Is the "Wing Nut" flight attendant Steven Slater a folk hero

by Vault Law Editors | August 11, 2010

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Steven Slater: folk hero or felon? Predictably, the interwebs have already delivered their verdict on the former: a resounding YES.

  • Buy a “Free Steven Slater” T-shirt;

  • 'Like' him on Facebook;
  • Contribute to his Legal Defense Fund,

  • Help him get a job

On the issue of whether the Slater’s actions were criminal, defense attorney (and former Manhattan prosecutor)  Jeremy Saland, of Crotty Saland LLP, is skeptical. In fact, Saland suspects the charge that the “Wing Nut” acted with “depraved indifference to human life” may be a “classic overcharge”:

Although Mr. Slater's alleged actions, if true, are certainly peculiar at a minimum, and hazardous at worst, what is the crime here? Is the Queens County District Attorney's Office fishing for a serious offense to send a message to future would be felonious flight attendants?

The possible criminal charges that JetBlue flight attendant Steven Slater might face in Queens County for opening the emergency door and sliding onto the tarmac include the misdemeanors of Reckless Endangerment in the Second Degree, Criminal Mischief in the Fourth Degree and Criminal Trespass in the Third Degree. Unfortunately for Mr. Slater, it appears as if the Queens District Attorney's Office has not merely charged him with misdemeanors after his arrest stemming from the JFK incident. Instead, they have thrown something more serious against the wall hoping that it will stick. Mr. Slater now faces Reckless Endangerment in the First Degree and Criminal Mischief in the Second Degree. Both of these crimes are "D" felonies punishable by up to seven years in prison.

Charged with Reckless Endangerment in the First Degree (New York 120.25), Mr. Slater's actions must be more wanton than Reckless Endangerment in the Second Degree (New York Penal Law 120.20). In fact, the standard for that crime is that Mr. Slater must have acted with "depraved indifference to human life" and recklessly created a "grave risk of death to another person."

The criminal court complaint against Mr. Slater alleges that the basis for this charge is that the emergency escape slide is released with so much pressure that it could have killed one of the ground crew. Despite the allegation in the criminal complaint, where was the ground crew at the time? Had the plane stopped completely? Were there people working in the immediate "hittable" area from the slide? Did Mr. Slater know there would be or were people below the plane? What made his reckless actions "depraved" with a disregard for human life?

If there were no workers in the area and the people on board did not run the risk of death, again, what is the is the basis of his "depraved indifference to human life" that created this "grave risk of death?" Sadly, that question cannot be answered because the criminal complaint does not set forth whether people, if any, were in close proximity to the death machine (aka the slide). Could it be that nobody was near it at all? If they were, why is this not contained in the complaint? Unfortunately for the prosecution, factual impossibility is a defense to Reckless Endangerment. See People v. Galatro, 84 N.Y.2d 160 (1994). If nobody was actually in danger other than in a theoretical nature, Reckless Endangerment cannot be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

Read Jeremey Saland’s full analysis of the Slater case, including the criminal mischief and trespassing charges, at the New York Criminal Lawyer Blog.

Crotty Saland LLP is a New York criminal defense firm. Founded by two former Manhattan prosecutors, the New York criminal defense attorneys at Crotty Saland LLP represent the accused throughout the New York City region.

                                                                                                                              -posted by brian

Filed Under: Law

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