This Essay explores the recently resolved circuit split between the Ninth, Tenth, and Eleventh Circuits regarding the proper venue for crimes committed on an airplane during flight. In 2019, the Ninth Circuit held that the proper venue for trying an assault that happened midflight was the district over which the airplane was flying when the assault occurred. While flyover districts may seem like a surprising and inconvenient choice for venue, flyover districts are the only constitutionally proper venue for point-in-time offenses that occur on airplanes during flight. Furthermore, using current aviation tracking protocols and GPS technology, courts can pinpoint the location of a plane easily and accurately at any point during flight. The main obstacle to prosecuting criminal cases in flyover districts is not technological but human. Flight attendants lack established standards and procedures for documenting and reporting incidents as they occur, especially incidents of sexual assault. This Essay provides recommendations for standardized form recording and reporting procedures to enable courts to accurately and constitutionally prosecute crimes that occur during flight. While flyover districts may be judicially uneconomical, until Congress steps in to provide a statutory basis for prosecuting crimes outside the district in which they occurred, flyover districts remain the proper venue for crimes committed on an airplane during flight.
Cite as: Megan E. McCarthy, Where Should We Land?: Flyover Districts as Proper Venue for Crimes Committed in Air on Domestic Flights, 111 J. Crim. L. & Criminology Online 55 (2021).