When Unlawful is Just Plain Awful: The Unintentional Consequences of Many PL 265 Weapon Possession Arrests in New York

While there may be some people on the extreme side of the Second Amendment that believe there should be zero regulation in any capacity of firearm possession and use by our government, it is likely most people agree that the laws of New York and other states serve a significant purpose and are of great value to our safety. Similarly, the New York State legislature codified crimes as they relate to certain knives and other objects they deemed “weapons” worthy of criminal prosecution by their mere possession. Again, the purpose is noble and clear. Neither a judge nor a criminal lawyer, or for that matter a prosecutor, needs to tell you that knives and firearms in the hands of wrongdoers or those who seek to perpetrate crimes demands our collective attention. That said, however, countless visitors to New York City and residents of New York and other regions of the state are arrested, prosecuted, or indicted for violations of Article 265 of the New York Penal Law when they had zero reason to believe or know the possession of their “weapon” constituted a misdemeanor or felony in New York State. This blog entry will not address legally owned firearms transported by out of state residents through LaGuardia or JKF Airports presumably pursuant to TSA guidelines in violation of New York Penal Law 265.03, Second Degree Criminal Possession of a Weapon, but crimes involving certain knives that are defacto violations of New York Penal Law 265.01(1), Fourth Degree Criminal Possession of a Weapon.

While New York Penal Law 265.01(2) is a class “A” misdemeanor where one uses a dangerous instrument or weapon with the intent to use it unlawfully against another person –  cause a physical injury, menace or hurt another person, for example – PL 265.01(2) differs drastically from New York Penal Law 265.01(1), the subject of this bog. PL 265.01(1), in relevant part, makes it a crime in New York to possess a gravity knife, one that flips open with the force of gravity, no matter how you intended on using that knife. Carpenter, electrician, construction foreman? Makes no difference. Using it to cut cable, open letters, carve art from a block of wood? Still doesn’t matter. Bought it at Home Depot, Lowes Hardware, True Value, Ace or your neighborhood hardware store? Strike three….doesnt matter. Well, if its sold on Amazon, Jet or any other online dealer it must be legal, right? After all, how can your local hardware store, a national hardware chain or Amazon online sell you contraband in New York? Wouldn’t law enforcement tell them or mandate that they remove these items from their shelves? That should give you cover against criminal prosecution. You guessed it. It simply doesn’t matter where you purchased the Benchmade, Gerber, Leatherman or Spyderco. If it is a gravity knife and you have it in your bag at the airport or clipped to the inside of your pant or jean pocket it is a crime punishable by as much as one year in jail.

So, how can I say on one hand there is a greater good to achieve by regulating weapon possession and then refer to the crime of Fourth Degree Criminal Possession of a Weapon as awful? The problem with the statute and its practical application by the NYPD and potentially other law enforcement agencies as well as the prosecution of this crime by District Attorney’s Offices is that generally speaking even where a Desk Appearance Ticket is issued, upon arraignment in court prosecutors do not make offers. This means that in many counties throughout the New York City region, when you see a judge there will be no lesser or reduced crime offered. You will be asked to plead guilty and accept a criminal record. Obviously, no competent criminal defense attorney would acquiesce and advise you to shrug your shoulders and plead guilty to a class “A” misdemeanor that will never be expunged. However, whether you are living in Park Slope, on the Upper East Side or you are visiting from Kansas, California or Massachusetts on your way to a fishing trip in the Catskills or Adirondacks, there is a very strong likelihood you are coming back to court to fight the case.

Fortunately, most prosecutors on an individual level are willing to entertain submissions and dialogue as to why a particular weapon crime for possession of a gravity knife should not be treated as if it was a horrendous weapon as reflected in the strict liability nature of the statute. Unfortunately, even if your criminal attorney is able to advocate for a dismissal through an ACD, there will be a cost to you, whether it is time, travel, financial or simply mental health, as your case winds through the criminal justice system.

Make no mistake. The law services a purpose. Sadly, the unintended consequences is that “every day people”, both residents and visitors, are arrested after they purchase a gravity knife legally from an online seller, local hardware store or other business, put that knife to use at work or recreation, and unwittingly possess what is considered “contraband” and criminal in the State of New York.

Crotty Saland PC is a New York criminal defense firm founded by two former Manhattan prosecutors. Crotty Saland PC represents honorable and reputable men and women who by no fault of their own possess knives legally purchased in New York and firearms legally purchased, possessed and registered in other jurisdictions without any reason to believe they have committed a crime in New York.

To learn more about these crimes of both firearm and knife possession at New York City airports, in vehicles and the streets of New York as a commuter, visitor, resident or tourist, review the abundant information found through the links here and the blogs and websites listed below.

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