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March 10, 2014

Man called "walking crime spree" gets 14 years in federal prison to pointing laser at helicopter

A reader alerted me to this notable federal sentencing story from California, which perhaps highlights why folks with significant criminal histories ought not be messing around with dangerous pranks:

A Central California man convicted of pointing a high-powered laser at a police helicopter was sentenced Monday to spend 14 years in federal prison.

Sergio Patrick Rodriguez, a 26-year-old Clovis resident, was accused of pointing a green laser 13 times more powerful than common pointers at a Fresno Police Department helicopter in 2012. The helicopter had been called to an apartment complex where an emergency helicopter for a children's hospital also reported being targeted by a laser. "This is not a game," U.S. Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner said in a statement. "It is dangerous, and it is a felony."

A jury found Rodriguez guilty of attempting to interfere with safe operation of aircraft and aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft. While handing down the sentence, U.S. District Judge Lawrence J. O'Neill described Rodriguez as a "walking crime spree," carrying out an act with deadly potential. Rodriguez has a significant criminal history, prosecutors said, that includes several probation violations and gang affiliations.

Authorities say such laser strikes can blind pilots and lead to crashes. In 2013, there were 3,960 reports of people shining lasers at aircraft over the United States, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. The same Fresno jury found Rodriguez and his 23-year-old girlfriend, Jennifer Lorraine Coleman, guilty of charges in the case in December. Coleman is scheduled to be sentenced in May.

March 10, 2014 at 06:42 PM | Permalink

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Comments

It was a laser not a taser. Cops shoot humans with tasers every day and are not even thought to be doing harm. Tasers are lethal weapons. A laser is a pointing device. Oh, it blinds pilots? Give me 14 years. What a crime this is to even charge the guy. The judge needs to see a shrink.

Posted by: Liberty1st | Mar 11, 2014 2:08:14 AM

@Liberty1st

Oh, it blinds pilots?

If the pilot is blinded then the risk of flight accident - and thus of (widespread) death - is raised.

Posted by: visitor | Mar 11, 2014 6:04:26 AM

Yeah, if the argument were that it irritates pilots (or possibly even distracts them), maybe it would be less strong, but I don't think one should derisively mock the idea of (presumably temporarily) blinding pilots.

14 years is a long time, though, even if I agree with it being a felony. I'm curious what his guidelines came out to.

Posted by: Erik M | Mar 11, 2014 9:10:51 AM

Well, this is another case where the court did not disaggregate the problem, thereby distinguishing between culpability and risk. These two aspects of the problem should have been analyzed separately; i.e., magnitude. objectives, strategies, tactics, etc. Culpability does not change once established; risk does change. Surely, fourteen years is excessive for the purpose of holding this offender accountable. No one can say today how dangerous the offender will be in 5 years, let alone 14. Obviously the current system needs a major overhaul.

Posted by: Tom McGee | Mar 11, 2014 1:14:28 PM

Chief Judge Dennis Jacobs of the Second Circuit has decried situations where "the offense of federal conviction has become just a peg on which to hang a comprehensive moral accounting," which seems to be exactly what happened here. Of course, Judge Jacobs was dissenting, so I doubt the higher courts will have much problem with this sentence.

Posted by: Jonathan Edelstein | Mar 11, 2014 2:28:58 PM

Al Capone got a long sentence for tax evasion. Does anyone here object to that? He had to pay for the St. Valentine's Day Massacre, but not be reached. The person should be the objective of the sentence. The person is the problem. When you get rid of the person, you have no problem. So why take a chance? So said Saddam Hussein, in a rare moment of intelligence, as a trained lawyer. Cleaning his gun during his examination helped him pass.

Under 123D, the third and death eligible charge could be shop lifting or littering if it serves to get rid of a dangerous drug kingpin who has slaughtered hundreds of people, but who will never come to account for these crimes.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Mar 11, 2014 4:20:51 PM

Because career criminals commit hundreds of crimes a year, a person centered rather than crime centered sentencing scheme provides the greatest incapacitation and public safety.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Mar 11, 2014 4:23:55 PM

In earlier comments I referred to a two track sentencing system, one based on culpability and the other on risk control/reduction. The most restrictive of the two would control at any given point in time. Both result in deprivations, which are recursive; i.e., least restrictive can be put inside the more restrictive. In this way all of the state's sentencing objectives could be accomplished in each case without conflict.

SC, risk control/reduction is a "person centered" sentencing scheme and it does provide the greatest incapacitation and public safety. It would be based on the crime disposing characteristics of the situation. Culpability would be based on the offense and reaches the natural inclination of people to punish.

I believe a sentencing system should put both tracks on the table. Policy makers should regulate the effort to be given each. On balance I suspect that most people would give priority to risk control/reduction in most cases.

Posted by: Tom McGee | Mar 11, 2014 4:58:46 PM

We used to flash sunlight up at planes with mirrors. If we had tasers we could get to the fuel tanks. Can kids buy tasers? Where does one buy one and how much are they? Can we rig them up in the outhouse so that when someone sits down they get it in the rear? This taser thing has some legs. The cops say that its perfectly ok to shoot anyone with one-- that they are not lethal weapons. Don't lase me bro.

Posted by: Liberty1st | Mar 11, 2014 7:40:17 PM

I think we're burying the lead here, which is there is a federal crime called "aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft"

Posted by: Ryan from Las Vegas | Mar 11, 2014 7:52:39 PM

"Well, this is another case where the court did not disaggregate the problem, thereby distinguishing between culpability and risk. These two aspects of the problem should have been analyzed separately; i.e., magnitude. objectives, strategies, tactics, etc. Culpability does not change once established; risk does change. Surely, fourteen years is excessive for the purpose of holding this offender accountable. No one can say today how dangerous the offender will be in 5 years, let alone 14. Obviously the current system needs a major overhaul."

No one can say how dangerous he'll be in five years. One could have said the same thing about triple-murderer Jaacob Vanwinkle in 2005.

Posted by: federalist | Mar 11, 2014 10:53:50 PM

Fed: I mock the lawyer profession for its supernatural beliefs, mind reading, future forecasting, and reliance on the standards of conduct of a fictitious character, so these standards may be objective.

So I would not make a decision based on future forecasting, agreeing with you entirely about future dangerousness. In 123D, one counts past behaviors, making no predictions. At the count of 3 violent offenses, one has used up one's ticket. It is just time to leave this earth. So we are looking at past conduct. And, we are counting only to three, well within the math ability of the profession.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Mar 12, 2014 12:09:32 AM

Tom: I am willing to listen to your proposal if "culpability" does not involve mind reading. If you were to make all crimes strict liability crimes, mind reading would be gone.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Mar 12, 2014 12:12:20 AM

Let me say just a word about risk. No one can predict with certainty who will or will not commit another crime. The best we can do is establish probability; i.e., X chances out of 100 over a set period of time. It is up to policy makers to say how much risk is acceptable under those circumstances. It is like buying insurance. Risk changes; therefore it should be reevaluated when necessary, but at set intervals at a minimum.

SC-Here is why I think that all of the sate's objectives should be on the table. To the extent that decision-makers have any discretion, all of these objectives are going to creep into the decision, implicitly or explicitly. So they should stand on their own, competing for the resources that are available. Cost-effectiveness is the bottom line.

As to culpability, punishment is the concept of a whole category of strategies; it is not an objective. We should be specific with respect to the strategy and tactics to use with respect to each objective--no mind reading.

Posted by: Tom McGee | Mar 12, 2014 1:16:24 AM

Fresno are usually a fierce defender of property rights, in the odd position of squaring off against willing property owners,When a person is charged with such a serious crime as murder,The Attorney defense for their client.

Posted by: Parkery | Mar 19, 2014 8:30:31 AM

Is this constitutional? Or is it "Cruel and unusual punishment..."
Does the time fit the crime? Was there even a crime, and if so, who is the complainant and where is the evidence of his damages or loss suffered?
Was there willful intent, or just horsing around? These should all be issues raised long before charges were filed, and a trial was held.
No crime, no time! Just conviction power-driven prosecutorial demons.

"Cruel and unusual punishment..."
The "essential predicate" is "that a punishment must not by its severity be degrading to human dignity," especially torture.
"A severe punishment that is obviously inflicted in wholly arbitrary fashion." (Furman v. Georgia temporarily suspended capital punishment for this reason.)
"A severe punishment that is clearly and totally rejected throughout society."
"A severe punishment that is patently unnecessary."

Posted by: Mel Furtado | Mar 20, 2014 8:19:14 AM

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