You are waiting in line at JFK or LaGuardia to check your bags and return home to Texas, Florida, Ohio, Arizona, Nevada, Georgia or any other state in the Union. Thinking nothing of it, you declare your firearm to the Delta, JetBlue, American or other airline agent. Not alarmed in the slightest, the agent tells you to wait…and you do just that. Shortly thereafter, police officers with the Port Authority Police Department approach you. Now becoming slightly more alarmed, if you are reading this blog entry you know exactly what happens next.
I have drafted many blog entries and as a New York criminal defense lawyer represented many clients accused of violating New York Penal Law 265.01, Fourth Degree Criminal Possession of a Weapon. Usually the crime involves either a resident of New York or someone visiting from outside New York City who is unfamiliar with the strict standards of New York crimes involving knives. The law is superficially clear in its application even if it is not known to most New Yorkers. NY PL 265.01(1) codifies the class “A” misdemeanor of knowingly possessing a knife that is either a gravity knife or a switchblade knife. No, this entry will not dwell on the often overreaching impact the crime has on people who use gravity knives at work, purchased them at hardware stores or Amazon.Com, or have no criminal history and completely lacked any nefarious intent. Instead, this entry will review the less common charge of NY PL 265.01(2).
It is well settled, and worth getting out of the way right from the start, that operability or a working weapon is generally an essential part of a Criminal Possession of a Weapon charge and crime pursuant to New York Penal Law Article 265. In substance, this means that if a person is accused of possessing a firearm illegally, one of the central elements it that the firearm – gun, pistol, revolver – actually be capable of letting off a shot. This is most easily confirmed through a ballistics test by the police department. If the firearm is incapable of shooting and the ballistics test confirms this failure, then the firearm will not qualify as a firearm for the purpose of certain sections of Criminal Possession of a Weapon. Should it not be operable, your criminal defense attorney would move for a dismissal of the Grand Jury indictment or the criminal court complaint.
While the above may seem great to an accused person, his or her criminal defense lawyer may have some bad news . Yes, an indictment or criminal court complaint may not be legally sufficient, for example, charging New York Penal Law 265.01, New York Penal Law 265.02 or New York Penal Law 265.03, but unless you are solely charged with possessing a weapon or dangerous instrument, does inoperability mean that all other crimes that you face that are associated with that weapon fail as well? The short answer is a resounding “no.”
A gun is not always a gun in the eyes of the law. A firearm is not always a firearm as it is defined by New York criminal court judges. An arrest for a can of mace, you guessed it, is not always a can of mace for the purpose of New York Penal Law 265.01. Confusing, right? Maybe not. A critical factor or element to weapon crimes in New York is whether or not that particular weapon is operable. It is not merely enough to possess a firearm, a “dangerous knife” or other “dangerous or deadly instrument” with the intent to use it against another person if operation is required. Certainly, these are elements to PL 265.01(2), but as your criminal lawyer should be able to explain to you, if the object in question is not operable, then you very well could, and likely should, have grounds to seek a dismissal of the Criminal Possession of a Weapon charge for which you were arrested.
New York Penal Law 265.01(1), Fourth Degree Criminal Possession of a Weapon, delineates the type of weapons that are per se, aka, automatically, weapons in New York based on the law no matter how you intended on using them. If you knowingly possess the weapon, then you are guilty. No, you are not merely walking into a courtroom with your criminal lawyer and pleading guilty to a misdemeanor crime that is accompanied by a sentence of up to one year in jail, but you are guilty barring certain defenses, such as challenging the probable cause for your arrest and how you were searched. This is because there is a strict liability standard at trial assuming the prosecution proves their case beyond a reasonable doubt. Looking at it slightly differently, you always have the ability to challenge an arrest on legal, factual, evidentiary, and mitigation grounds, but without any defense, a jury or judge can find you guilty if the People meet their burden.
Putting aside this strict liability standard and whether or not the NYPD and District Attorney should be prosecuting honest, hard working, regular people who legally purchase one of these gravity knifes at Home Depot, Amazon, a local sporting goods store or any other retailer having no reason to believe that in New York it is a crime to possess such a “weapon,” other types of blades and objects can be considered dangerous instruments and weapons depending on the matter they are possessed or used. The statutory authority to prosecute these crimes is also Fourth Degree Criminal Possession of a Weapon, but is found in New York Penal Law 265.01(2). This entry will address a recent court decision examining the legal sufficiency of a PL 265.01(2) arrest and prosecution in connection to the possession of a box cutter.
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. Continue reading
It almost seems as if every day we read in the papers or see in the news that a person used a firearm to kill innocent victims. Simply, such acts are horrendous and deplorable. Law enforcement should be commended for their efforts to protect all of us. With this in mind, it is also important that the courts and criminal defense lawyers make sure that prosecutors and the police respect and maintain their burden to follow the law as well whether a violation or wrongful arrest is malicious or unintentional. While most people would argue that knives are not guns in terms of potential dangers, both have the ability to be devastating weapons. In part, this is likely why District Attorney’s Offices in New York City and elsewhere take a hard stance against gravity knife and other weapon crimes in violation of Fourth Degree Criminal Possession of a Weapon, New York Penal Law 265.01. Whether you were issued a Desk Appearance Ticket or you have an extensive criminal history, do not expect to be offered any deal at your arraignment. More often than not, a charge of PL 265.01 remains in place until and if your criminal lawyer can articulate why prosecutors should deviate from their guidelines.
Why is all of the above relevant? The law in New York doesn’t distinguish between certain knives illegally purchased that are “blatantly” dangerous and those that were purchased as a tool at a hardware store. At bottom, a gravity knife is a gravity knife no matter where you purchase it. As a misdemeanor, this crime is punishable by as much as one year in jail and will stick you with a permanent criminal record upon conviction. Knowing all of this and reading through a bit of my rant, let’s now address the Penal Law and the crime of Fourth Degree Criminal Possession of a Weapon where the arrest charge of PL 265.01(2). Does the strict liability standard apply to all knives and if not, when is a “regular” knife possessed in violation of the New York Penal Law?
Criminal lawyers or not, we can all argue and address the intentions and practical applications of the Second Amendment. Further, there are many of us who would agree that an AR-15 is not a reasonable weapon to have in your home or for hunting. That said, most weapon and gun crimes in New York are not of the assault rifle variety and tied to a complex Second Amendment issue. Each and every illegal firearm case prosecuted in New York may share certain traits, such as the potential for violating Second Degree Criminal Possession of a Firearm, but they are all far from the same. In the eyes of the law, however, while facts may be different, whether you possessed a revolver with the serial numbers scratched off, a glock in an ankle holster you purchased in cash from a guy you met on the street, or you are a licensed firearm owner visiting New York from Alabama, Texas, Ohio, Florida or another state, pistol, gun and weapon crimes pursuant to New York Penal 265.03 are offenses that carry a minimum of 3.5 year in prison upon conviction. Make no mistake. New York means business when it comes to illegal firearm possession and on its face an arrest for PL 265.03 is one of the most serious offenses in the New York criminal code. While everyone is entitled to a defense, police must follow proper procedure and prosecutors maintain the burden of proof, if you are an otherwise legal firearm owner arrested for a felony relating to that weapon, ensuring that you are not lumped into the same category as blatant abusers of the law who may possesses their guns for malicious purposes is critical. In the arena of a firearm arrest at JFK Airport or LaGuardia Airport in New York City’s Queens County, this could not be more true.
Most arrests involving Criminal Possession of a Weapon in the Fourth Degree, New York Penal Law 265.01, likely involve subsection one of this crime. This offense, PL 265.01(1) is the strict liability crime. That is, if you knowingly possess any weapon and it is of the type identified in this subsection – the most common is a gravity knife or switchblade knife, but others are set forth – then you are guilty of a class “A” misdemeanor. Distinct from subsection one, but an equally serious misdemeanor crime punishable by one year in jail, Fourth Degree Criminal Possession of a Weapon, PL 265.01(2), involves the possession of any weapon or dangerous instrument with the intent to use it unlawfully against another person. So, if your possession is not automatically a crime due to the nature of the weapon and the law requires that you have the intent to use it unlawfully against another person, how do the police establish a violation of PL 265.01(2)? More importantly, even with probably cause to arrest, how do prosecutors in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, Queens District Attorney’s Office, Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office or any other office throughout New York City and the State prove such a case beyond a reasonable doubt? This blog entry addresses the issue in conjunction with a recent and relevant criminal court decision.
It is painfully clear that New York State does a poor job in communicating to residents of neighboring states that merely because they legally own or possess their firearm – handgun, revolver, pistol – at home, when that same firearm is brought to New York it is a crime. Not just any crime, when the weapon is loaded with the ammunition and bullets capable of being fired from the gun (they need not be physically in it), the offense in New York is a class “C” violent felony. How do I know this as a criminal defense attorney in New York who represents clients arrested at LaGuardia or JFK Airport for New York Penal Law 265.03? I know this because I routinely am asked by defendants, “I was arrested for having a loaded gun in New York at the airport, but I legally own it and I followed the TSA guidelines. What did I do wrong and what is a violent felony and mandatory prison?”