The Legal Aid Society Files Amicus Brief With SCOTUS on Gravity Knife Case
February 19th, 2019
The Legal Aid Society filed an amicus brief today in support of a Writ of Certiorari for litigation challenging local law enforcement’s interpretation of New York State’s vague gravity knife statute that criminalizes thousands of innocent New Yorkers each year for possessing basic work knives. These knives – which are tools sold at the majority of retailers across the country – are used by construction laborers, electricians, stagehands, and other workers throughout New York City.
New York’s existing gravity knife statute has long garnered criticism as law enforcement exploits its broad interpretation to arrest and prosecute unsuspecting New Yorkers who use these knives for employment purposes. In 2016 and 2017, the New York State Legislature overwhelmingly passed legislation that would have overhauled the law, but Governor Andrew Cuomo issued vetoes in both years.
After a recent review of caseload data, The Legal Aid Society found that 85 percent of clients prosecuted for alleged gravity knife possession were black and/or Hispanic.
“Our clients arrested for gravity knife possession are innocent, working class New Yorkers criminalized by an overbroad and flawed statute,” said Martin LaFalce, Staff Attorney with the Manhattan Criminal Defense Practice at The Legal Aid Society. “As long as this law remains on the books, and up to the varying interpretation of law enforcement, communities of color – the main population persecuted by this law – will continue to suffer. We urge the Court to hear this case immediately.”
The amicus brief specifically argues that law enforcement’s discriminatory interpretation of the gravity knife statute has created a notice crises because New Yorkers cannot steer between lawful and unlawful conduct. Moreover, unless the Second Circuit’s decision is reversed on John Copeland et. al. v. New York County District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., it is inevitable that thousands of innocent New Yorkers, disproportionately persons of color and minorities, will continue to be prosecuted for possessing tools that are available for purchase across the country.