In this commentary, I wanted to review a common scenario which originates at LAX and other southern California airports: the airport arrest. These accusations are some of the more unusual because they typically involve people who have never had a negative law enforcement contact prior to the airport incident. Much of the conduct occurs because of either carelessness or lack of better judgment at that moment in time, and many of these cases are initiated because of specific laws which apply only to airports in California, including Los Angeles International (LAX). This specific area of law will be the focus of this discussion. Airport arrests and citations are always serious, and legal representation is necessary if you are facing this situation.
California Penal Code section 171.5 prohibits possessing certain items at secure locations of airports. These items include, pepper spray, certain cutting instruments, and bullets (even if it is without a firearm). These items are lawful to possess in most other locations in the city of Los Angeles, but are criminalized in the context of an airport setting. While violations require general intent (knowing that you are in possession of the item), Los Angeles Airport law enforcement agencies will generally make the arrest and let the justice system sort out the details, including charges, if any, which should be filed in court. Affirmative defenses are not generally taken into consideration by the arresting officers at the time of the incident.
So, how do these cases begin? Below is an example of a common occurrence at local airports.
You are going to the airport in Los Angeles to take a short three-day trip, and you grab an old duffle bag from the closet to pack clothes, etc. The last time you used the bag was on a camping trip to the mountains. You were in a hurry while packing for the flight, and didn't bother to search each and every compartment of the bag. Unfortunately, you left behind a large fishing knife at the bottom of the bag, and didn't notice the knife as you zipped up the bag and went to catch your flight.
Now you are at the screening area at the airport with your bag, and you place it on the X-Ray Machine conveyor belt. TSA stops the conveyor belt and asks you to step to the side. Airport Police are summoned, and they display the knife to you. You explain how you inadvertently left it in the bag. Nonetheless, you are informed that you are being arrested for possession of a prohibited item at the airport, a misdemeanor. Depending on available police resources, you are then booked at jail or cited and ordered to appear in court.
You have never before been in trouble, and you are concerned about future consequences, such as employment implications, professional licenses which may be negatively impacted by criminal charges, as well as your record. So, what are your options?
I think that this scenario is ripe for early intervention on behalf of an attorney. Your first step is to obtain legal representation.
I make substantial efforts on behalf of clients, to communicate with LAX Police and/or the LA City Attorney's Office, providing information which would be relevant in a decision not to file criminal charges in court. If a case is accepted for an Office Hearing, I typically accompany my client to the meeting with the LA City Attorney Hearing Officer, and speak on my client's behalf. My objective of this meeting is to convince the Hearing Officer to recommend closing out the case without a criminal filing.
If the case is accepted for Pre-filing Diversion, also known as APPS, my client will generally be required to complete a class which takes 4-5 hours. There is sometimes a community service component to this process. Successful completion of the APPS requirements would close out the case without a criminal filing in court.
In the event a criminal charge of Penal Code section 171.5 is filed in LAX Court, I would plan to make significant efforts to present evidence about lack of intent (lack of knowledge) to the prosecutor, court, and/or trier of fact. Sometimes there is a possibility of a pre-trial creative resolution, to avoid a criminal conviction, as well.
These cases are very different from most criminal cases in Los Angeles, since people accused in airport cases are usually law-abiding citizens. Early intervention in these matters can be extremely important, and careful analysis by your attorney may present you with a variety of solutions to resolve your case.
You can learn more about airport cases at: Los Angeles Airport Defense Attorney.
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