New York (August 31, 2007) – Since 2003 New York City police have aggressively used the state’s gravity knife statute to bust retail and individual defendants who were carrying or selling one-hand-opening knives. Virtually every common one-hander that people own is illegal in New York under their gravity knife statute as police are interpreting it.
Now comes a ray of hope. Senior District Judge Jack B.Weinstein (United States District Court – Eastern District of New York) in U.S. v. John Irizarry, issued a ruling on August 31, 2007, that recognizes we cannot punish potentially millions of law-abiding citizens for carrying knives they use on the job.
Defendant John Irizarry was stopped by an officer in the subway system because the officer saw a knife clip attached to his jeans pocket. The officer stopped him because of the knife, a Husky razor-blade utility knife he had purchased at Home Depot for use on the job. The officer arrested him, then found a loaded handgun in the defendant’s pocket. Defense attorney Michael Weil asked Judge Weinstein to suppress the knife charge and related arrest, which would then negate the gun charge.
Judge Weinstein agreed. Here is some of the key language from his opinion.
“The prevalence of this instrument and its everyday use by law abiding mechanics makes unreasonable any inference of illegal activity drawn merely from the observation of such an instrument clipped in an individual’s pocket.”
“Carrying a Husky is not a suspicious act that alone gives rise to reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. The instrument which defendant had in his possession is a common tool. Its open possession is the equivalent of a carpenter carrying a hammer or an individual in the street carrying a cellular phone. The law cannot define as criminals tens of thousands of mechanics who are required to carry such tools in order to earn a living. Claw hammers, used by carpenters, can be used to smash skulls, screwdrivers, used by electricians, can be used to stab bodies and wall board cutters can be used to cut jugular veins, but those are not the intended or designed for uses of such instruments.”
By way of background, attorney Weil was not getting very speedy cooperation from Home Depot, where the defendant bought his Husky razor-blade utility knife. AKTI was able to provide (courtesy of a manufacturer source) key sales statistics for the category that indicated there were millions sold nationally and tens of thousands of these sold in NY each year.
Jim Furgal, former Camillus president for 25 years and AKTI president from 2002-2004, agreed to be available as an expert witness. He was surprised at how much latitude he got to discuss knife mechanisms and marketing at the suppression hearing in August.
The defense attorney was finally able to get a Home Depot store manager to appear to discuss total sales, how the Husky is marketed and how they are taught to sell it at their company training sessions.
AKTI cautions that this case result does not guarantee you will not be arrested in New York for carrying a one-hand opening knife. In fact, the new test cleverly developed is to grab the suspect knife by the blade and flip the handle open (which is much easier than grabbing the handle and flipping the blade open). So if you get stopped with a one-hand opener, you are very likely to be arrested.
Some judges have accepted that flip-the-handle test; others have not. Others have indicated that the statute language is clearly faulty but they are compelled to uphold it.
This case may help break some new ground for the hundreds of models of one-handers that are currently owned by NY residents or carried by NY visitors. Jim Furgal was allowed to clearly describe the German gravity knife and how the centrifugal force and flip of the wrist language got into the statute.
Bottom line is that Judge Weinstein understood the distinctions presented. He also said, “The Husky which was recovered is not a gravity knife and officer McCabe could not have reasonably believed it to be one. It is designed, sold and used as a folding knife.”
Folding knives are not gravity knives. That is the heart of our definitional challenge in New York. But Judge Weinstein has opened the door.
Additional details of the ruling in AKTI Update Volume 9, No. 3.