At least 200 passengers have been convicted of felonies under the Patriot Act, often for behavior involving raised voices and profanity. Some experts say airlines are misusing the law.Ken at Popehat--who is a lawyer--shows why the Times is wrong:
This is the heart of the article’s legal illiteracy and/or willful scaremongering. People like Freeman are being prosecuted "under the PATRIOT Act" in only the most remote sense — they are being prosecuted under a statute that existed well before the PATRIOT Act, under elements established well before the PATRIOT Act, facing a sentencing guideline range not altered by the PATRIOT Act. . .(via Patterico)
As a reporter who had achieved a baseline of legal literacy would know, neither the airlines nor the FAA prosecute cases. They have no "wide latitude" to do so. All that the airlines and the FAA can do is decide when to call the FBI so that they show up when the plane lands, and whether to "refer the case for prosecution" -- that is, ask the local U.S. Attorney’s Office to prosecute the drunk lout. The U.S. Attorney, with the advice of the investigating FBI agent -- not the pilot or the airline or the FAA -- decides, based in part on guidelines established by the Department of Justice, whether the evidence warrants prosecution. That’s how Freeman, and everyone else prosecuted for interference with a flight crew, winds up on the hook. And despite the Times’ suggestion that there has been a sea change in the government’s approach to such cases, the United States Attorney’s Manual entry on interference with a flight crew has not been updated since 1999.