Look up. It’s a bird, it’s a plane—you know the rest. No, it’s not Superman. The newest version ends with the word drone. Well, one Kentucky man didn’t like the fact that a drone flew over his property. Mr. Merideth, now nicknamed the “Drone Slayer,” was arrested after shooting a drone he claimed was flying over his property. Merideth’s defense was that the drone was invading his property.
Physical invasion of a neighbor’s property happens when a landowner uses his property to deprive another property owner of enjoying his property. It’s akin to trespassing. Invasion of property is typically a term associated with tort law, not a criminal defense.
According to Merideth, he was at his home outside of Louisville on July 26. His daughter told him a drone was flying over his house. He admitted to loading his 12-gauge, short-barreled shotgun with a birdshot, then shooting the drone from his back porch. Merideth was charged with first degree criminal mischief.
Criminal mischief occurs when someone damages property. The property generally has some particular dollar amount. Criminal mischief requires an individual to intend to damage other’s property when he didn’t have permission to do it.
The drone’s owner, John David Boggs, wasn’t happy about the destroyed drone. Boggs maintained that the drone wasn’t hovering over Merideth’s property. He actually place the footage of the drone’s final flight on social media.
It’s Not Illegal to Fly a Drone in Kentucky
A lot of states have passed laws restricting or prohibiting recreational drones. States have also passed a law to prevent people from being harassed by someone flying a drone. Kentucky doesn’t specifically regulate or prohibit private drones.
However, a Kentucky judge determined Merideth wasn’t guilty of criminal mischief. According to the judge, the testimony in the case seemed credible. It was an invasion of privacy because the drone was hovering up to three times a day over people’s property. Thus, the defendant had a right to shoot the drone. He should’ve never been charged.
The Prosecutor Should Have Charged Boggs with Criminal Trespass
Criminal trespass is the unlawful entry into another person’s property. What makes it unlawful is the defendant enters the property without permission or authority to do so. An individual can be charged with criminal trespass if he interferes with another person’s use of his property too. Another way to commit criminal trespass is to intentionally enter or remain on the property of another without consent.
In fact, in most criminal trespass cases only two elements are needed to convict:
- There was an unlawful entry onto the land of another
- The defendant knew he was not permitted on the owner’s land
Looking at the facts of the case, it is clear Boggs should’ve been the one arrested. Bogg’s made an unlawful entry onto the property of another person. According to court testimony, Boggs’ drone flew into Merideth’s property. Property extends to the airspace surrounding the property. Although Boggs didn’t physically enter onto the property, he used his drone to do so.
Boggs knowingly flew his drone over Merideth’s land. Boggs controlled the drone and commanded it to fly over several properties, including Merideth’s. At no time did Merideth give Boggs permission to fly over or hover over his property. Thus, Boggs knew he was no allowed on Merideth’s property.
By using his drone to fly over or hover over property, he prohibited the Merideths from enjoying the backyard. Merideth’s daughter went into the house and told him that the drone was over their property. Merideth also said this wasn’t the first time the drone was flew over his property. He complained to police, but they didn’t stop Boggs.
Merideth Shouldn’t Have Shot the Drone, but Boggs Trespassed
Of course, people shouldn’t take the law into their own hands. It’s important to let the police handle things such as drones flying over their property. However, it’s also important for people who fly drones to know the law. It is trespassing on a person’s property when flying a drone. People have a right to privacy and enjoyment of their privacy.
To have a drone hovering over a home—and filming—sets up a dangerous precedent. It means that someone can’t step onto property without being charged with criminal trespassing. However, he could use a drone to trespass onto property and not get charged. Imagine if he was filming some private moment on the back porch of the Merideth house. It wouldn’t be fair. It wouldn’t be right. It would be the criminal act trespassing.
Authored by Taelonnda Sewell, LegalMatch Legal Writer