Federal Crimes Blog

18 U.S. Code § 37 - Violence at International Airports

Posted by Ronald D. Hedding | Sep 04, 2023

Any crimes that are committed at airports will fall under federal jurisdiction. If somebody decides to commit a life-threatening violent act at an international airport, they are facing severe penalties under federal law.

18 U.S. Code § 37 - Violence at International Airports
It's a federal offense to use any device or commit an act of violence at an international airport.

For example, suppose you are convicted of performing violence at an airport using any "device, substance, or weapon." In that case, you are facing up to 20 years in the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Suppose somebody is killed. In that case, you could potentially face life in prison.

18 U.S.C. 37 says, “A person who unlawfully and intentionally, using any device, substance, or weapon (1) performs an act of violence against a person at an airport serving international civil aviation that causes or is likely to cause serious bodily injury, as defined in section 1365 of this title, or death; or

(2) destroys or seriously damages the facilities of an airport serving international civil aviation or a civil aircraft not in service or disrupts the services of the airport if such an act endangers or is likely to endanger safety at that airport or attempts or conspires to do such an act, shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both; and if the death of any person results from conduct prohibited by this subsection, shall be punished by death or imprisoned for any term of years or for life.”

Section 37(b) says there is federal jurisdiction over the prohibited activity if it occurs within the United States or outside, if the suspect is located in the U.S., or if they are deemed a “national of the United States” defined under 8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(22) the Immigration and Nationality Act.

What Are the Elements of the Crime?

To convict you under 18 U.S. Code 37, a federal prosecutor will have to prove all of the elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt, including the following:

  • You willfully and intentionally committed an act of violence against someone on international airport grounds that caused or might have caused, a serious bodily injury or
  • You willfully and intentionally destroyed or caused serious damage to facilities at an international airport or an out-of-service civil aircraft and
  • The violence "endangers or is likely to endanger safety at that airport."

Federal Airport Violence – Quick Facts

Here are some essential facts you need to know about federal laws on violence at airports defined under 18 U.S.C. 37:

  • Attempting or conspiring to commit this crime will be handled in federal court in the same manner as if you had succeeded.
  • You can be indicted and convicted of this federal offense even if the alleged act occurred outside the United States.
  • The term “aircraft” means a “civil, military, or public contrivance invented, used, or designed to navigate, fly, or travel in the air” (Section 31(a)(1)).
  • The term “destructive substance” means “an explosive substance, flammable material, infernal machine, or other chemical, mechanical, or radioactive device or matter of a combustible, contaminative, corrosive, or explosive nature” (Section 31(a)(3)).
  • The term “in service” means “any time from the beginning of preflight preparation of an aircraft by ground personnel or by the crew for a specific flight until 24 hours after any landing” (Section 31(5)(a));
  • If convicted, you face a fine of up to $250,000 and up to 20 years in prison;
  • If someone was killed, you face several years up to life imprisonment.

What Are the Related Federal Laws?

18 U.S. Code Chapter 2 Aircraft and Motor Vehicles has numerous federal laws that are related to 18 U.S.C. 37 violence at international airports, such as the following:

  • 18 U.S.C. 31 - Definitions;
  • 18 U.S.C. 32 - Destruction of aircraft or aircraft facilities;
  • 18 U.S.C. 33 - Destruction of motor vehicles or facilities;
  • 18 U.S.C. 34 - Penalty when death results;
  • 18 U.S.C. 35 - Imparting or conveying false information;
  • 18 U.S.C. 36 - Drive-by shooting;
  • 18 U.S.C. 38 - Fraud involving aircraft or space vehicle parts in interstate or foreign commerce;
  • 18 U.S.C. 39 - Traffic signal preemption transmitters;
  • 18 U.S.C. 39A - Aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft;
  • 18 U.S.C. 39B - Unsafe operation of unmanned aircraft;
  • 18 U.S.C. 40 - Commercial motor vehicles required to stop for inspections;
  • 18 U.S.C. 40A - Operation of unauthorized unmanned aircraft over wildfires.

What Are the 18 U.S.C. 37 Defenses?

Suppose you are under investigation or indicted for allegedly violating 18 U.S.C. 37 violence at international airports.

In that case, our federal criminal defense lawyers can use different strategies to get the charge reduced, dismissed, or acquitted at trial, as discussed below.

Defenses for Violence at International Airports
Contact our law firm for a free case review.

Maybe we can argue there was no intent to commit violence. Recall the elements of the crime that a federal prosecutor has to prove that you had the required intent to commit violence at an international airport.

Maybe we can argue that you were not on the grounds of an international airport. Perhaps the incident occurred outside the airport's property. While you could face other charges, you could not be prosecuted under this federal statute.

Perhaps we can argue that the conduct occurred during a labor dispute. Section 37(c) says, “It is a bar to Federal prosecution under subsection (a) for conduct that occurred within the United States that the conduct involved was during or about a labor dispute, and such conduct is prohibited as a felony under the law of the State in which it was committed.”

The term “labor dispute” is defined under the Norris-LaGuardia Act, as amended by 29 U.S.C. 113(c).

Contact our federal criminal defense law firm for a free consultation by phone or through the contact form.  The Hedding Law Firm has offices in Los Angeles, California.

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About the Author

Ronald D. Hedding

What Makes Ronald Hedding Uniquely Qualified To Represent You? I've been practicing criminal defense for almost 30 years and have handled thousands of cases, including all types of state and federal sex crime cases. All consultations are discreet and confidential.

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