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posted by janrinok on Tuesday March 11 2014, @12:09PM   Printer-friendly
from the it-was-only-a-matter-of-time dept.

Papas Fritas writes:

"Scott Smith reports at AP that 26-year-old Sergio Patrick Rodriguez has been convicted of pointing a green laser at a Fresno Police Department helicopter and sentenced to spend 14 years in federal prison. 'This is not a game. It is dangerous, and it is a felony,' says US Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner. 'Those who aim lasers at aircraft should know that we will seek to convict them, and we will seek to send them to prison. The safety of aircraft and the people in them demands no less.' According to evidence presented at trial, Rodriguez and his girlfriend, Jennifer Lorraine Coleman, 23, used a high-powered green laser pointer 13 times more powerful than common pointers to repeatedly strike the cockpit of Air 1 during a clear summer night in 2012. In imposing the sentence, Judge O'Neill considered not only the severity of the offenses but Rodriguez's criminal history, numerous probation violations, and Bulldog gang affiliation. An expert said that the laser pointer that Rodriguez used was an instrument capable of inflicting serious bodily injury and death due to a high potential for crash caused by visual interference. A jury found Rodriguez guilty of attempting to interfere with safe operation of aircraft and aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft. 'Lasing aircraft is not a joke or a casual prank,' says Special Agent in Charge Monica M. Miller of the FBI's Sacramento field office. 'Rodriguez's sentence clearly demonstrates the seriousness of his actions and that the FBI will work with its law enforcement partners to locate and arrest those who engage in dangerous, improper use of hand-held lasers that puts us all at risk.'

On February 11, 2014, in 12 cities, the FBI, in collaboration with the Air Line Pilots Association International and the FAA, announced the Laser Threat Awareness campaign, a nationwide effort to alert the public to the threat that aircraft laser illumination poses and the penalties for such activity. The FBI will offer up to $10,000 for information leading to the arrest of any individual who intentionally aims a laser at an aircraft. The program is being rolled out in Albuquerque, New Mexico; Houston and San Antonio, Texas; Los Angeles and Sacramento, California; Philadelphia; Phoenix, Arizona; Cleveland, Ohio; Washington, D.C.; Chicago; New York; and San Juan, Puerto Rico."

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  • (Score: 3, Insightful) by Spook brat on Tuesday March 11 2014, @03:20PM

    by Spook brat (775) on Tuesday March 11 2014, @03:20PM (#14695) Journal

    . . . if the history part gets blurred out leaving "14 years in a Federal pen for aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft" as a warning to others, then that's just fine by me.

    I think we should be very careful of using this as a method of sentencing. One definition of terrorism is "action intended to influence an audience beyond the immediate victims". Any time a judge applies extreme sentence lengths or severities "as a warning to others" they are engaging in terrorism by this definition. Unless we intend to apply the same penalty to everyone convicted of this crime it is inappropriate to apply this high a penalty.

    We as a government are engaged in a global war on terror, with our service members engaged in punishing people who use it as a tool. It sends serious mixed messages if we then condone similar behavior in our own government.


    unnecessarily long, rambling postscript follows - ignore the rest of this post if desired =P

    Don't get me wrong, I don't object to harsh penalties for people who attempt to burn others' eyes out; doing so to someone operating an aircraft threatens the life of the pilot and all of the passengers. I simply don't see why we would need new laws for lasers specifically - battery and attempted mass-murder already carry stiff penalties. Anyone worthy of long-term incarceration due to their activities with a laser in the backyard ought to be able to be prosecuted under those laws. To those who would complain that proving mens rea [] is too difficult; tough. Removing that burden from the prosecutors for their convenience adds to the likelihood of amateur astronomers being sentenced equivalently to sociopaths, and I don't see that being a benefit to society.

    Travel the galaxy! Meet fascinating life forms... And kill them []
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  • (Score: 2) by frojack on Tuesday March 11 2014, @07:02PM

    by frojack (1554) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday March 11 2014, @07:02PM (#14769) Journal

    As to your first part:
    The sentence in court probably had several components, some for each different charge, and some to run concurrently, and some to run consecutively. This information is lost to the fog journalism, and we are left with what is probably an in-accurate representation of the actual sentence.

    So don't rush to assume that this sentence was simply to send a message to other. That might be how the police spin it, but that doesn't mean that's how the judge graveled it down.

    Other reports [] indicate that his girlfriend can get at most 5 years for the EXACT same crime.

    Judge O’Neill cited Rodriguez’s criminal past, which includes probation violations and gang affiliation, as additional reasons for the sentence. This guy needed to be off the streets anyway.

    Don't rush to condemn the Judge for the words of prosecutors and police.

    No, you are mistaken. I've always had this sig.
    • (Score: 2) by EvilJim on Wednesday March 12 2014, @03:30AM

      by EvilJim (2501) on Wednesday March 12 2014, @03:30AM (#15008) Journal

      yeah, I was thinking 5 years would be harsh enough to make a statement to the world, 14 years just seems excessive, but with the long criminal history, seems about right.

  • (Score: 3, Interesting) by davester666 on Tuesday March 11 2014, @07:09PM

    by davester666 (155) on Tuesday March 11 2014, @07:09PM (#14773)

    but this will be used to give everybody 14 (or thereabouts) years in prison.

    just like here in canada, a guy running away from police, police had a dog, which they ordered to attack him. he stabs and kills the dog. he gets charged with animal cruelty and given just over 2 years in prison [and then not allowed to own a dog afterwards for 25].

    1. it's not cruelty to fend of a dog that is attacking you, even if it is a police dog. It's something (or should be somethign), but it's not cruelty.
    2. there was NO evidence he had ever injured another animal either before or after this single incident, so it's a perversion to include the restriction on owning an animal afterwards
    3. there was also other charges for stealing a vehicle, assaulting an officer, but they attributed the entire sentence he received for killing the dog

    So, next time it happens, it will be "judge, he should get 2 years for killing the police dog, plus X years for these additional crimes".

    It's just gaming the judicial system to ratchet up sentences.

    The next laser pointer case, the prosecutor will go "14 years" regardless of circumstances of the defendant.

    • (Score: 3, Informative) by tangomargarine on Tuesday March 11 2014, @09:14PM

      by tangomargarine (667) on Tuesday March 11 2014, @09:14PM (#14870)

      I'll cite HungryHobo's Slashdot Law [] here:

      If there's an insane way to apply a law which everyone dismisses as "nobody would ever apply it like that" then you can bet your ass it will be abused exactly like that.

      "Is that really true?" "I just spent the last hour telling you to think for yourself! Didn't you hear anything I said?"
    • (Score: 2) by EvilJim on Wednesday March 12 2014, @03:35AM

      by EvilJim (2501) on Wednesday March 12 2014, @03:35AM (#15010) Journal

      guy running away from police

      we'll there's your problem right there, the cops don't release the dog if you don't run. it's the same thing if you run from a cop without a dog, (well in the US anyway) you're likely to get shot, 2 years is pretty soft compared to dying from sudden lead intake.

      if you run from the cops, you're going to have a bad time.

  • (Score: 4, Interesting) by naubol on Tuesday March 11 2014, @07:15PM

    by naubol (1918) on Tuesday March 11 2014, @07:15PM (#14779)

    One definition of terrorism is "action intended to influence an audience beyond the immediate victims".

    Does this mean that twitter is engaged in terrorism?

  • (Score: 3, Insightful) by mcgrew on Tuesday March 11 2014, @08:29PM

    by mcgrew (701) <> on Tuesday March 11 2014, @08:29PM (#14826) Homepage Journal

    Your definition of "terrorism" makes me a terrorist for stopping at the gas station down the street every day and buying a dollar's worth on a credit card so he loses money on the sale as a protest against recent drastic and unwarranted price hikes is terrorism. Bash Limbaugh? I'm a terrorist for trying to sway consrvatives' opinions by attacking Limbaugh.

    Putting criminals in prison is not terrorism. Period. You really need a better dictionary.

    Free Martian whores! []
    • (Score: 2, Funny) by Leebert on Wednesday March 12 2014, @03:19AM

      by Leebert (3511) on Wednesday March 12 2014, @03:19AM (#15004)

      stopping at the gas station down the street every day and buying a dollar's worth on a credit card

      I admire your impressive reflexes, sir. Few people could click a pump nozzle that fast!

    • (Score: 2) by EvilJim on Wednesday March 12 2014, @03:27AM

      by EvilJim (2501) on Wednesday March 12 2014, @03:27AM (#15007) Journal

      serious? we have a $2 minimum in New Zealand... that and gas is over $2 a litre. how do they let that occur?

      • (Score: 2) by mcgrew on Wednesday March 12 2014, @05:07PM

        by mcgrew (701) <> on Wednesday March 12 2014, @05:07PM (#15390) Homepage Journal

        The credit card companies have small businesses over a barrel here. Some places do have minimums, five bucks or something, but they'd have to reprogram all the fuel pumps to have a minimum. That would be expensive.

        I knew a service station owner (closed down 2 years ago, someone with shitloads of money wanted his business so they could raze it) who said margins were really thin on fuel. He made most of his money on car repairs (it was an old-fashioned full service garage) and snacks and lottery tickets and such. He said if someone bought less than five bucks worth of gasoline on a card, he lost money. I just gave him paper checks, cost neither of us anything.

        Also, you have to remember that we're talking gallons here, not litres. It's about a dollar a liter here (3.65 a gallon). I don't have to drive much so two dollars a day is plenty.

        Free Martian whores! []
        • (Score: 2) by EvilJim on Wednesday March 12 2014, @08:51PM

          by EvilJim (2501) on Wednesday March 12 2014, @08:51PM (#15517) Journal

          that sucks for the small business owner, I almost cant believe that happens, we've had the $2 limit since I started driving in 1995. fortunately I'm only 2 mins away from work so only spend a max of $20 a week on gas, that includes lunching in town, should really walk :) I guess it's a similar situation to the mobile stands in international airports, I bought a $10 sim card in Sydney recently, it took probably 20 mins to get it installed and working, I hardly see how they can survive making only tiny profits or even loss leaders with no followup charges. they must have been paying their guy far less that $20 per hour to stand at that kiosk.

    • (Score: 1) by Spook brat on Wednesday March 12 2014, @05:52AM

      by Spook brat (775) on Wednesday March 12 2014, @05:52AM (#15048) Journal

      You wrote:Putting criminals in prison is not terrorism. Period. You really need a better dictionary.


      TL;DR version - I didn't mean what you think I meant. I agree that the examples you gave aren't terrorism under the definition I used. Also, dictionaries typically have poor definitions of terrorism.


      Now for the long version: I'm going to defend my definition first, then deal with the issue of criminal sentencing later.

      You have made a few comments criticizing my definition of terrorism; I think if I give a few examples with better explanations that it may be clearer to you what I mean.

      Example: Hijacker threatens airliner pilot with a gun, with instructions to re-direct to a different airport or die. Not terrorism - the action has little influence on people not directly affected. Similarly, carjacking and mugging don't generally rate as terrorism.

      Example: Hijacker holds airliner pilot and passengers as hostages, threatening to kill a hostage every hour until a political prisoner is released. This is terrorism; the pilot and the passengers are personally powerless to release political prisoners. The action (killing hostages) is not intended to influence the hostages (especially not the dead ones), it's intended to influence the jailers of the political prisoners.

      Example: Making a protest purchase you know will cost the store money, punishing them for raising prices. Not terrorism - the store is the immediate victim, and also the party you wish to influence (you want them to reduce prices to what they were before). Your action has no influence on the stores' competitors, nor anyone else I can think of.

      Example: Public statements criticizing Rush Limbaugh. Not terrorism - your influence is limited to the people who hear you, who are the immediate victims of your verbal abuse. If you intend to make Rush change his opinion, make sure you're saying it to his face, but it's still not terrorism: he is both your "victim" (as much as there can be one when you're just talking) and your intended affected audience. I don't think this changes even if you're just flaming on twitter.

      Example: Assassinate Rush Limbaugh, and publish a manifesto saying that unless Ann Coulter and Glen Beck stop broadcasting they're next. Now we're talking terrorism. Similarly, bombing abortion clinics to encourage other doctors to stop performing abortions is also terrorism, for the same reason. The victims are dead, the people you intended to influence are not the immediate victims.

      Example: Mafia boss burns down a store because the owner refused to pay his "protection" money, as an example of what would happen to others. This qualifies; the store owner whose store got torched will no longer be in a position to pay anything. The intended audience is the other store owners who are now afraid that their store will get burned if they don't pay.


      For what it's worth, the CIA uses a similar definition []:
      The term "terrorism" means premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents.
      I personally don't like that definition, as it's too specific - terrorist may have motivations other than political ones, and there are state-sponsored terrorist that wouldn't fall under this definition.
      And here's the FBI's definition []:
      "International terrorism" means activities [which] . . . Appear to be intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping
      I don't care for this one, either, because it suggests that one nation threatening to declare war against another due to a border dispute is an act of international terrorism. Recent U.S. interventions against Syria and Libya would also qualify. Additionally, since this is explicitly a definition of international terrorism it excludes groups like the KKK that clearly engage in domestic terrorism. On the bright side, it at least captures the idea that actions taken against a specific target (e.g. assassination) are influencing a larger audience (policy/conduct of a government).

      I like the definition I gave in my earlier post. It's succinct, doesn't rule out people due to differences in motivation, allows for both state-sponsored and independent terrorist agents, and doesn't result in conventional warfare getting categorized as terrorism. It was also, at one time, used by the U.S. DOD, although I'm struggling to find a reference to cite for you.


      Back to your original complaint: I believe that, depending on how it's done, handing down a prison sentence can be a terrorist act. That's kinda the reason why there's a "cruel and unusual punishment" clause in the U.S constitution. "Let the punishment fit the crime" type of sentences are not terrorism, by any stretch of the imagination. The problem starts when the judge hands down an excessive sentence, perhaps to the first person convicted of violating a new law, in order to "send a message" to others. The "message" should have been delivered when the law was put into force; being the first offender should have no bearing on the judgement. Any overly-harsh judgement passed for reasons other than the defendant's own actions is unjust; doing so with the explicit intent to intimidate other would-be criminals with the threat of random and arbitrary punishments is a form of terrorism.


      Yeah, I think about this way too much. If you feel like joining me in my obsession, there's a good position paper [] published by the Air force's Air Command and Staff College; its author didn't have the authority to establish it as doctrine, but I agree with many points of their philosophy regarding the definition of terrorism.