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The 'Arming Pilots Against Terrorism Act' (H.R.4635) '...shields flight deck officers from liability for acts or omissions in defending the flight deck of an aircraft against acts of criminal violence or air piracy...'.

In a scenario in which an unruly/violent passenger cannot be physically restrained by either the flight attendants or the flight deck officers, and one of flight deck officers then shoots the unruly passenger and that person ends up dying from the gunshot wound, can this flight deck officer be prosecuted for murder?

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    Then no, HR 4635 would not apply because the pilot is not acting in defense of the flight deck. – Ron Beyer May 16 at 15:13
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    It depends really. This can get incredibly complicated, for example if the pilot was flying over Florida and went to confront the passenger who then attacked him, he may be able to shoot them under the "stand your ground" law. Or they may be able to apply the Castle Doctrine. There is a lot of "it depends" here, but in the case of HR 4635, it would not apply as a defense, but there may be others that would make it legal. – Ron Beyer May 16 at 15:18
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    @RonBeyer: The Florida "stand your ground" law would only be relevant in a prosecution under Florida law. A plane flying over Florida would also be under the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States so a violation of 18 USC 1111 (murder) could be prosecuted under federal law, and I would think federal prosecution more likely than state in such cases anyway. – Nate Eldredge May 16 at 16:25
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    The trivial answer is yes, the pilot can be prosecuted. People can be and often are prosecuted for lawful acts. This can happen, for example, if it is not clear to the prosecutor that the act was lawful. To use a better known example, a prosecutor might prosecute someone who has killed someone else in self defense if the prosecutor does not believe the claim of self defense. – phoog May 16 at 17:43
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    @RonBeyer "Stand Your Ground" is in contrast to "duty to retreat". Given that, in an airplane, there isn't much place to retreat to, that would be unlikely to be relevant. – Acccumulation May 16 at 19:10
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First of all, to clarify some numbering, HR 4635 (107th Congress) was not actually passed. The language was passed as part of HR 5005, becoming Public Law 107-296, and this provision now appears at 49 USC 44921.

The exact text of this provision is:

A Federal flight deck officer shall not be liable for damages in any action brought in a Federal or State court arising out of the acts or omissions of the officer in defending the flight deck of an aircraft against acts of criminal violence or air piracy unless the officer is guilty of gross negligence or willful misconduct.

The language makes it clear that this is only referring to civil liability. So, if the officer is defending the flight deck, and they are sued for damages resulting from their actions, the plaintiff will not win (assuming the law is correctly applied). But this law says nothing about whether or not they can be prosecuted for a crime. In any case, the officer in your example does not appear to have been defending the flight deck, so this law wouldn't apply at all.

In your example, the officer's defense against a murder charge would probably be based on defense of others. There is a discussion on Justia. It seems that a key question would be whether shooting the unruly passenger was proportional - was there a reasonable fear that the passenger was actually going to kill someone?

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    Criminal liability probably depends on (g): "Authority To Use Force.— Notwithstanding section 44903(d), the Administrator shall prescribe the standards and circumstances under which a Federal flight deck officer may use, while the program under this section is in effect, force (including lethal force) against an individual in the defense of the flight deck of an aircraft in air transportation or intrastate air transportation." – ohwilleke May 16 at 17:03
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    This statement is not accurate "they cannot be sued over their actions" they can be sued, anyone can be sued for anything in the US, per the law they can not be found "liable for damage" not the same thing. – James Jenkins May 17 at 16:10
  • New related question Can I be sued if if the law says I am not liable? – James Jenkins May 17 at 16:27
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    @JamesJenkins: Thanks, I corrected it. It was sloppy wording and I intended something like "they cannot be successfully sued". – Nate Eldredge May 17 at 16:50
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The relevant provisions are in Sections (2)(g) and 2(h) of the bill (which was not actually passed but resulted in a substantially identical law being passed):

(g) Authority To Use Force.--Notwithstanding section 44903(d), the Under Secretary shall prescribe the standards and circumstances under which a Federal flight deck officer may use, while the program under this section is in effect, force (including lethal force) against an individual in the defense of the flight deck of an aircraft in air transportation or intrastate air transportation.

(h) Limitation on Liability.

(1) Liability of air carriers. An air carrier shall not be liable for damages in any action brought in a Federal or State court arising out of a Federal flight deck officer's use of or failure to use a firearm.

(2) Liability of federal flight deck officers.--A Federal flight deck officer shall not be liable for damages in any action brought in a Federal or State court arising out of the acts or omissions of the officer in defending the flight deck of an aircraft against acts of criminal violence or air piracy unless the officer is guilty of gross negligence or willful misconduct.

The operative language is in bold.

Criminal liability and pilot's license revocation standards are governed by § 2(g) and deferred to a federal regulation.

Civil liability is governed by § 2(h).

The law is from 2002, so presumably, regulations have been adopted since then by the Department of Homeland Security.

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    18 U.S.C. § 242 and supreme court cases establish criminal liability since the officer would be a federal officer. – Putvi May 16 at 17:33
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When deciding if an officer's use of force is reasonable for detaining someone, the standard is set out in Graham v. Connor.

(c) The Fourth Amendment "reasonableness" inquiry is whether the officers' actions are "objectively reasonable" in light of the facts and circumstances confronting them, without regard to their underlying intent or motivation. The "reasonableness" of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, and its calculus must embody an allowance for the fact that police officers are often forced to make split-second decisions about the amount of force necessary in a particular situation. Pp. 490 U. S. 396-397. https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/490/386/

A federal flight deck officer is a federal law enforcement official, so the Department of Justice would review the situation and decide if what the person did was a crime, in the same way they would review what an FBI agent did on the ground. If the flight deck officer's shooting was justified the DOJ would do nothing, but if it was not justified in the situation the DOJ could indict the flight deck officer.

The laws and bill you and Nate cited, 49 USC 44921 and (H.R.4635), do not override the Department of Justice's right to indict a law enforcement officer. They are simply saying that as with any federal law enforcement officer, they should be immune unless their conduct dictates otherwise.

Any federal law enforcement officer can be charged with a crime as per 18 U.S.C. § 242. That includes, federal flight deck officers.

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    What is a "federal flight deck officer"? How do they become a "federal law enforcement official"? I'm a pilot, I was never inducted into or given the rights of a law enforcement official. I know several professional pilots who also were not, nor were ever given, any kind of law enforcement training or title. Are you talking about air marshals? – Ron Beyer May 16 at 18:38
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    No, I am not talking about air marshals. Flight deck officers are pilots who have gone through the training course. – Putvi May 16 at 18:41
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    Do you have any reference for this training course? I've never heard of it and I would be curious what training they would receive that would consider them a law enforcement official... – Ron Beyer May 16 at 18:43
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    I don't know what the exact training is and I'm sure the course is changed from time to time, but I'm sure if you contacted Homeland Security they can tell you what you would have to go through. – Putvi May 16 at 18:49
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    @RonBeyer - here's a link that explains the program (sort of). It's from 2015 but it's the DHS site so it should still be valid. – Spratty May 17 at 8:30

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