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Sunday, May 19, 2024 | Back issues
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Airport Worker Can’t Undermine Weapon Law

(CN) - An airport worker who helped a JetBlue passenger sneak a small pocket knife past security and onto his flight cannot overturn his conviction, the 9th Circuit ruled Wednesday.

On his way to a JetBlue flight out of Long Beach, Calif., in 2011, Edward Henderson left some luggage at curbside check-in and proceeded to security.

There, Transportation Safety Administration officers refused to let the passenger board with a 2.5-inch pocket knife they found in his carry-on.

Benjamin Harris, an employee with the skycap company Airport Bags, accompanied Henderson while he went to the JetBlue ticketing desk.

With takeoff imminent, JetBlue agent Alem Habtay told Henderson he would need to pay $30 to check the knife separately.

Henderson refused, and Harris quietly offered to help. Since Harris had security clearance to enter boarding areas without passing a TSA checkpoint, he said he could carry the knife past a security checkpoint and give it back to Henderson in a restroom.

Suspicious that Harris and Henderson would sneak the weapon through, Habtay, the JetBlue worker, alerted a supervisor, who in turn confronted Henderson on the plane and made him hand over the knife.

Henderson made his flight, but Harris was indicted. Prosecutors charged him with conspiracy to carry a concealed dangerous weapon on an aircraft, and aiding and abetting the carrying of a concealed dangerous weapon on an aircraft.

Harris claimed that the law is unclear about whether such a small knife is a "dangerous weapon," but a federal judge in Los Angeles refused to dismiss the charges.

Reserving his right to appeal that finding, Harris pleaded guilty.

A three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit found the law perfectly clear and affirmed the conviction from Pasadena on Wednesday.

A knife on an airplane is dangerous, however small its blade, the court ruled, pointing to precedent in two similar cases. One case involved a starter pistol, and the other related to a belt buckle with a knife that had a 3-inch blade.

"A pocketknife can inflict, at a minimum, permanent injury," Judge Susan Graber wrote for the court. "It can incapacitate, at least temporarily, key personnel on an aircraft. In the confines of an aircraft, its display has the potential to provoke a violent response. Unlike the starter pistol in Dishman, the pocketknife at issue here is 'readily adaptable' to a dangerous use, even if it is not intended for that use. No alteration is required to enable it to inflict serious bodily harm. Therefore, Wallace and Dishman suggest that a pocketknife with a blade of just under two-and-a-half inches is a 'dangerous weapon' aboard an aircraft."

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