In the People v. Drouin, 2016 NY Slip Op 06906 (App. Div. Third Department, October 20, 2016), the Court finds that there was legally insufficient evidence to satisfy the requisite mens rea element of larceny. The two basic elements of any crime are a criminal act accompanied by a criminal mind. This case is another example of why Mens Rea matters.
A slew of news articles and challenges to what is a legal knife and what is an illegal knife, a Gravity Knife, have surfaced throughout New York and, more specifically, New York City. The sale of Gravity Knives and folding Knives in New York City have caused an uproar, including a recent challenge (2d Cir.) to the New York City District Attorney’s Office of criminally charging certain knife possessions. The most basic criminal procedure class teaches its students that a crime has two elements, mens rea and actus reus. One must know it is a crime before one can commit a crime. Here, the New York Court of Appeals determined that knowledge of what a gravity knife is can no longer be considered an element of that crime:
It is not disputed that defendant Elliot Parrilla possessed a folding utility knife at the time of his arrest. He asserts, however, that he was unaware that the knife’s characteristics rendered it a gravity knife and that the People were required to prove such knowledge to establish an element of the crime of which he was convicted — criminal possession of a weapon in the third degree. We reject defendant’s argument and hold, based upon the statutory language, that the mens rea prescribed by the Legislature for criminal possession of a gravity knife simply requires a defendant’s knowing possession of a knife, not knowledge that the knife meets the statutory definition of a gravity knife.
Penal Law §265.01 (1) states that a “person is guilty of criminal possession of a weapon in the fourth degree when:…[h]e or she possesses any…gravity knife.” Section 265.00 (5) defines “‘[g]ravity knife'” as “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.” The crime is defined as a class A misdemeanor. The law was created, in part, to address individuals walking the streets of New York carrying foot long knives that could easily be concealed. “The Penal Law identifies gravity knives as per se weapons and criminalizes the mere possession of one” (People v. Brannon, 16 NY3d 596, 599 ). In other words, section 265.01 (1) “criminalizes the mere possession, and not use, of a gravity knife” (id. at 602). Over the years, the development of knives and knife weapons has changed.
The Court concludes, however, that
Penal Law §265.01 (1) does not require the People to prove that defendants knew that the knife in their possession met the statutory definition of a gravity knife. The plain language of that subdivision demonstrates that the Legislature intended to impose strict liability to the extent that defendants need only be aware of their physical possession of the knife (see Penal Law §§15.00 ; 15.10). While knowing possession of the knife is required (see Penal Law §15.15 ), we conclude it is not necessary that defendants know that the knife meets the technical definition of a gravity knife under Penal Law §265.00 (5).
Buyer beware: the possession of a gravity knife is a crime in New York, a misdemeanor. There may be a constitutional violation if such knife was not , however, a Gravity Knife and yet one were to be incarcerated and/or criminally charged with possession of a gravity knife. Should you need assistance with such matters, call the Law Offices of Cory H. Morris.
The case is People v. Parrilla, No. 99, NYLJ 1202756639632, at *1 (Ct. of App., Decided May 3, 2016), http://www.newyorklawjournal.com/id=1202756639632/People-v-Elliot-Parrilla-No-99#ixzz4BSGEjWn9