Any New Yorker can tell you that New York City has strict weapons laws. It’s common knowledge that most guns are banned, and what permits exist are hard to obtain; but what fewer people realize – sometimes with disastrous consequences – is that possession of simple household knives can also lead to criminal charges. With a recent veto of new legislation that would have reformed existing prohibitions, New York City’s tough knife laws will remain unchanged. If you or a loved one has been charged with knife possession, you need to make sure you are represented by a New York weapons possession lawyer. With the veto in place, penalties for knife possession remain harsh.
Switchblades, Gravity Knives Remain Illegal in NYC After Veto on Weapons Reform
In 2012, a visiting student from Pennsylvania named Clayton Baltzer was arrested in New York because he was found to be in possession of a pocketknife. He was later fined and sentenced in community service. In 2008, a maintenance man named Richard Neal was sentenced to six years in prison for a pocketknife clipped to his belt – even though he was simply carrying the knife as part of his trade.
These cases, while undoubtedly extreme, serve as startling reminders of how New York City’s harsh knife laws can affect everyday citizens who have no idea they are breaking an archaic law from 1958.
Last month, New York had a chance to revise the law in the form of legislation that would have created a legal distinction between switchblades or “gravity” knives – defined in New York’s weapons laws as knives whose blades are released at the press of a button – and the types of pocket knives that are commonly purchased from hardware stores for work and household tasks. However, likely to the dismay of knife collectors and hobbyists throughout the city, Governor Cuomo vetoed the legislation on New Year’s Eve.
The legislation first took shape six months earlier in June, passing the Assembly, where it was led by Dan Quart (D-NY 73rd District), in a 117 to 12 vote, before moving successfully through the Senate, where it was led by Diane Savino (D-NY-023), with a 61 to 1 vote. Despite finding overwhelming support in both the Assembly and the Senate, the bill, which was opposed by the NYPD, Mayor Bill de Blasio, and each of New York’s D.A.s, was ultimately vetoed.
The Legal Aid Society, which describes itself as “the largest public defender program in the country,” immediately released a statement condemning the veto: “With this veto,” the organization said, “Governor Cuomo ignores the calls from defender organizations, civil rights associations, trade unions and many others to fully reform one of New York State’s most discriminatory laws.”
Quart, one of the bill’s chief supporters, also expressed “deep disappointment” with the veto, pointing out the knife law’s disproportionate effects on racial minorities and calling the law in its present state “a continuation of the unconstitutional stop and frisk policies that failed to make our city safer.”
Quart also found fault with the aggressive and “unorthodox” way in which the law is applied in Manhattan, as compared to the rest of the city or even state.
“In the other 61 counties of New York State,” he said, “prosecutions under this section of the law number in the single digits, if there are any at all. Manhattan has and will continue to stand alone in its truly baffling interpretation of the law.”
The law can be found in Article 265 of the New York Penal Law, which serves as the criminal code not only for New York City but the rest of the state as well. Much of the language in Article 265 deals with gun-related weapons crimes, but several of the statutes also address various knife crimes – including the possession of switchblades or gravity knives.
For instance, under NY Penal Law § 265.01(1), possession of a switchblade or gravity knife is an offense known as “criminal possession of a weapon in the fourth degree”: a Class A misdemeanor that can be punished by fines of up to $1,000 and up to a year in jail. It is also a Class A misdemeanor to manufacture, ship, or otherwise transport gravity knives or switchblades in New York.
While the bill’s supporters may be disappointed right now, the story doesn’t seem to be finished just yet. After the legislation’s defeat, Senator Savino made a statement that “depending on the veto message, the Assemblyman and I will meet with leadership, and we will begin the discussion of a possible veto override.” The legislation would need a two-thirds majority in both the Senate and the Assembly in order to overcome the veto. In the meantime, possessing a pocketknife continues to be a crime – albeit one which is hazily defined.
Arrested for Gun or Knife Possession? Contact a New York Weapons Crimes Lawyer
If you or one of your loved ones was arrested for knife possession, gun possession, or the possession, purchase, or use of other weapons in New York City, skillful representation by a tough and experienced criminal defense lawyer is essential. You could be incarcerated, fined, sentenced to community service, and receive other penalties if you are convicted.
For a free legal consultation, call the law offices of Seth Koslow at (347) 561-0025. Our law offices handle arrests and criminal charges in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Staten Island.