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What happens when you shoot down a delivery drone…..?

What happens if you shoot down a delivery drone? As deep-pocketed companies like Amazon, Google, and Walmart invest in and experiment with drone delivery, a phenomenon has emerged that reflects this modern era. Drones are shot from the sky carrying snacks and other small items.

Photo Credits: Walmart

As deep-pocketed companies like Amazon, Google, and Walmart invest in and experiment with drone delivery, a phenomenon has emerged that reflects this modern era. Drones are shot from the sky carrying snacks and other small items.

Incidents are still rare. However, a recent arrest in Florida in which a man allegedly shot down a Walmart drone raises questions about what the legal ramifications are and whether those ramifications could escalate if these events become more common.

In Florida’s case, Walmart was conducting delivery demonstrations in Clermont, Fla. — about 25 miles west of Orlando — when a loud noise was heard during the descent of the vessel. According to the Lake County Sheriff’s Office, the suspect, Dennis Winn, reportedly confessed to shooting the drone. He reportedly told authorities that this was not his first experience with drones flying over and around his home, leading him to believe that the small unmanned vessels may have been spying on him.

The man was charged with discharging a firearm and “criminal mischief” resulting in damage in excess of $1,000. Walmart says the total was around $2,500, mostly for the drone’s payload system.

More drones are likely to be shot down, given that the United States is home to more guns than people. And while last week’s incident isn’t unprecedented, it’s not entirely clear how severe the consequences could be.

This is largely due to the fact that there have been no high-profile cases where the shooter received the maximum sentence. However, that could change as more multi-billion dollar corporations stake their airspace. At this early stage, years of research and development costs coupled with very limited scalability mean an extremely high price per drone.

In 2022, for example, Amazon was estimated to spend $484 on every delivery made by a Prime Air drone. The price has since dropped; optimistic projections had the value falling to around $63 in 2025. Even that is still almost 20 times the price of an average ground delivery.

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Drone deliveries also haven’t changed as quickly as Amazon had hoped. As of this writing, Prime Air is only available in one location — College Station, Texas — after operations ended in California. Two European branches and another in the US are due to arrive by the end of this year.

While consumer drones have been proliferating for more than a decade, the issue of legal ramifications has not been entirely clear.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) gave us a partial answer after the 2016 drone shooting in Arkansas. At that time, the FAA referred stakeholders to 18 U.S.C. 32. Titled “Aerial Sabotage,” the law targets the willful destruction of “any aircraft within the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States of America or any civil aircraft used, operated, or employed in interstate, overseas, or foreign air commerce.”

At first glance, the law appears to primarily target manned aircraft, including a provision that “makes it a federal crime to commit an act of violence against any person on board an aircraft, not just crew members, if the act could endanger safety.” aircraft.” However, in response to the drone shooting in Arkansas, the FAA says that such protections can be interpreted to include UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles). Indeed, the language seems broad enough to cover drones. This, in turn, means that the penalties they are potentially just as tough.

The entity was revived after the 2020 incident in Minnesota. In this case, the suspect was charged with criminal damage to health and shooting in the city. Those would probably also be charges in most scenarios involving property, not bodily harm, drone or not. Even with these examples, there is no hard-and-fast rule predicting whether or when plaintiffs could also bring federal charges such as 18 U.S.C. 32.

As legal blog Above the Law points out, in most cases the federal government has deferred to enforcing state law. Meanwhile, in most cases where 18 U.S.C. 32 if human crew/passengers are involved, there may be other potential charges such as murder. One can certainly argue that shooting a large piece of hardware out of the sky in a densely populated area raises its own potential for bodily harm, even if it may not be prosecuted in the same way.

As drone deliveries increase in the US, we may soon have an answer to the role of federal legislation such as 18 U.S.C. 32 will play in UAV shooting. Adding that to the picture comes with penalties, including fines and up to 20 years in prison, which can make those consequences even worse. However, it is clear that the consequences can be serious, however you invoke it.

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