NYCLU joins push to end “Gravity Knife” injustice


I missed this latest endorsement when putting together my last DerpBlasio piece. A tip of the hat to Doug Ritter for bringing it to my attention.

The New York Civil Liberties Union has joined the increasingly diverse chorus calling for Governor Cuomo to sign the “bias towards closure” legislation which would put an end to a civil rights injustice that we have been chronicling regularly.

From KnifeRights:

October 12, 2016: The New York Civil Liberties Union, the state’s ACLU affiliate, and the NAACP’s Legal Defense and Education Fund have sent New York Governor Cuomo letters in support of Knife Rights’ Gravity Knife and Switchblade Reform Bill, S6483-A/A9042-A. Knife Rights Chairman Doug Ritter said, “this is a terrific example of how organizations across the political spectrum can collaborate for criminal justice reform and secure basic fairness for all people.” Click for letters: NYCLUNAACP LDF

NYCLU and NAACP LDF join the Legal Aid Society, Brooklyn Defender Services; the Office of Court Administration, a number of unions, the NRA, as well as the New York Times Editorial Board, in support of this bill.

S6483-A/A9042-A add clarifying bias-toward closure exclusions to the state switchblade and gravity knife definitions, similar to that included in the revision to the Federal Switchblade Act that Knife Rights helped pass in 2009. This clarifying exclusion should prevent the bogus Gravity Knife arrests and prosecutions of honest law-abiding individuals in New York City who are carrying common folding knives, tools that are legal to carry everywhere else in the U.S.

Neither Gravity Knives nor Switchblades have a bias towards closure found in common folding knives to keep the blade safely closed in the pocket. Only in New York City has the NYPD and District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr. abused the states’ gravity knife law to prosecute those carrying simple pocket knives by claiming they are illegal Gravity Knives.


The text of the NYCLU Letter is below:

Dear Governor Cuomo:
The legislature has passed a bill, with overwhelming bipartisan support, that seeks to address the unwarranted criminal prosecution of persons who have in their possession a common utility knife, and who pose no danger to public safety. The legislation – A 9082-A/S.6483-A, will soon be delivered to your desk; we urge that you sign it into law.
The problem the legislation seeks to address has its origin in state penal law provisions that include outdated definitions of “gravity knife” and “switchblade knife.” These definitions are both technically inaccurate and legally imprecise. In 1958 the New York State Legislature adopted the definition of gravity knife as having a blade that is released from the knife handle by gravity or centrifugal force, and then locks into place.1 The penal code defines a switchblade as a knife with a blade that opens automatically with hand pressure applied to a button or other device.2 Along with switchblades, the gravity knives developed for use by German paratroopers in World War II were considered to be particularly dangerous weapons because they were designed to open, and to remain open, with little effort.
However, virtually all pocket knives and utility knives in use today are designed and manufactured to operate with a bias toward closure. This design element is a safety feature. And yet every year thousands of individuals – including construction laborers, electricians, warehouse managers, handymen – are charged with misdemeanors, simply for carrying in their pockets a utility knife or work knife.
Notwithstanding the “closure bias” that is incorporated in the mechanical operation of pocket knives, police officers have reportedly become adept at overriding this safety feature. Using a practiced technique that involves an aggressive flick of the wrist, police officers learn to release the blade of any common pocket knife. And with this maneuver, they conduct arrests for possession of gravity knives or switchblades, in contravention of the clear meaning of the law, and the intent of the legislature in enacting it.
What’s more, violation of these provisions in the law are enforced as strict liability offenses.3 That is, criminal culpability arises from the mere possession of what police and prosecutors erroneously deem to be a gravity knife or switchblade. In other words, New Yorkers can be arrested for carrying a common utility knife, even though they have no intention of doing anything unlawful with it.
Tens of thousands of New Yorkers have been charged with carrying gravity and switchblade knives since 2000, although the knives the law was actually meant to ban are today rare antiques.4 Nevertheless, the penal code provisions prohibiting possession of gravity knives and switchblades are aggressively enforced, in manner that is starkly discriminatory. Knife possession charges are disproportionately brought against people of color, and stops in which a knife is found are far more likely to result in arrest for people of color than for white New Yorkers.5
The legal consequences can be grave. The law permits prosecutors to charge possession of a gravity knife or switchblade as a felony if the defendant has a prior criminal conviction. And because these offenses are prosecuted as strict liability crimes, any person with a criminal record who owns a folding knife is, for all intents and purposes, a Class D felon waiting to be stopped.
This bill would amend the legal definitions of gravity knives and switchblades, excluding from these definitions knives whose mechanism creates pressure against releasing the knife blade, and a bias toward closure once the knife is opened. These amendments will restore the meaning of the law as intended, and will prevent the unwarranted arrest and prosecution of persons carrying common utility knives and work knives
The New York Civil Liberties Union joins the New York State Office of Court Administration, law enforcement officials, public defenders, and civil rights advocates in calling on you to approve A.9082-A/S.6483-A.

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NYCLU joins push to end “Gravity Knife” injustice

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