Anthony Sculimbrene, Esq.
United States v. Irazarry
509 F. Supp. 2d 198 (E.D.N.Y. 2007)
Federal judge finds folding utility razor knife not a gravity knife.
The Defendant was in New York City when he was stopped by a police officer that noticed a silver pocket clip hanging on one of his pants pockets. The Defendant was approached by the officer and the item clipped to his pocket was revealed as a Husky brand folding utility razor knife. The officer arrested the Defendant pursuant to the gravity knife law in New York City. A search of his person revealed a firearm. The man was charged with a federal firearm-related offense. Testimony at the motion to suppress hearing indicated that the man had purchased the knife with his employer’s credit card at a Home Depot. He used the knife regularly in his job to cut drywall. At the hearing, the defense called a Home Depot employee and an expert on knives, a man that owned and manufactured a variety of cutting tools. The Home Depot employee, an assistant store manager, testified that the Husky brand tool was sold in large numbers at his store. The knife expert testified that the folding utility razor knife was a common design sold under a variety of brand names. He also testified that it was designed to be opened with one hand, but that it had a bias towards closure. The police officer also testified at the hearing and he was eventually able to open the knife using centrifugal force only, but it took him three tries to do so.
The judge was presented with a simple issue: does the pocket clip on the Husky give the office the right to stop and then search the defendant. The court answered no and then suppressed or excluded from the record all of the evidence found by the police officer. At the root of the decision was the fact that the Husky was not illegal to possess. If it had been, the officer could have stopped the Defendant and searched him. Since it wasn’t, stopping and searching the Defendant was illegal as was his subsequent arrest. The judge placed an emphasis on two points. First, he relied on the enormous volume of similar knives sold in New York. He reasoned that criminalizing the possession of such a widely sold item would render tens of thousands of trademen into criminals. Second, he relied on the fact that while it was possible to open the knife one handed using centrifugal force, it was clearly not designed to be open that way. Ultimately, the Husky, he reasoned was not illegal to possess, and so it could not be used as a basis to stop and search the Defendant.
Notes for Knife Owners
First and foremost, this case shows the perils of knife carry in New York City. The Defendant was going to work with a tool literally tens of thousands of people carry every day and he wound up in federal court because of the gravity knife law in New York City and it is exceedingly aggressive enforcement by New York City law enforcement. Second, this case shows the importance of public perception of knives. The judge was clearly persuaded, and rightfully so, that this was knife designed for work and not a knife designed to be used as a weapon. Given his emphasis on this, it is likely that a more weaponized design would have resulted in a different outcome.
- Point 1: Seriously consider not carrying a knife in New York City; it’s extremely risky.
- Point 2: Before going out in public, consider how non-knife people will view your knife, especially in places with severe legal restrictions on knife carry.
Notes for Attorneys
This is a case where the judge authoring the opinion matters. The judge that wrote this opinion, Judge Jack Weinstein, is a very famous and widely respected jurist across the country. He is respected for his well-reasoned and highly detailed opinions. This case is shows Judge Weinstein at the height of his legal reasoning and writing. The opinion itself placed great weight on the sheer number of folding razor utility knives sold. Be armed with this kind of information for your judge, as it paints a picture that your client’s behavior is not criminal, dangerous, or unusual. Also consider hiring an expert to explain the function of the knife in your case. Time and again, in cases across the country, courts have found this kind of information useful. Judges aren’t necessarily knife fans nor are they experts in design and engineering. Having someone that is as a witness in your case can be of great help. Finally, this case is a good example of how to litigate a suppression issue involving a knife.
- Point 1: Check who wrote the opinion, every once in a while, like here, it will matter.
- Point 2: Consider placing the knife in a broader context using both sales data and expert testimony.
- Point 3: While it can be tempting to litigate per se weapon ban statutes, never forget to check for suppression issues.
Understanding Bias Toward Closure