missed rounds and shotgun pellets fired into the air at drones playing around in neighborhoods and busy areas are going to come down?? Oh yes! I know!! On people, their children and their homes!! That’s right!!

    1. mzungu Avatar
      mzungu

      There is danger of flying shotgun pellets, but there is danger of high speed propellers cutting through the air as well.

      1. Craigart14 Avatar
        Craigart14

        The drone in question was a DJI Phantom Advanced, like the one in the photo above. It has electric motors and plastic props about six inches long. It weighs about a pound and a half. The amount of damage it can do is laughably small.

        Also, it doesn’t make nearly as much noise as people seem to expect. If we can shoot someone’s property for that amount of noise, I’m going to start blasting lawnmowers and leaf blowers and barking dogs.

        The footage from the downed drone in question can be found online. It was hovering at 198 feet, and at that altitude the noise is no more intrusive than a car engine at idle. Drones generally have wide angle lenses–the model in question has a wide angle lens as standard equipment–and the drone operator sees what the lens sees, transmitted to the controller, on a small screen, usually an iPhone but sometimes a small tablet. Given these parameters, the drone operator might see a person on the ground, but wouldn’t be able to tell whether it was male or female or what he/she might be wearing. With or without the memory card, the footage would be saved wirelessly in standard definition on the iPhone or tablet.

        It’s ridiculous to think that the drone is capable of greater harm than a bullet fired into the air in a residential neighborhood. It’s ridiculous to think that a small hobby drone can spy on you, unless it’s hovering VERY close. They can be a nuisance if operated carelessly or stupidly, but the response to rudeness probably shouldn’t be gunfire, even in Kentucky.

  7. doge Avatar
  8. David Doyle Avatar
    David Doyle

    Freedom of navigation, the US Navy use it on the 7 sea’s maybe that law can be applied to the air. WAIT they fly over other countries airspace anyways ;)

  9. Shachar Weis Avatar
    Shachar Weis

    I wonder if that includes militarily/police drones.

  10. Nick Dunlap Avatar
    Nick Dunlap

    Click bait article. He ruled it”legal” in this case. He has no wide sweeping jurisdiction and no judge has ruled that legal in general. If you’re going to bait people try doing a better job.

  11. Mark Hancheroff Avatar
    Mark Hancheroff

    Only illegal if you get caught. :)

  12. Chongo Yu Avatar
    Chongo Yu

    Who in there right mind is flying drones into people’s yard anyway and for what reason, science or art ? Lol yeah bullets go up but gotta come down

  13. joe_average Avatar
    joe_average

    then file a harassment charge for a restraining order. discharging a weapon and destroying property is not justice, its dangerous and vigilante (i.e. disregarding law).