Always Examine the Gravity Knife
Police have been known to lie about gravity knives.
My client was in his fifties. Let’s call him Ralph.
Ralph had no criminal record. Police arrested him in Harlem with a folding knife in his pocket. The arresting officer accused Ralph of possessing a gravity knife, a crime under Penal Law Section 265.01(1): “A person is guilty of criminal possession of a weapon in the fourth degree when . . . He or she possesses any . . . gravity knife”.
Under Penal Law Section 265.00(5): “‘Gravity knife’ means any knife which has a blade which is released from the handle or sheath thereof by the force of gravity or the application of centrifugal force which, when released, is locked in place by means of a button, spring, lever or other device.”
Ralph insisted that the knife was not a gravity knife. It was a folding knife that you could buy over the counter at dozens of stores throughout New York. Boy Scouts use this knife.
Ralph said the blade locked into the handle. No matter how hard you “flicked” the knife, the blade would not release from the handle. You needed to use two hands to open the knife: one hand to hold the handle; one hand to pry open the blade. The knife had not been modified, intentionally or through wear and tear, so that it operated as a gravity knife.
I informed the Court and the DA that I wanted to view and examine the knife on Ralph’s behalf. (The knife was in NYPD custody.)
The arresting officer brought the knife to the DA’s office. Through the clear plastic evidence bag, you could see that the knife was heavily wrapped in tape, to prevent the blade from rotating out of the handle and accidentally injuring someone. Nice touch.
The officer removed the knife from the bag. It took him a minute to remove the abundant, sticky scotch tape.
I held the knife. I noted the make and model number etched into the blade. I photographed the knife in the closed position and the open position.
The prosecutor asked the officer to demonstrate how he had flicked open the blade, as described in the officer’s sworn complaint: “deponent opened the knife with centrifugal force by flicking deponent’s wrist while holding the knife, thereby releasing the blade which locked in place by means of an automatic device that did not require manual locking.”
When I saw the officer use two hands to partially open the blade from the handle, where it had been snugly locked in the closed position, before his first flick, I knew my client was correct. This was no gravity knife. I could enjoy the rest of the demonstration.
Holding the knife handle, the officer repeatedly whipped his wrist and forearm outward. Through the course of multiple flicks, the blade eventually rotated, at most, about 120 degrees, but never close to the 180-degree locked-open position. The officer tried multiple times, each time cheating from the partially open position. Each time with the same result. The officer was a very big man. He didn’t seem to be giving this his best effort. His heart wasn’t into attempting to do what he knew to be impossible.
Next, the prosecutor asked the officer to try flicking open the knife from the fully closed position, with the blade tucked into the handle. The blade didn’t budge. It remained locked shut. Just as Ralph described.
The officer stepped out into the hall to take a call on his cell phone. The prosecutor asked a random officer, sitting in the waiting room outside her office, to test the knife. He vigorously tried to flick it open, using two different arm motions. Same result. The blade didn’t budge. His verdict: “It’s not a gravity knife”.
When the arresting officer returned from his phone call, the prosecutor asked him, “Who tested the knife at the scene.” He and his partner, he said. Each of them.
I think his partner needs a new partner.
Since there will always be cops like this, always examine the “gravity knife”.
Bruce Yerman is a New York City criminal defense attorney.