Every Fourth of July, I usually get a question or two concerning the state of the law on fireworks in New York State. Most of us grew up enjoying fireworks on Independence Day, but the fact of the matter is that our legislature has determined that most fireworks are simply too dangerous for the citizens of New York to possess. Although the simple possession of fireworks is illegal, it is not necessarily criminal unless there is evidence of the intent to distribute or sell.
A good place to begin understanding the law of fireworks is the definition section of the applicable statute, New York State Penal Law (“PL”) section 270.00.
Subsection 1 of the New York fireworks law distinguishes between “fireworks” and “dangerous fireworks” as follows:
Fireworks, loosely speaking, includes firecrackers, sparklers (yes even sparklers), or “other combustible or explosive of like construction, or any other substances or preparations containing the materials or chemical commonly found in found in what are sold as fireworks.
Dangerous Fireworks would include fireworks capable of causing serious physical injury — meaning an injury which has a substantial risk of death, or serious or protracted disfigurement, impairment of health, or loss or impairment of the function of any bodily organ — and which are (i) firecrackers containing more than fifty milligrams of any explosive substance, (ii) torpedoes, (iii) skyrockets and rockets including all devices which employ any combustible or explosive substance and which rise in the air during discharge, (iv) roman candles, (v) bombs, (vi) sparklers more than 10 inches in length or one-fourth of one inch in diameter, or (vii) chasers including all devices which dart or travel about the surface of the ground during discharge.”
Now there are specific exceptions to the definition of fireworks which contain carve-outs for (i) flares, (ii) toy pistols and the like and (iii) certain bank security devices.
The offenses section of PL 270.00 discuss the crimes associated with possessing or selling fireworks.
Simple Possession: If a person simply possesses less than $50 worth of either fireworks or dangerous fireworks in New York, he or she would be guilty of a violation (not a crime) punishable by up to 15 days in jail, a fine, or both. PL 270.00(2)(b)(i).
Offering for sale or furnishing: If a person offers fireworks or dangerous fireworks for sale or “furnishment,” i.e. making them available to others, not necessarily for compensation, he or she would be guilty of a class B misdemeanor, a crime which would lead to a permanent criminal record and punishable by up to 90 days in jail, a fine, or both. PL 270.00(2)(a).
Offering for sale or furnishing dangerous fireworks to a minor: However, if such person offers for sale or furnishes dangerous fireworks to someone under 18, the crime is elevated to a class A misdemeanor punishable by up to 1 year in jail, a fine, or both. Note that this “bump-up” provision only applies to dangerous fireworks. PL 270.00(2)(b)(ii).
Finally, if a person has previously has been convicted of the either “offering” offense noted above within five years of a current arrest, he or she may be subjected to yet another “bump-up” rule which could give rise to felony liability. PL 270.00(2)(b)(iii).
Thus, the takeaway from all of this is that anyone who possesses fireworks on the fourth of July or any other holiday, is subject to summonsing or arrest, depending on the kind and amount of fireworks possessed. Although many Americans are able to enjoy fireworks on Independence Day, New Yorkers are not among them. It is illegal to possess any kind of firework described in the statute, and the police (especially in New York City) will vigorously enforce.
If you have been issued a summons, arrested, or given a desk appearance ticket for a fireworks offense in New York, you should contact experienced criminal defense attorneys who are thoroughly familiar with the fireworks laws in New York.