Some offenses are widely known to be criminal in nature, like driving under the influence, theft, and assault. But sometimes it might not be readily apparent that a certain behavior or act constitutes a crime. In these cases, individuals often learn the hard way that something they said, did or used was actually against the law.
In Washington, the increased use of laser pointers in inappropriate situations has recently brought to light the importance of understanding what constitutes a crime before engaging in potentially risky behavior.
Legitimate Uses of Lasers
During presentations or class lectures, teachers or speakers may use laser pointers to highlight important information. Similarly, stargazers can use them to identify constellations and planets. And for professional carpenters, plumbers, and electricians laser pointers help them take measurements and make precise cuts.
These are just some of the legitimate ways laser pointers can be used responsibly that do not amount to criminal charges. Typically, when people use these devices outside of professional purposes is when the risk of injury and potential for criminal charges increases.
When Laser Pointers Become Dangerous
Often thought of as toys or novelty products, laser pointers are actually radiation-emitting devices. That’s why they are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
When pointed directly in a person’s eye, a single laser pointer can cause more damage than what would be done by staring into the sun. If you factor in the startling effect that a red or green beam of light can have when shone on a driver, pilot or law enforcement officer, using a laser pointer improperly can quickly confuse a person and result in catastrophic injuries.
In July 2015, an Alaska Airlines flight landing at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport was hit with a laser strike which temporarily disoriented the pilot. Fortunately, the pilot was able to land the plane without further incident delivering all 70 passengers and 5 crewmembers safely to the ground. But incidents like this illustrate the potential laser lights have to cause severe accidents and injuries – ones that are easily avoidable.
Laws Banning Laser Use
To prevent unfortunate accidents from occurring, many states, including Washington, have placed restrictions on how and when lasers may be used.
In Washington, it is illegal to unlawfully discharge a laser. Unlawful discharge of a laser occurs when a person “knowingly and maliciously” aims a laser pointer at:
- Emergency responders
- Bus drivers
- Transit drivers
- Law enforcement officers
If a person is suspected of aiming a laser at any one of these individuals, they may be charged with a felony that carries a sentence of up to five years in prison if convicted.
Avoid Criminal Charges
You may consider it, at the very least, common sense not to use a laser pointer in certain situations. After all, aiming a red beam at a moving vehicle, airplane or another person can easily interfere with their vision and, if they’re operating a car or plane, can jeopardize their safety and that of their passengers. Although the laser pointer is a common item many of us have held and used at some point, it can lead to serious criminal charges if used in certain scenarios.
For Washington residents, not knowing that an action was a crime is not an effective defense. To avoid potentially life-changing criminal charges, it’s best to leave laser pointers in the hands of professionals.