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  • Can I Be Arrested If I Fly A Drone In New Mexico?

    Posted on by JACK MKHITARIAN

    A man flying a drone in New Mexico.By their very nature, drones are potentially dangerous. Consequently, in New Mexico, both state and federal laws regulate their operation. Although there are plenty of legal ways to operate a drone, you can indeed face arrest and even imprisonment if you break certain federal or state statutes. Today, we will look at the requirements for legally flying drones, as well as some penalties you might encounter if you fly your drone illegally.

    Regulations and Possible Penalties

    Here are some of the most common ways to violate a state or federal criminal statute when operating a drone.


    If you fly a commercial drone without first obtaining a pilot’s license. This can result in a fine of up to $250,000 (plus civil fines) and a prison sentence of up to three years.


    You break the law when you fail to register your drone when registration is required. Failure to register your drone can trigger up to $250,000 in fines and three years of imprisonment, plus civil penalties.

    Safety Rules

    You can be charged if you violate the rules of operating a drone that are found in FAA Part 107. Examples of such violations include flying recklessly or flying your drone over restricted airspace. The government could fine you up to $100,000 and imprison you for up to one year for flying over restricted airspace. Violating other drone safety rules could result in a $250,000 fine and three years of imprisonment. The government might also charge you with multiple criminal offenses for a single flight.

    Unwanted Surveillance Act

    If you use a drone to violate New Mexico’s Unwanted Surveillance Act, you could be charged with a petty misdemeanor. Such a charge can result in a fine of no more than $500 and less than six months in jail.

    Other Laws

    If you use a drone to violate a law that is not specifically designed for drones (e.g., negligently causing a fatal traffic accident, violating someone’s privacy, etc.), you could face a number of different charges and penalties. It all depends on the seriousness of the law you violated. The most severe violations could potentially result in imprisonment for decades.

    So far, neither state nor federal authorities have vigorously enforced drone regulations against individuals. That state of affairs can and probably will change soon, however. The federal government has already begun imposing hefty civil penalties against companies that violate drone laws.

    Consequently, it is important that you gain a basic understanding of how to comply with the law. Keep in mind that drone laws are changing rapidly, and that federal laws prevail over contrary state laws.


    Flying a drone in New Mexico requires a license. Licensing requirements vary depending on whether you are a commercial pilot or a recreational pilot.

    Commercial Users

    The commercial user of a drone must become a Part 107 certified drone pilot by:

    1. Registering online for an FAA Tracking Number (FTN);
    2. Creating an account in the FAA’s online test scheduling system;
    3. Paying a $175 fee and passing the Airmen Knowledge Test;
    4. Linking the test results to the license application;
    5. Submitting an application for a Remote Pilot Certification; and
    6. Passing a TSA background check.

    After you complete all of these requirements, the FAA will send you a Remote Pilot Certificate, which serves as your license.

    Recreational Pilots

    The requirements to fly a drone as a recreational pilot in New Mexico are relatively simple. You have to take a course and pass the Recreational UAS Safety Test (TRUST) to receive your Certificate of Completion. You can take the course and the test online, and neither is very time-consuming.


    Under the federal drone registration rules, you must register any drone that weighs over 0.55 pounds. You can use the streamlined, online system to register any drone that weighs more than 0.55 pounds but less than 55 pounds. This rule applies to both commercial and recreational users. You can register online, but keep in mind that separate registration requirements apply to larger aircraft. A drone registration costs only $5 and lasts for 3 years.

    The FAA requires you to mark your aircraft with its registration number. You must also show your registration to any state or local law enforcement official upon request, either in digital or print form. You must be at least 13 years old to register. If your drone is new, you must register it before its first flight.

    Rules of Drone Operation

    The FAA, and to a lesser extent New Mexico, have enacted statutory rules governing the operations of drones. The following is an incomplete list of these restrictions:

    • You cannot fly over restricted airspace (military bases, airports. etc.). Since the rules are complex and constantly changing, the FAA has issued an app that you can use to help you determine where it’s OK to fly.
    • You cannot fly higher than 400 feet above the ground.
    • You must keep your drone in view at all times.
    • You cannot fly in the dark without special training and equipment.
    • The speed limit is 100 miles per hour.
    • You cannot fly unless your visibility is at least three miles.
    • You must yield the right of way to other aircraft.
    • You cannot fly more than a single drone at a time.
    • You cannot fly over people or moving vehicles unless you have special qualifications.

    For complete information, please refer to the current FAA requirements.

    New Mexico’s Unwanted Drone Surveillance Act

    New Mexico state law prohibits you from using a drone to perform unwanted surveillance. You might violate this law, for example, by using a drone to watch a backyard sunbather or spy on your competitor’s business operations.

    Using a Drone to Violate New Mexico Laws of General Application

    As you can see, there is no easy answer to the question, Can I be arrested for flying a drone in New Mexico? The answer is neither straightforward nor simple. If you are arrested over the use of a drone in New Mexico, chances are the arrest will be for an offense that is not specifically directed at drones. For instance, you might get in trouble if you:

    • Interfere with the operation of an aircraft (that might get you in trouble with federal authorities as well). This law is not drone-specific, since using a hand-held laser can result in the same charge.
    • Fly your drone low over a highway, thereby causing a motorist to suffer a fatal crash. You might even be arrested for negligent homicide in such a scenario.
    • Use a drone as a “lookout” to assist in the commission of a crime such as robbery.
    • Use a drone to assault someone.

    There are a myriad of ways that you could get into trouble by using a drone to commit almost any crime.

    We Won’t Let Anybody Push You Around

    New Mexico Criminal Law Offices is a versatile criminal defense law firm that practices in just about every criminal law practice area, both state and federal. If you have been arrested or charged with a crime—whether or not it involves the use of a drone—now is not the time to hesitate. Call New Mexico Criminal Law immediately at (505) 200-2982 or contact us online for a free case evaluation.