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Florida files notice of appeal over ruling on pilots

State says it has jurisdiction in case of men accused of drinking before flight

Thomas Cloyd, right, and Christopher Hughes shown last year.
Thomas Cloyd, right, and Christopher Hughes shown last year.

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A federal judge ruled that Florida cannot prosecute two former America West pilots for operating an aircraft while allegedly intoxicated. CNN's John Zarrella reports (August 6)
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Complaints/arrest affidavits: Thomas Cloyd and Christopher Hughes  (FindLaw document, PDF format)external link

MIAMI, Florida (CNN) -- The state of Florida has said it intends to appeal a federal judge's ruling that prohibits the state from prosecuting two commercial pilots accused of operating an aircraft while intoxicated.

Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist filed the state's notice of appeal with the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, Georgia, on Tuesday. No briefing schedule or oral argument has been scheduled.

Last week, a federal judge in Miami ruled that Florida could not prosecute the two former America West pilots because their conduct was governed by federal rules (Full story).

Florida state officials have argued that they have jurisdiction over the case.

The pilots, Christopher Hughes and Thomas Cloyd, were at the controls of an America West jetliner on July 1, 2002, with 124 passengers on board a Miami-to-Phoenix flight when Miami-Dade police recalled the plane and arrested both Cloyd and Hughes.

A security guard had called police after the pilots had gone through a checkpoint. America West fired Hughes and Cloyd.

While the pilots could be prosecuted in federal court, many legal experts believe they won't be because their blood alcohol levels fell below the federal level for criminal prosecution.

Federal Judge Patricia Seitz issued a written order last week upholding the pilots' motion to dismiss the state charges against them. The order said federal law pre-empts state law in the area of pilot qualifications where there was no loss of life, injury or damage to property.

The pilots had taken their case to federal court because they believed FAA regulations superseded state law in their case. FAA rules prohibit a pilot to fly with a blood alcohol level greater than .04. Federal law allows criminal prosecution at .10.

Both Cloyd, whose blood alcohol was .091 percent at the time of the arrests, and Hughes, whose level was .084, were above the state DUI standard of .08, but below the federal DUI standard of .10.

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