Join the Mile High Club, Go To Jail
posted by Daniel Solove
From the Charlotte Observer:
A California couple whose in-flight friskiness on the way to Raleigh was a bit much for other passengers are facing federal charges for harassing the flight attendant who asked them to stop.
Carl Warren Persing and Dawn Elizabeth Sewell are scheduled to go to trial Dec. 11 at the federal courthouse in Wilmington for their behavior during a Sept. 15 flight. The indictment states that “the defendants repeatedly engaged in overt sexual activity in the cabin of the plane to such an extent that the flight attendant had to direct them to stop.”
But Persing and Sewell wouldn’t halt their public displays of affection, and Persing threatened the flight attendant who made the request and refused to serve them alcohol, according to the court records.
The details of what happened are recounted later on in the story:
At first, the couple complied with a request from a flight attendant to stop their behavior. But they soon resumed during the flight.
When asked again, according to Sutton’s affidavit, Persing told the flight attendant: “I’m going to give you one warning to get out of my face.”
Things deteriorated from there, according to Sutton’s affidavit: The flight attendant refused to serve them alcohol. Persing called the flight attendant “a punk.” Persing kept asking for alcohol.
Sewell told the flight attendants that she worked for a lawyer and it was illegal not to serve alcohol to them. The flight attendant told them to stop asking for alcohol. Persing said, “You and I are gonna have some serious confrontation when we get off this plane.”
When the couple got off the plane in Raleigh, law enforcement officials were waiting.
A couple’s ill-concealed sexual play aboard a Southwest Airlines flight from Los Angeles got them charged with violating the Patriot Act, intended for terrorist acts, and could land them in jail for 20 years.
According to the indictment, Carl Persing and Dawn Sewell were allegedly snuggling and kissing inappropriately, “making other passengers uncomfortable,” when a flight attendant asked them to stop.
“Persing was observed nuzzling or kissing Sewell on the neck, and … with his face pressed against Sewell’s vaginal area. During these actions, Sewell was observed smiling,” reads the indictment filed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The indictment is here. The couple is charged with violating 49 U.S.C. § 46504, which provides:
An individual on an aircraft in the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States who, by assaulting or intimidating a flight crew member or flight attendant of the aircraft, interferes with the performance of the duties of the member or attendant or lessens the ability of the member or attendant to perform those duties, or attempts or conspires to do such an act, shall be fined under title 18, imprisoned for not more than 20 years, or both. However, if a dangerous weapon is used in assaulting or intimidating the member or attendant, the individual shall be imprisoned for any term of years or for life.
Although the couple’s angry behavior is problematic, § 46504 strikes me as way too broad — perhaps so broad as to be unconstitutionally vague. What exactly does “intimidating” a flight attendant mean? What does “interferes with the performance of the duties of the member or attendant or lessens the ability of the member or attendant to perform those duties” mean? Being an obnoxious passenger should be punished, but the hefty possible penalties in this statute seem to be designed for passengers who pose serious threats, not passengers who merely spark the ire of a flight attendant.