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 (see below).
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.