If you have been a TTAK reader for any period of time, you are likely aware of the unjust “gravity knife” prosecutions in NYC, and the dual legislative and legal efforts to fix it. On the legislative front, Governor Cuomo vetoed the near unanimously passed knife law reform bill for the second time last year. On the legal front, a panel ruling by the US Second Circuit Court of Appeals has dealt a setback for the effort, leaving plaintiffs “reviewing their options”.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit again Friday provided prosecutors in New York a victory over the the state’s law on “gravity knives,” which open with little to no effort, such as with a flick of the wrist.
A follow-up appeal by knife owners and a seller who faced enforcement actions in 2010 from Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.’s office saw the appellate court affirm a January 2017 order by U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest of the Southern District of New York.
The original suit was brought by the current plaintiffs alongside two knife advocacy groups. After initially being dismissed for lack of standing, the Second Circuit revived the suit absent the advocacy groups.
The plaintiffs saw their remanded suit proceed to a bench trial. Forrest found that the gravity knife law was constitutionally applied.
On appeal, two individuals, who were cited for owning the illegal knives, and a shop that entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with the District Attorney’s Office over selling them argued the state ban was unconstitutionally vague. Specifically, the broader category of folding knives that have been prosecuted under the statute for decades through the “wrist-flick test”—if an officer can flick open the knife, it’s a gravity knife—was inherently indeterminate.
The panel of Chief Judge Robert Katzmann, with Circuit Judges Amalya Kearse and Rosemary Pooler, agreed with Forrest that, despite their arguments, what the appellants were actually seeking was a facial challenge to the state law. This, then, raises the bar, and the challengers have the burden to show the statute is invalid in all respects.
The original plaintiffs argued they didn’t need to show the 2010 enforcement actions were unconstitutional, because they were solely seeking prospective relief to own the knives without fear of future prosecution.
The panel found that the claims, which could extend to protect anyone carrying any similar kind of knife, represented “exceedingly broad relief—indeed, so broad that the plaintiffs concede it could be seen as a species of facial challenge.”
So Judge Forrest’s vacuous ruling was affirmed by the Second Circuit. And the injustice continues.