Law Firm Partner Faces Criminal Charges After Drunken Outburst On Flight From Charlotte

Charlotte DWI Lawyer Brad Smith answers the question: What are the long term effects of being convicted of a crime?


A partner at a major national law firm is currently experiencing the fallout from a series of bad decisions she made during a recent flight from Charlotte, NC to London. The case illustrates not only the dangers of mixing alcohol and prescription sleep drugs, but also the serious penalties that can result from misbehavior onboard an airplane.


Airplane Charlotte Criminal Lawyer Mecklenburg DWI AttorneyThe attorney, Sara Buffett, boarded a late night flight for London and took her seat in first class. Things got off to a bad start when the plane’s takeoff was delayed for nearly an hour. Buffett decided to take a sleep medication that she used to help with her insomnia to try and get some sleep during the long flight. For reasons that are still unclear, she then followed the pill with at least three glasses of wine. Making matters even worse, she then refused to eat dinner.


The pill and the wine must not have interacted well, given that only a few hours later the pilot was forced to turn the plane around and make an unscheduled landing in Philadelphia. Reports indicate that Buffett became aggressive with the flight crew and, in addition to causing damage to her own seat, attempted to break the aircraft window. Flight attendants tried unsuccessfully to restrain her and needed help from passengers to wrap her legs in tape and tie her hands with plastic ties.


Once the plane landed in Philly, police officers removed her forcibly from the cabin. Buffet has now been charged with intimidating a flight crew member and interfering with a flight crew member’s duties. Though the behavior was certainly not good, many people might be surprised to learn that such charges can result in not only a stiff fine, but potential imprisonment for up to 20 years.


Buffett was specifically charged with a violation of 49 U.S. Code Section 46504, which states:


An individual on an aircraft in the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States who, by assaulting or intimidating a flight crew member or flight attendant of the aircraft, interferes with the performance of the duties of the member or attendant or lessens the ability of the member or attendant to perform those duties, or attempts or conspires to do such an act, shall be fined under title 18, imprisoned for not more than 20 years, or both. However, if a dangerous weapon is used in assaulting or intimidating the member or attendant, the individual shall be imprisoned for any term of years or for life.


Thankfully for Buffett, the only “weapon” used during her tirade was the remote control from the in-flight entertainment consoles. Reports indicate she used the remote to smash the aircraft window. Though the remote could have eventually caused damage, it would be difficult to imagine a prosecutor making the case that it qualifies as a dangerous weapon. Given this, she won’t need to worry about a possible life sentence for her mid-flight outburst.


If you or someone you know has been charged with a crime and is in need of the services of an experienced criminal defense attorney, please give me a call to set up an appointment today. Arnold & Smith, PLLC is a Charlotte based criminal defense, traffic violation defense and civil litigation law firm servicing Charlotte and the surrounding area. If you or someone you know need legal assistance, please contact Arnold & Smith, PLLC today at (704) 370-2828   or find additional resources here.



About the Author

Brad Smith Charlotte Criminal and DWI LawyerBrad Smith is a Managing Member of Arnold & Smith, PLLC, where he focuses on the areas of criminal defense, DUI / DWI defense and traffic defense.

Mr. Smith was born and raised in Charlotte. He began his legal career as an Assistant District Attorney before entering private practice in 2006.

In his free time, Mr. Smith enjoys traveling, boating, golf, hiking and spending time with his wife and three children.






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