Can you use airport amnesty bins to erase certain crimes?
October 5, 2009 8:07 AM   Subscribe

Where can I find the written laws that regulate amnesty bins at airports? (Amnesty bins are the bins right before the metal detectors in some airports where you can, according to signs, throw away anything that you can't take through security without penalty.) And, related, are these actually legally binding, or just a gentlemen's agreement? Could someone hypothetically put a stolen painting in the bin, and be free of legal consequence of having stolen it?
posted by Damn That Television to Travel & Transportation (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Er... I don't think they're actually "amnesty" bins in a legal sense, they're just called that; they don't have a legal standing, they're just placed by the TSA so you can dispose of things that are legal to possess but which cannot be carried through security. I suspect the name was chosen to reassure people that if, say, you realize at the last minute that you have a pocketknife in your carryon, you can ditch it without fear of someone saying "hey, he had a pocketknife!" and vanishing you to Gitmo.
posted by Tomorrowful at 8:10 AM on October 5, 2009


Yes, as Tomorrowful says, the "amnesty" here refers to the airport security, not to law enforcement in general. I can put my can of hairspray there and not get harassed by airport security; if I put my eight-ball of cocaine there, I can expect to get arrested by the actual police.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:14 AM on October 5, 2009


http://www.flypittsburgh.com/what_to_expect_at_the_airport

"For passenger convenience, amnesty bins are located at the security checkpoint. Passengers carrying prohibited items such as mace, pepper spray, knives, scissors or tools can place banned items in an amnesty bin to avoid security line delays or possible penalties. Items put in the amnesty bins cannot be returned."

This seems to imply that there is a legal standing of sorts, but yeah, Tomorrowful, what you're saying is almost certainly true. I just can't find any official TSA code about this, and for them to have any type of bins, even just bins to dispose of liquids before going through, I'm sure the details to the whole process are written down somewhere.
posted by Damn That Television at 8:28 AM on October 5, 2009


Please note that is says "prohibited" items, not "illegal" items (referring to rules, not laws). The items listed are CLEARLY not illegal. It also says they are there to avoid "delays" and "penalties", they are not "get out of jail free cards".
posted by blue_beetle at 8:37 AM on October 5, 2009


Blue_bettle, that's actually wrong -- mace, one of the items listed, is frequently illegal in different states (also was used by the 9/11 hijackers), and there are many, many laws about knife length/type that vary from city to city. In fact, all of those items are clearly ILLEGAL in different situations, which is why I'm trying to find the specific laws that detail, in exact language, what these amnesty bins actually allow for.
posted by Damn That Television at 9:10 AM on October 5, 2009


The line delays mentioned are not the possibility of you getting arrested and spending 5-10 in prison. I too think you're being to creative in your reading of the sign (which unfortunately makes this question more boring than it could be).
posted by gensubuser at 9:41 AM on October 5, 2009


Sometimes a bin is just a bin. I think common sense should be enough to answer this question.
posted by jeffamaphone at 9:52 AM on October 5, 2009


The "legal standing" is probably "prosecutorial discretion". In other words, prosecuting people who dump stuff in the "amnesty bins" for knife length/mace violations is probably not something that prosecutors would bother with. (And the negative publicity from doing so would likely outweigh the kudos they'd get for putting such a dangerous criminal behind bars.)

I think it's unlikely that there would be a law which actually preempts (other) federal or state criminal laws, because from a law-enforcement perspective, there's little need to grant true "amnesty".

The "amnesty" language I was thinking of as an analog is child abandonment "safe havens". So for instance, the Oregon version of this law says that child abandonment is a Class C felony, but "It is an affirmative defense to a charge of violating [law against child abandonment] that the child was left in accordance with ["safe haven" provisions]."
posted by QuantumMeruit at 10:08 AM on October 5, 2009


In fact, all of those items are clearly ILLEGAL in different situations, which is why I'm trying to find the specific laws that detail, in exact language, what these amnesty bins actually allow for.

Realistically, are you actually expecting there to be a situation where you could run into an airport and dump a kilo of coke in the box, cops chasing behind you, and as soon as it drops into the box the cops skid to a halt, the lead one holding his arms to his sides to stop the others from falling into you, saying "Whoa boys... it's in the box now. It's out of our hands. Out of our hands...."

This is preposterous.
posted by odinsdream at 10:23 AM on October 5, 2009 [4 favorites]


Correct me if I'm wrong, but another way to put the question would be: what makes these things any different from "trash bins"? My guess would be: nothing.
posted by Wood at 10:32 AM on October 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


No, it's not preposterous. There are gun buy-back programs in major cities all over the country where you can walk up, give the police an unlicensed, unregistered, completely illegal in every way firearm and they will give you hundreds of dollars, no questions asked, no ID required. So let me restate that in a different way: there are clear and numerous instances where the government not only looks the other way and grants amnesty for turning over illegally acquired, illegally owned, and illegally carried weapons, but gives you money to do so.

Thank you, QuantumMeruit, for actually answering my question -- that's a very interesting comparison.
posted by Damn That Television at 10:35 AM on October 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


Correct me if I'm wrong, but another way to put the question would be: what makes these things any different from "trash bins"? My guess would be: nothing.

TSA doesn't have a nice little sideline auctioning off the contents of trash cans.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 10:35 AM on October 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


No, it's not preposterous. There are gun buy-back programs in major cities all over the country where you can walk up, give the police an unlicensed, unregistered, completely illegal in every way firearm and they will give you hundreds of dollars, no questions asked, no ID required. So let me restate that in a different way: there are clear and numerous instances where the government not only looks the other way and grants amnesty for turning over illegally acquired, illegally owned, and illegally carried weapons, but gives you money to do so.

I see your point, but if the person possessing that gun were a criminal suspect, then the police would detain him, not give him cash for his weapon. Similarly, a person being chased by police through an airport with a kilo of coke in their arms isn't going to instantly lose their suspect status by ditching the drug.
posted by zarq at 10:57 AM on October 5, 2009


1) As I mentioned, most gun buy-back programs have no ID required. That's the whole point of amnesty in this situation as I understand it: it turns a blind eye for a greater good. If word got out that police were arresting people at gun buy-backs, it's not too much of a stretch to think that a lot of people wouldn't do them in the future.

2) I don't know why people fixated on the "stolen painting" hyperbole/joke in the post, rather than the actual goddamn question, but as far as the coke thing goes: yes, of course they wouldn't actually do that. And I never suggested they would, or even mentioned coke. All I want to know is if there exists a set of FAA/TSA/Homeland Security guidelines outlining the actual legal status of things disposed in the amnesty bin and for some reason many people seem to view that question as not good.
posted by Damn That Television at 11:48 AM on October 5, 2009


No.
posted by Wood at 12:06 PM on October 5, 2009


All I want to know is if there exists a set of FAA/TSA/Homeland Security guidelines outlining the actual legal status of things disposed in the amnesty bin and for some reason many people seem to view that question as not good.

I think that some of the answers (including mine and Tomorrowful's) are pointing out that they most likely do not have such a set of guidelines, because the "amnesty" referred to is not legal amnesty, but amnesty from further questioning from airport security. Since they're not trying to provide amnesty for illegal objects, but rather for objects that, although legal, are prohibited on planes, it seems like it would be otiose to have those guidelines.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:15 PM on October 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


> I don't know why people fixated on the "stolen painting" hyperbole/joke in the post, rather than the actual goddamn question

Protip: don't include in the question things you don't want people to address.
posted by Horselover Fat at 9:18 PM on October 5, 2009


http://www.flypittsburgh.com/what_to_expect_at_the_airport

Passengers carrying prohibited items such as mace, pepper spray, knives, scissors or tools can place banned items in an amnesty bin to avoid security line delays or possible penalties.

...

mace, one of the items listed, is frequently illegal in different states


This list of 'prohibited' items came from the Pittsburgh airport site. All of these items, including mace, are legal in Pittsburgh (from what I could find). You just can't take them on a plane. I think the use of amnesty in this case is a misnomer: it's just a trashcan.

Gun turn-in programs are a special case. There is a don't-ask-don't-tell amnesty policy because it has been decided that it is in the public's best interest to get as many guns off the streets as possible.
posted by Who_Am_I at 6:59 AM on October 7, 2009


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