The legal prohibition of gravity knives is one of the most vexing crimes
in New York state law. First, many people get arrested for this crime
without having any idea that their knife is illegal, and this is very
understandable given that “gravity knives” were for so long
so readily available throughout New York state at Army/Navy stores, Wal-Mart,
and even Home Depot. (For more information on knives and New York retailers,
see here). Second, there is serious disagreement about what is and is
not a true gravity knife, and the answer is not always so clear in a courtroom.
Indeed, we find that prosecution for this crime can differ wildly from
jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Nevertheless, our extensive experience with
these types of arrests allows us to fairly summarize the risks involved
in carrying certain types of weapons, and also describe what NYC police
officers consider to be a knife worthy of an arrest.
Penal Law Section 265.01, it is a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail to knowingly
possess a gravity knife. The stakes for these cases are even higher for
people who have criminal records. Indeed, anyone with a criminal record
- even just a previous conviction for a misdemeanor - is subject to possible
indictment for the Class D felony of
Criminal Possession of a Weapon in the Third Degree (Penal Law Section
265.02) for merely possessing a gravity knife. The penalties for a conviction
on this felony charge can include
multiple years in state prison.
A gravity knife is defined by
Penal Law Section 265.00 as "any knife which has a blade which is released from the handle
or sheath thereof by the force of gravity or the application of centrifugal
force which, when released, is locked into place by means of a button,
spring, lever or other device.”
Interestingly, the term "gravity knife" now applies to knives
that were not contemplated by the Legislature back when the prohibition
against them was enacted. Indeed, the original "gravity knife"
was a blade designed for paratroopers in World War II. Paratroopers were
obviously at risk for getting caught in trees and tangled up in their
parachutes, so they needed knives that they could open easily with one
hand to cut themselves free from those situations. To address this need,
the US Army designed a knife in which the long thin blade could slide
in and out of a hole at one end of the handle by simply turning the handle
upside down. In short, the paratrooper could push a button in the handle
and the blade would fall out of the handle via the force of gravity. Notably,
the blade did not fold open out of the handle - the blade was more akin
to the point of a clickable ballpoint pen in relation to the handle of
Nowadays, however, the vast majority of arrests for "gravity knives"
in NYC involve knives for which the blade folds out of the handle. The
classic folding knife - like a Swiss Army knife, for example - typically
requires two hands to open: one hand holds the handle, and the other hand
pries open the blade from the handle. However, the knife becomes a "gravity
knife" in the eyes of New York law if it can be "unfolded"
with one hand. Oftentimes, these "gravity knives" are really
nothing more than folding knives that became loose in the hinge holding
the blade in the handle. Some of these knives are classified by manufacturers
as "speed-assist knives" or "Kershaw knives," and
have internal springs that allow the blades to open easily and lock into
place. But many of these gravity knives are really nothing more than standard
folding knives - like Swiss army knives - in which the hinge connecting
the blade to the handle is loose enough for a person to flick the knife
open with one hand.
A possible gravity knife or "speed-assist folding knife".
Police officers have been trained to “test” knives for whether
they are gravity knives by flicking them downwards as hard as possible
in an effort to get the folding blade to come out and lock into place.
They may try four or five times before they are successful, but if they
can get it to work, then, chances are, you are going to get a
Desk Appearance Ticket (DAT) or outright arrested. We have seen officers at trial embarrass themselves
somewhat by failing to get the knife to open on the first few tries in
front of a jury, although we have never seen an officer fail altogether.
We have also been surprised to hear NYPD police officers say, under oath,
that they have been given the authority and discretion to let someone
go or merely issue a summons if the owner of a gravity knife claims to
use it for his job. However, there is no legal defense entitling someone
to avoid arrest or be found not guilty at trial based upon the knife being
used for work or being transported to or from work. (Unlike in some
other knife charges). There is, however, an exemption for certain licensed gravity knives
when engaging in hunting, trapping, or fishing activities (see Penal Law Section 265.20).
If you or a loved one have been arrested for possessing a gravity knife,
you should contact the experienced criminal defense attorneys at
Galluzzo & Arnone LLP. Their attorneys have worked with experts from the American Knife and
Tool Institute (AKTI) to better understand the manufacture and characteristics of various knives,
and thus are experts themselves when it comes to representing individuals
charged with possessing gravity knives and other illegal knives. They
numerous favorable dispositions for their clients and have also securedsurprising trial acquittals because of their technical expertise in this area.
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