Assemblymember Quart, Senator Savino, Advocates Urge Governor to Sign Gravity Knife Reform into Law

October 13, 2017

New York, NY – Assemblymember Dan Quart, Senator Diane Savino, Council Member Vanessa Gibson, Tina Luongo of The Legal Aid Society, and Andrea Sáenz of Brooklyn Defender Services, today called upon Governor Cuomo to support reform to New York’s outdated and discriminatory gravity knife laws.

Following strong bipartisan support, Assemblymember Quart’s gravity knife reform bill (A05667A) and Senator Diane Savino’s companion bill (S04769-A) passed both houses of the legislature almost unanimously, and was recently transmitted to the Governor for his signature. This legislation would fix a vaguely worded law that has criminalized working class New Yorkers and targeted minorities.

“It is time to finally reform New York’s discriminatory gravity knife law and bring much needed clarity to this statute,” said Assemblymember Dan Quart. “For the second year in row, both the Assembly and Senate have shown their overwhelming support for this common sense legislation. This bill would help keep thousands of New Yorkers, the vast majority being those of color, from facing erroneous arrests and criminal charges. We have a chance to make a real difference and put an end to these discriminatory arrests and prosecutions. I urge the Governor to sign gravity knife reform into law and make our state a more equitable place for all.”

This bill would fix a vaguely worded law that has criminalized working class New Yorkers and targeted minorities. It is an amended version of the bill passed by the Legislature in 2016. After conceding the 1950s law was “absurd,” Governor Cuomo then vetoed the reform.

“This bill will address an injustice in the law that is causing the arrest of countless innocent people,” said Senator Diane Savino. “Construction workers, electricians, handymen and women, stagehands, custodians, and other workers are being dragged into the criminal justice system for carrying a necessary tool of their trade. This bill will eliminate the confusion for workers and law enforcement about which kinds of knives are illegal to possess. It will also help ensure that innocent workers are not arrested, and that only individuals who would use knives to harm others are prosecuted. I have been pleased to carry this important bill with Assemblymember Quart and I greatly hope the Governor signs it into law.”

Under this outdated law, any folding knife that opens by “gravity or the application of centrifugal force” is classified as a weapon. The Manhattan District Attorney’s office and NYPD have used this broad interpretation to treat the possession of any knife that can be forced to open after multiple tries with the flick of a wrist as a criminal offense. Thousands of law-abiding citizens en route to their jobs have been arrested and criminally charged for possessing a tool of their trade and a requirement for their job.

“New York’s gravity knife statute is outmoded and overly broad allowing the police and district attorney offices to arrest and prosecute New Yorkers for carrying simple work knives,” said Tina Luongo, Attorney-In-Charge of the Criminal Defense Practice at The Legal Aid Society. “For the second straight year, the Legislature has near unanimously passed reform. Black and brown communities have suffered too long from this broken law and it’s time Albany right this longstanding injustice. We laud State Senator Diane Savino and Assembly Member Dan Quart for sponsoring and advocating this legislation.”

According to recent data released by Legal Aid, around 4,000 individuals are unfairly arrested and charged with gravity knife possession each year. 86% of those stopped by NYPD under this section of the penal code are Black or Hispanic.

“Brooklyn Defender Services believes this legislation to clarify the definition of gravity knives for law enforcement and the courts is necessary and urgent. Under existing law, thousands of New Yorkers, including hundreds of our clients, are criminalized every year for carrying tools of the job that can be purchased at major retailers and local hardware stores. Most are Black and/or Latinx, and nearly all are laborers, including stagehands, carpenters, and movers in uniform. After spending a night in a holding cell and missing work to appear in court, they face the prospect of being permanently labeled a criminal, with ‘criminal possession of a weapon’ on their records forever. Many lose their jobs because of these arrests and some, particularly in Manhattan, face jail or prison sentences. Immigrants with legal status may even lose their status and be indefinitely detained in ICE’s jails and deported just for carrying work tools. Reform is needed now to correct this injustice, and thanks to Assembly Member Dan Quart and Senator Diane Savino, Governor Cuomo has the power to get it done today,” said Lisa Schreibersdorf, Executive Director of Brooklyn Defender Services, a comprehensive indigent legal service organization serving more than 30,000 indigent Brooklyn residents every year.

Gravity knife reform has been supported by a broad coalition of interests, including the Legal Aid Society, the NRA, the New York Times editorial board, Brooklyn Defender Services, IATSE, the Chief Defenders Association of New York, Safari Club International, the AFL-CIO, NYCLU, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and the criminal law faculty at Yale Law School.