State Senate bill would add a year of prison time for drone crimes

OLYMPIA — If a drone aircraft is used for a crime, from running drugs to scoping a house for robbery, prosecutors would be able to seek an extra year in prison for the offenders under a bill now before Washington state lawmakers.

The Senate Law and Justice Committee held a hearing Tuesday morning on Sen. Pam Roach’s proposal to add the allegation of a “nefarious drone enterprise” to Washington criminal law, which she said was an effort to get ahead of the emerging technology of advanced, affordable personal-use unmanned aircraft.

The state currently has no restrictions on the use of drones, although 20 other states have enacted laws on drone-related issues.

“It’s potentially a big tool for people that want to do wrong, and I’d like to let everybody know right away through law, don’t do it,” said Roach, a Republican from Auburn.

Her bill would add a year to the sentencing range that dictates how judges can punish an offense. At least three other bills concerning drones have been filed in the Legislature this session in the wake of Gov. Jay Inslee’s veto of a bill last year that would have restricted how state and local government agencies use the unmanned aircraft.

Efforts to control unmanned flying aircraft become more prominent since a wayward drone crashed on the White House lawn last month. That drone’s manufacturer blocked all flights of its devices in Washington, D.C., where drone use was already illegal.

Also in January, authorities in Tijuana, Mexico, reported the crash of a cartel’s drug-laden drone, and a man in South Carolina was sentenced to 15 years for trying to use a drone to smuggle items into a prison.

Ryan Calo, a law professor at the University of Washington who focuses on robotics, said much of the scrutiny comes because drones are at the intersection of several broad areas — including privacy rights and the availability of high-tech devices to law enforcement and criminals alike — where the law hasn’t caught up with society’s fears.

“Suddenly because you do something with a drone, it becomes worse or more concerning that if you do it another way,” he said.

He noted that the “nefarious drone enterprise” bill has a very tight technological focus.

“It would be like saying that the crime of assault is different if it’s done with a hammer,” he said.

The bill drew no criticism before a scant audience at its three-minute public hearing Tuesday morning. It faces several legislative hurdles before it could become law, and it’s not clear whether it has enough support to pass.

Roach and committee chairman and bill co-sponsor Sen. Mike Padden, a Spokane Valley Republican, discussed potential ways drones could aid crime schemes, including casing a house, spooking a herd of livestock or smuggling.

“There’s a lot of different uses that maybe we haven’t thought of and are out there,” Padden said.

Talk to us

More in Local News

FILE - Former President Donald J. Trump watches the NCAA Wrestling Championships, Saturday, March 18, 2023, in Tulsa, Okla. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File)
Lawyer: Trump indicted, 1st ex-president charged with crime

Former president Donald Trump has been indicted on charges in New York regarding payments made during the 2016 presidential campaign to silence claims of an extramarital sexual encounter.

Jeanette Westover poses for a photo at her home in Snohomish, Washington on Tuesday, March 28, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Tenant: Housing Hope ignored meth contamination at Snohomish apartment

Jeanette Westover says meth contamination far exceeding state limits gave her seizures and kidney infections.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Snohomish in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Police investigating cause of fatal 3-vehicle crash on Highway 9

The man, 61, crossed the center line in Snohomish on Monday and crashed into the truck, the sheriff’s office said.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Snohomish in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
1 dead, 1 in hospital after 3-vehicle crash on Highway 9

A concrete pumping truck and two sedans crashed Monday afternoon, closing the highway near Bickford Avenue.

Moses Malachi Brewer appears in court for sentencing Friday, March 24, 2023, at Snohomish County Superior Court in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Man sentenced to 18 years for 2019 shooting in Everett

Moses Brewer, 23, shot four people in an Everett apartment, which left one victim paralyzed on his right side.

Logo for news use, for stories regarding Washington state government — Olympia, the Legislature and state agencies. No caption necessary. 20220331
Health care spending continues to outpace inflation, driven by prices

Can state efforts curb 6.7% growth per year in overall health care spending?

NO CAPTION NECESSARY: Logo for the Cornfield Report by Jerry Cornfield. 20200112
A buffet of budgets, a bunch of whales and a request for your miles

It’s Day 78. Here’s what’s happening in the 2023 session of the Washington Legislature

Erinn Dearth and Dan Beckmann will perform 7 p.m. at The Historic Everett Theater, on Friday, April 14, 2023. Their "Letters From Home" show features music from the soundtracks of WWII, Vietnam and more. (Photo provided)
USO-style variety show to make stop at Historic Everett Theatre

The cast of “Letters from Home” hopes to reach veterans, active military members and their families.

Jack Yoke, 5, runs through the Roozengaarde tulip fields on Tuesday, April 27, 2021 in Mount Vernon, Wash. This is the final week to head out to Mount Vernon to enjoy the of the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival which ends on May 2nd.(Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Tulip Festival brings spectacular traffic jams, blooms to Skagit Valley

Thousands will visit the annual flower fest that kicks off Saturday and runs through April. Here are some tips.

Most Read