By Stephen Rex Brown
Mar 28, 2019
No matter how you slice it, New York’s much-criticized law on gravity knives is unconstitutionally vague, a judge ruled Thursday.
The decision by Manhattan Federal Court Judge Paul Crotty could have major implications for enforcement of the law, which currently requires officers perform a “wrist flick test” to determine if a blade is illegal. Critics note that many of the people busted for possession of an illegal gravity knife are blue collar workers who legally bought their knives at hardware stores around the city.
“People should be able to tell whether their conduct is lawful or unlawful," Crotty said.
The ruling came in a lawsuit brought by sous chef Joseph Cracco. He owned the knife for several years that he used to open boxes on the job in Manhattan. In October 2013, a cop noticed the blade clipped to the pocket on Cracco’s chef’s jacket, and stopped him.
Cracco said the officer tried the “flick test” four or five times before determining the Connecticut man had an illegal gravity knife. Authorities disputed the cop made repeated attempts. But the flick controversy highlighted any absurd gray area in the law, Crotty wrote.
“It is difficult if not impossible for a person who wishes to possess a folding knife to determine whether or not the knife is illegal,” Crotty wrote.
The impact of the decision wasn’t immediately clear. The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the overall gravity knife law last year. Crotty’s decision allows Cracco to carry his knife with the assurance it is legal.
Legal Aid attorney Martin LaFalce said the ruling would result in legal challenges to many gravity knife cases.
“In any case where a police officer cannot open a folding knife after one attempt, the knife no longer qualifies as an unlawful gravity knife under Cracco,” LaFalce explained.
A spokesman for Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, whose office defended the Cracco suit, said the decision was under review. Vance is perhaps the most vocal supporter of the current law. In 2017, Gov. Cuomo vetoed a bill seeking to decriminalize most gravity knives. State lawmakers are once again pursuing reform of the law this year.