New York Gravity Knife Arrests & DATs: When a Search May be Illegal

What is a Gravity Knife? Is it illegal to have a gravity knife on my person under New York Law? Under what circumstances can the New York Police search me on a Manhattan Street or a Queens subway station? Once I am arrested for possessing a gravity knife is it possible to get a Desk Appearance Ticket or will I be processed through the system? As an experienced New York criminal lawyer, I often hear these types of questions and answer the same. In this blog post I hope to address at least one of these issues by examining a Brooklyn criminal case involving Criminal Possession of a Weapon in the Fourth Degree (New York Penal Law 265.01).

Criminal Possession of a Weapon in the Fourth Degree is a Class “A” misdemeanor. Sure it’s not a felony, but it is punishable by up to one year in jail and will stay on your permanent record. Further, it is rare that an offer of any kind is made at a defendant’s arraignment in most jurisdictions. Because it is highly that a “slap on the wrist” will make a knife case go away – gravity knife or switchblade knife – it is critical to have a basic understanding of the law. There are eight sections under NY P.L. 265.01, which specify the circumstances under which an individual will be found guilty for possessing certain weapons. Without getting into the details here, you are guilty of Criminal Possession of a Weapon in the Fourth Degree if you possess certain weapons that are classified by statute as automatically criminal regardless of your intent. These weapons include a stun gun, gravity knife, switchblade, bludgeon, metal knuckle and dagger.

In The People v. Jerome Whaley, 2010KN062606, NYLJ 1202541704453, at *1 (Crim., KI, Decided January 20, 2012), the defendant was charged with Criminal Possession of a Weapon in the Fourth Degree pursuant to NY P.L. §265.01[1] because The People alleged that he possessed a gravity knife as defined by NY P.L. §265.00[5]: “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.” The arresting police officer, Officer Hoda, testified that he approached the defendant and another male while patrolling. The other male dropped heroin to the ground when the officers approached, and Officer Hoda saw something in Whaley’s hand. Officer Hoda asked the defendant to open his hand and seized the knife. Importantly, the Officer testified that at the time he spotted the knife, he was not in fear of his personal safety. I emphasize this point because of the laws that govern when and how a police officer can make a proper search and seizure on a person. If the search or seizure is improper- if the Court finds that Officer Hoda did not obey the laws of New York when taking the knife- then the evidence (here the knife and testimony of its seizure) will be excluded from the case.

The Whaley court found that Officer Hoda did not have a right to search and take the gravity knife from the defendant. A police officer may stop and question a person when he/she reasonably suspects that such a person is committing, has committed, or is about to commit a crime. So here the police officers were permitted to stop and question Whaley and his friend. The real question was whether Officer Hoda had the right to grab Whaley’s hand and demand that he show him the gravity knife. Under New York law a person can be stopped and frisked in what is called a “self-protective search for weapons” if an officer can point to particular facts that make him suspect that the individual is armed and dangerous. Furthermore, when it comes to a gravity knife, the detaining officer must have reason to believe the object observed is actually a gravity knife based on identifiable characteristics. Here the Whaley Court found that Officer Hoda did not act reasonably because his testimony proved that he did not fear danger and he described a general pocketknife, not the particular defining traits of a gravity knife. (Note a pocketknife, depending on the size of the blade and other factors, can be a legal instrument). Thus, the Whaley court did not allow the knife in as evidence.

Although only scratching the surface, what did we learn is this blog entry? Well, gravity knives are dangerous and illegal under Criminal Possession of a Weapon in the Fourth Degree. Mere possession is a crime. Police officers patrol our streets for our protection, but they are not above the law. When investigating- doing “searches and seizures”- the NYPD must obey these guidelines outlined in the Constitution and case law, otherwise the evidence- like the knife found in Whaley– will not be admitted at trial.

Whether your particular search was legal or illegal takes analysis well beyond that which is provided here. If there is a litigable defense as to this search, it may be your best defense. Alternatively, you may be able to mitigate your conduct down to a non-criminal resolution. Whatever your defense may be, educate yourself on the law and consult with your criminal attorney to put forth your strongest argument and to protect your future.

For further information on New York weapon crimes, statutes and laws, including Fourth Degree Criminal Possession of a Weapon and various other misdemeanor and felony charges, as well as New York Desk Appearance Tickets, review the links listed above and below.

Established in 2008, the New York criminal defense firm of Saland Law PC represents clients accused of weapon crimes in the New York City region. Upon graduating law school in 2000, the founding partners served for many years together as Manhattan prosecutors under Robert Morgenthau.

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