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Varghese Summersett

A Florida man recently made the news after he shot down a Walmart drone. Drones have become ubiquitous. It’s not just big retailers like Amazon and Walmart who are using drones. With the cost of drones dipping as low as $30, anyone can buy a drone.

Today what you can acquire for under $500 rivals what only professionals could get their hands on give years ago. So what happens if you have a drone flying above your property or outside your bedroom window? Can you shoot down a drone in Texas? This article explores the answer to that question and the civil and criminal implications for nefarious drone operators.

Can You Legally Shoot Down a Drone in Texas?

The short answer is no. It is generally not legal to shoot down a drone in Texas or anywhere else in the United States. In fact, a number of federal and state charges can stem from this.

Federal Offenses Related to Shooting Down Drones

The FAA classifies drones as aircraft. Under federal law, drones are legally considered aircraft, regardless of their size or purpose. This classification means they are protected under the same laws prohibiting interference with manned aircraft. Shooting down a drone can potentially violate several federal laws, including:

18 U.S.C. § 32 – Destruction of Aircraft

This statute makes it a federal crime to willfully damage, destroy, or disable an aircraft. This means shooting down a drone could result in:

  • A fine of up to $250,000; and
  • Imprisonment for up to 20 years

18 U.S.C. § 1030 – Computer Fraud and Abuse Act

If a drone is damaged or disabled through electronic means, such as hacking or jamming its control signals, this could be considered a violation of the CFAA. Penalties vary based on the specific circumstances but can include fines and imprisonment. Hacking a drone’s control system would likely fall under unauthorized access to a protected computer. Jamming a drone’s communications could be considered as intentionally damaging a protected computer by knowingly transmitting harmful data or code.

The penalties under 18 U.S.C. § 1030 vary depending on the specific offense, but generally include:

  • Unauthorized access to obtain information: Up to 1 year for first offense, up to 10 years for subsequent offenses.
  • Intentionally damaging by knowing transmission (which could apply to jamming): Up to 10 years for first offense, up to 20 years for subsequent offenses.
  • Recklessly causing damage by intentional access: Up to 5 years for first offense.

our bench is deep

State Offenses in Texas Related to Shooting Down Drones

In addition to federal laws, shooting down a drone in Texas could potentially violate several state laws:

Texas Penal Code § 28.03 – Criminal Mischief

Damaging or destroying a drone could be prosecuted as criminal mischief. Depending on the value of the damaged property, the penalties range from a Class C misdemeanor to a first-degree felony.

Texas Penal Code § 42.01 – Disorderly Conduct

Discharging a firearm in a public place or on or across a public road could be charged as disorderly conduct, a Class B misdemeanor.

Texas Penal Code § 22.05 – Deadly Conduct

If shooting at a drone creates a substantial risk of serious bodily injury to others, it could be charged as deadly conduct, a Class A misdemeanor, or a third-degree felony.

Texas Local Government Code § 229.001 – Firearms Regulations

Some local ordinances may restrict the discharge of firearms within city limits, potentially leading to additional charges.

The stakes are high. Hire the best lawyers.

Civil Causes of Action if You Are Injured by a Drone

If you are injured by someone operating a drone, you may have a cause of action against them to hold the drone operator responsible. A drone accident could arise from a failure to operate the drone correctly. This is especially true for commercial and professional drones. Like any other device, drones can also malfunction. If there is a defect in the design or manufacture of a drone that leads to an injury, you might have a claim against the manufacturer. Similarly, if the operator of a drone is negligent in operating the drone – for example, operating while intoxicated or in poor weather conditions and causes injury or loss, that could become a legal basis to hold them responsible civilly.

liability for drone accident

Government Code § 423.006

Provides for civil action against drone operators who violate this chapter:

  • An owner or tenant of privately owned real property can bring suit against a person who captured an image of the property or the owner/tenant while on the property in violation of Section 423.003.
  • Remedies available include:
    • Injunctive relief
    • Civil penalty of $5,000 for all images captured in a single episode, or $10,000 for disclosure, display, distribution, or other use of any images captured in a single episode
    • Actual damages if the image was disclosed, displayed, or distributed with malice
    • Court costs and reasonable attorney’s fees

Government Code § 423.007

Allows for civil action against a person who captures an image in violation of Section 423.003 and uses that image in any manner as evidence in a civil, criminal, or administrative proceeding. The court may award a civil penalty of $1,000.

Criminal Causes of Action Against Drone Operators

There are a number of ways a drone operator themselves can be held criminally responsible for flying a drone over your property – if certain conditions exist. So if you have a drone flying over your property, reach for a phone (to call the police) rather than a firearm.

Texas Penal Code § 21.15 – Invasive Visual Recording

Using a drone to capture images of a person in a private place without their consent could be prosecuted under this law, a state jail felony.

Texas Penal Code § 42.072 – Stalking

Persistent use of a drone to harass or intimidate an individual could potentially be charged as stalking, a third-degree felony.

Government Code § 423.003 – Illegal Use of Unmanned Aircraft to Capture Image

This law specifically prohibits, with certain exceptions, using drones to capture images of individuals or private property without consent. Violations are Class C misdemeanors.

Government Code § 423.004 – Possession, Disclosure, Display, Distribution, or Use of Image

It’s a Class C misdemeanor to possess, disclose, display, distribute, or otherwise use an image captured in violation of Section 423.003. The offense becomes a Class B misdemeanor for a second offense and a Class A misdemeanor for a third or subsequent offense.

Texas Penal Code § 42.07 – Harassment

In Texas, harassment could potentially apply to drone use if the operator intentionally and repeatedly flies the drone in a manner reasonably likely to harass, annoy, alarm, abuse, torment, embarrass, or offend another person. This could include scenarios such as repeatedly flying a drone over someone’s property or persistently hovering near windows or private spaces. If proven, harassment via drone use is generally a Class B misdemeanor, but can be elevated to a Class A misdemeanor in certain circumstances, such as when committed against a minor.

Is Disabling a Drone Legal Under Federal and State Law?

Given the legal risks associated with shooting down drones, some individuals have explored alternative methods of disabling or deterring unwanted drone activity. However, many of these methods also carry legal risks:

1. Signal Jamming

Federal law makes using devices to jam or interfere with a drone’s control signals illegal. The Communications Act of 1934 prohibits the operation of jamming devices, and violations can result in significant fines and imprisonment.

2. GPS Spoofing

Attempts to interfere with a drone’s GPS navigation system could violate the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and FAA regulations.

3. Hacking

Gaining unauthorized access to a drone’s control systems would likely violate the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and potentially state computer crime laws.

4. Net Guns or Physical Capture

While less likely to cause damage than shooting, physically capturing a drone could still be considered interference with aircraft under federal law and potentially violate state laws against theft or criminal mischief.

alternatives to shooting down a drone

Legal Alternatives to Shooting Down a Drone in Texas

Instead of resorting to potentially illegal methods of drone interference, property owners have several legal options for addressing concerns about drone activity:

1. Contact Local Law Enforcement

If you believe a drone is being operated illegally or in a harassing manner, contact your local police department. They can investigate potential violations of state laws or local ordinances.

2. Report to the FAA

If you suspect a drone is being operated in violation of FAA regulations, you can file a report with the FAA’s drone complaint system.

3. Document the Incidents

Keep detailed records of drone activity, including dates, times, and any photographic or video evidence. This documentation can be valuable if legal action becomes necessary.

4. Pursue Civil Remedies

Consider consulting with an attorney about potential civil claims against persistent or intrusive drone operators.

5. Advocate for Local Regulations

Work with local government officials to develop or strengthen ordinances addressing drone use in your community.

Accused of Shooting Down a Drone? Contact Us.

While the desire to protect one’s privacy and property from unwanted drone intrusion is understandable, it’s crucial to recognize that taking direct action against drones carries significant legal risks. Shooting down or disabling a drone can result in severe federal and state criminal charges, as well as potential civil liability.

Instead of resorting to potentially illegal methods, property owners should focus on legal alternatives for addressing drone concerns. This includes working with law enforcement, reporting violations to the FAA, documenting incidents, and pursuing civil remedies when appropriate.

If, however, you are facing charges stemming from shooting down a drone in Texas, it’s important to have an experienced defense attorney in your corner as soon as possible. Call 817-203-2200 to schedule an consultation with seasoned criminal defense attorney at Varghese Summersett.

Varghese Summersett is a premier criminal defense firm based in Fort Worth, Texas. Our attorneys focus exclusively on criminal law and represent clients charged with crimes at both the state and federal level. We handle everything from DWI to capital murder to white collar crime. Collectively, our attorneys bring together more than 100 years of criminal law experience and have tried more than 550 cases before Texas juries. All of our senior attorneys served as former state or federal prosecutors and four are Board Certified in Criminal law, the highest designation an attorney can reach. We are the firm people turn to when the stakes are high and they are facing the biggest problem in their lives. - Contact Varghese at  
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