Defendant waives prosecution by an information – New York Court of Appeals holds that Misdemeanor Complaint adequately alleged Possession of Brass Knuckles

In the People v. Aragon, 2016 NY Slip Op 07104 (Nov. 1, 2016), the New York Court of Appeals decided whether the accusatory instrument alleging that defendant unlawfully possessed “brass metal knuckles” was facially sufficient. Here, because the Defendant allowed himself to be prosecuted by an information, the Court of Appeals agrees that the information was sufficient, affirming the Appellate Term.

It is important to note, at the outset, that the Defendant waived (yes, this can be done and often times the Defendant may not realize the impact of this) prosecution by an information. Accordingly, Criminal Procedure Law § 100.15 (3) provides that the factual part of a misdemeanor complaint “must contain a statement of the complainant alleging facts of an evidentiary character supporting or tending to support the charges.” The complaint must also “provide reasonable cause to believe that the defendant committed the offense charged” (CPL 100.40 [4] [b]; see People v Dumas, 68 NY2d 729, 731 [1986]). “[A]n accusatory instrument must be given a reasonable, not overly technical reading” (People v Konieczny, 2 NY3d 569, 576 [2004]). Thus, the test for facial sufficiency “is, simply, whether the accusatory instrument failed to supply defendant with sufficient notice of the charged crime to satisfy the demands of due process and double jeopardy” (People v Dreyden, 15 NY3d 100, 103 [2010]). So what about brass knuckles?

Several of the per se weapons listed in Penal Law § 265.01 (1) are defined in Penal Law § 265.00; however, the Penal Law provides no definition for “metal knuckles.” In such a circumstance, courts should give the term its “usual and commonly understood meaning” (McKinney’s Cons Law of NY, Book 1, Statutes § 232; People v Morales, 20 NY3d 240, 247 [2012]). In arriving at the “most natural and obvious meaning” of a term (id.), we have looked to dictionary definitions (see e.g. People v Keyes, 75 NY2d 343, 348 [1990] [referencing the Webster’s Dictionary definition of the term “procure” to interpret a Penal Law provision, where that term was undefined by the statute]). Black’s Law Dictionary does not define “metal knuckles,” but does define “brass knuckles” as “[a] piece of metal designed to fit over the fingers as a weapon for use in a fistfight” (Black’s Law Dictionary 225 [10th ed 2014], brass knuckles). [*2]In general, metal knuckles have a common meaning in ordinary American parlance, which corresponds to the dictionary definition. In fact, in People v Persce, this Court stated that along with the slungshot at issue there, metal knuckles have a “well-understood character” (204 NY 397 [1912]). The term “brass knuckles,” or “metal knuckles,” describes a metal object with multiple holes, through which an individual places his or her fingers so that a metal bar rests atop the individual’s knuckles. That object is used as a weapon to cause increased pain when the person wearing it hits someone with a fist.

The Defendant argued that, similar to gravity knives, the character of the weapon must be known not only to the Defendant but to the police officer. The Court of Appeals rejects this contention and states that:

[i]n contrast to gravity knives, which are identified as such based on the way a user opens the device, metal knuckles do not require a special operating mechanism. Moreover, the character of metal knuckles is such that one need only look at the object to discern whether it is in fact metal knuckles. Thus, the officer here did not have to “exercise . . . professional skill or experience” to conclude defendant possessed metal knuckles (id.), and the accusatory instrument did not require any specific description of the officer’s training or experience.

The Order is affirmed.


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