The Italian Enthusiast Avoids an Italian Jail Sentence for Flying a Drone

Police Cars in Italy

If there is one thing that I have in common with Dante Alighieri and Leonardo da Vinci, it is that I too was a defendant in the Florentine criminal justice system.  In 1302, Dante was charged with political corruption; in 1476, Leonardo was charged with sodomy; and in 2017, the Italian Enthusiast was charged with flying a drone in the city center – the penalty of which could have landed me in the Italian slammer for 3-months.

Let’s face it: drones are undeniably one of the coolest inventions ever.  For those of us who have witnessed drones operate, and who have seen their breathtaking aerial video footage, it is no wonder why the drone consumer market has become a multi-billion dollar industry in recent years.  During my summer trip in 2017 after observing my brother-in-law operate his drone in Southern Italy, I became so enthusiastic about purchasing my own drone that in early August, I purchased my very first drone at the Apple store in Florence’s Piazza della Repubblica.

My first drone, and my last drone (at least in Italy)...

After charging my drone and gathering the courage to test it out, I walked a couple blocks away from my apartment and set flight.  The drone was in the air for less than 5 minutes when I lost it on the roof of a building belonging to the Italian police (Carabinieri).  At first, I surmised that the police would help me retrieve the device without issue, but after making contact with them and disclosing my dilemma, I quickly realized that something was wrong.

I was interrogated by a military police officer and two Carabinieri officers, one being Brigadiere Capo Maurizio Pagliocca.  At the conclusion of the interrogation, I was charged with violating Article 1231 of the Italian Code of Navigation, which states in translated form: “Anyone who fails to comply with a statutory provision or regulation or a measure legally issued by the competent authority in the field of navigation security shall be punished, if the fact does not constitute a more serious offense, with the arrest of up to three months or with a fine of up to €206.00“.  I was not placed under arrest, nor did I feel that any liberties were taken away from me; to the contrary the officers were all gentlemen and they in fact gave me back my lost drone (which I immediately returned to the Apple store).  Nevertheless, I soon after did what any prudent and responsible person would do when facing 3-months in the Italian slammer – I hired the best lawyer in Florence, ENNIO ZANI.

Zani explained that it is not permissible to fly a drone in the city without a permit, and he confirmed that my exposure per Article 1231 is exactly as the statute sets forth, and that even if I am only fined €206.00 (instead of the jail sentence), I would still have an Italian criminal record.  This was discouraging.  However, because Zani is well versed in Italian jurisprudence, he recommended that we petition the court for an oblazione (oblation).  The oblation, if granted by the Judge, involves the complete extinction of the charges, which therefore would result in not only a clean criminal record, but it would be as if the violation had never been committed.  I thought it was a great plan, and I authorized Zani to proceed with his petition for an oblazione.

Ennio Zani
Me with Florence's top lawyer, Ennio Zani, at Zani's office.

Finally, over a year and a half after the charges were filed against me, on April 18, 2019, Judge Dott. Mariaelisabetta Cataldo of the Tribunale di Firenze (Court of Florence), declared that the court will not proceed with the charges against me, and granted the oblation.  My case is now officially over, and my criminal record in Italy remains clean.  Thank you Avvocato Zani for a job well done!

The moral of the story here is threefold.  First, drone operators should always be aware of the navigation laws and drone regulations in the cities where they desire to fly; second, don’t think that just because you are a foreigner to Italy, that you will not be held accountable for violation of Italian laws, even for minor infractions; and third, if you ever get in trouble in Florence or need any legal work done, be sure to contact Ennio Zani.