Where is the Crime? JetBlue Flight Attendant Allegedly Insults Passengers, Grabs Beer, Slides Down JFK Tarmac

Jet Blue flight attendant (or possibly former flight attendant) Steven Slater was arrested yesterday after he allegedly insulted passengers on a Jet Blue flight from Pittsburgh. After allegedly having a heated conversation with a passenger, Slater popped open a cabin door, grabbed a beer, tossed his luggage down the inflatable shoot and slid down after them. Prior to his departure it is further alleged that he had some choice words for the JetBlue Passengers. The plane was in the process of unloading.

Although Mr. Slater’s actions, if true, are certainly peculiar at a minimum and hazardous at worst, what is the crime here? Is the Queens County District Attorney’s Office fishing for a serious offense to send a message to future would be felonious flight attendants?

According to news reports (for whatever that is worth), Mr. Salter is charged with Reckless Endangerment, Criminal Mischief and Trespassig. The question is, can all of the elements of these crimes be proven beyond a reasonable doubt by prosecutors?

Reckless Endangerment in the Second, pursuant to New York Penal Law 120.20, is a class “A” misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail. The Reckless Endangerment statute in New York generally states that if you behave or act in a reckless manner that creates a substantial risk of “serious physical injury,” then you are guilty of this crime. “Serious physical injury” is more than mere physical injury and constitutes the type of injury that runs a substantial risk of death or disfigurement. In other words, prosecutors must be able to establish that not only was Mr. Slater acting recklessly, but his actions created a substantial (not just possible) risk of death or disfigurement to others.

I do not know all the facts, but barring him running into the paths of oncoming planes, weaving in an out of ground traffic, creating a substantial risk that a passenger would fall from the plane to his or her death (were they all buckled in at the time the door was open and if not, where were they in proximity to the door), Reckless Endangerment is a classic “overcharge” by the prosecution.

Having said that, Criminal Mischief in the Fourth Degree, New York Penal Law 145.00, may be more difficult to circumvent. Under two possible theories, Mr. Slater would be guilty of Criminal Mischief if he intentionally caused damage to another property (the airplane) or recklessly caused damage in excess of $250. Again, not knowing all the facts, it does not appear that Mr. Slater had the intention of damaging a JetBlue airplane. However, was he acting recklessly when he opened the “escape hatch” and caused “damage” to it? That damage would be the cost to fix or replace the hatch which likely costs more than $250. Having said that, was there actually damage? Unfortunately, if convicted of this offense, Mr. Slater also faces up to one year in prison.

Lastly, Mr. Slater also may face the charge of Trespass or Criminal Trespass in the Third Degree. The best way to sum up these offenses is whether or not Mr. Slater had permission to be on the premises (was he “lawfully” on the tarmac and other areas in the airport) or whether the areas were enclosed to keep out intruders. Are airline employees permitted on the tarmac? Are the areas where he allegedly trespassed enclosed or fenced to exclude intruders such as airline employees? If no, then he has not trespassed. If so, this charge may be viable. Trespass is a violation and not a crime while Criminal Trespass is a “B” misdemeanor.

The above analysis is a brief one and done with bits and pieces of information obtained from news articles. What the actual facts, allegations and charges are, are yet to be determined and could certainly alter this analysis. If true, however, Mr. Slater should crack open that beer as he is about to depart for a long trip through the New York criminal justice system. Joining him will likely be some personal injury attorney who will claim that some passenger was horrifically traumatized by the event and needs to be compensated.

For further information on the crime of New York Reckless Endangerment in the Second Degree, please follow the highlighted link. Additional information on New York Criminal Mischief in the Fourth Degree and New York Criminal Trespass can be found on the respective links as well. To read about other New York Penal Law statutes, legal decisions and recent cases, please review the New York Criminal Lawyer Blog at NewYorkCriminalLawyerBlog.Com.

Saland Law PC is a New York criminal defense firm. Founded by two former Manhattan prosecutors, the New York criminal defense attorneys at Saland Law PC represent the accused throughout the New York City region.

UPDATE – Mr. Slater Charged with Felony Criminal Mischief and Felony Reckless Endangerment, but will it stick?

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