We have encountered countless people that have been surprised to discover
that their knives were illegal. Indeed, for a long time, many knives that
are technically illegal in New York were readily available for sale in
stores like Home Depot. To this day, many can still be easily purchased
online and in various hardware stores, camping supply stores, and Army/Navy
stores. As a result, there is a tremendous amount of confusion, and even
some outright disagreement, about what constitutes an illegal knife in New York.
The most common illegal knife charge in New York is Penal Law § 265.01,
or Criminal Possession of a Weapon in the Fourth Degree, a Class A misdemeanor.
A person is guilty of this charge when he or she possesses any... gravity
knife, switchblade knife, pilum ballistic knife, metal knuckle knife,
or cane sword (among other items). The most typical arrests are for so-called
gravity knives and switchblade knives.
A gravity knife is specifically defined in Penal Law Section 265.00(5)
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 in place by means of a button, spring,
lever or other device."
Knife manufacturers, enthusiasts, and historians would correctly point
out that the gravity knife was originally designed for paratroopers in
World War II. Paratroopers needed a blade that they could open with just
one hand to free themselves from entanglements in trees. Thus, the gravity
knife had a long thin blade that would fall out of the top of its handle
when released, and lock into place. Unlike so many of the knives seized
by police in New York nowadays as purported "gravity knives,"
there was no lever or folding action to the original gravity knife. This
video below demonstrates the traditional "gravity knife" originally
used by paratroopers.
However, New York state courts and law enforcement have expanded this definition
of the gravity knife to include folding knives that can be flicked open
with one hand. Even knives that were not originally designed to flick
open with one hand can still be illegal if the folding hinge has become
so loose as to allow a skilled police officer to flick it open forcefully
with one hand. The person in the video below demonstrates this wrist flick
with a folding knife that would certainly be considered a "gravity
knife" under Penal Law Section 265.00(5). Note: physicists might
argue that the actual force being used to open the knife is centripetal
force, rather than centrifugal force, but to our knowledge this argument
has never been successful in a New York criminal court.
SPEED ASSIST KNIVES AND SWITCHBLADES
Another confusing situation involves "speed-assist" knives, sometimes
colloquially referred to as Kershaw knives. These type of knives can be
opened with one hand by pushing on a button that triggers an internal
spring that locks the blade quickly and easily into place. Though these
are not the sorts of items that we traditionally think of as "switchblades,"
we have seen individuals charged with possessing switchblades under Penal
Law 265.01 for having them. Indeed, one of our attorneys tried just such
a case before a jury (and ultimately achieved an acquittal by convincing
the jury that it was not a switchblade). Nonetheless, law enforcement
officers - especially police officers in the City - continue to treat
these types of knives as illegal switchblades.
Below is a link to a video showing various "traditional switchblades" at work.
Below is a link to the "speed-assist knife," oftentimes mistakenly
charged as a switchblade in New York.
Below is a video comparing the automatic switchblade to the speed-assist knife.
These issues can prove especially harrowing for individuals that have criminal
records, because any individual with a prior criminal conviction - even
an old misdemeanor - found to be in possession of such an illegal knife
can be charged with a felony. Penal Law Section 265.02 (Criminal Possession
of a Weapon in the Third Degree) makes it a Class D felony to commit the
crime of Criminal Possession of a Weapon in the Fourth Degree (subsections
1, 2, 3, or 5) in cases in which the defendant has previously been convicted
of any crime. Thus, a person with a previous old conviction for a single
minor misdemeanor could potentially face a jail sentence in excess of
one year for simply possessing one of these illegal blades.
NYC Administration Code § 10-133 prohibits the possession of the two
main types of knives. First, subdivision (b) makes it illegal to carry
a knife with a blade length of four inches or more. Obviously, the average
chef's knife has a blade that long, as do many folding knives used
for hunting or fishing. Fortunately, subdivision (b) does permit you to
carry such a knife "to or from a place where it is used for hunting,
fishing, camping, hiking, picnicking or any employment, trade or occupation
customarily requiring the use of such knife." In our experience,
though, police officers are frequently not persuaded by the explanation
that the knife is used at work to open boxes, and will issue a ticket
anyway. You can also avoid a conviction for this violation if you can
show that the knife "is being transported directly to or from a place
of purchase, sharpening or repair, packaged in such a manner as not to
allow easy access to such knife while it is transported". So, if
you just bought a long kitchen knife from Bed Bath & Beyond, you can
safely take it home so long as it remains in the package. There are various
other exceptions for the four-inch blade rule that are rarely applied
But even knives with blades shorter than four inches can still get you
in trouble if they are publicly displayed or worn. Subdivision (c) of
NYC A.C. § 10-133 makes it illegal "for any person in a public
place, street or park, to wear outside of his or her clothing or carry
in open view any knife with an exposed or unexposed blade unless such
person is actually using such knife for a lawful purpose as set forth
in subdivision d of this section." Basically, this means that should
not carry your clip-on knife on the outside of your clothing.
The full list of exceptions to the rule prohibiting publicly displayed
knives and knives with blades of four inches or more is in subsection
(d) of Administrative Code 10-133, and includes: 1) persons in the military
service of the state of New York when duly authorized to carry or display
knives pursuant to regulations issued by the chief of staff to the governor;
(2) police officers and peace officers as defined in the criminal procedure
law; (3) participants in special events when authorized by the police
commissioner; (4) persons in the military or other service of the United
States, in pursuit of official duty authorized by federal law; (5) emergency
medical technicians or voluntary or paid ambulance drivers while engaged
in the performance of their duties; or (6) any person displaying or in
possessin of a knife otherwise in violation of this section when such
knife (a) is being used for or transported immediately to or from a place
where it is used for hunting, fishing, camping, hiking, picnicking or
any employment, trade or occupation customarily requiring the use of such
knife; or (b) is displayed or carried by a member of a theatrical group,
drill team, military or para-military unit or veterans organization, to,
from , or during a meeting, parade or other performance or practice for
such event, which customarily requires the carrying of such knife; or
(c) is being transported directly to or from a place of purchase, sharpening
or repair, packaged in such manner as not to allow easy access to such
knife while it is transported; or (d) is displayed or carried by a duly
enrolled member of the Boy or Girl Scouts of American or a similar organization
or society and such display or possession is necessary to participate
in the activities of such organization or society.
If you or a loved one have been arrested or given a
Desk Appearance Ticket or summons for a knife offense in New York, you should strongly consider contacting the experienced criminal defense
attorneys at Galluzzo & Arnone LLP. They have had significant success
in defending against all types of knife possession charges and are prepared
to assist you as well.
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