Constitutional Knife Fight Heads to Big Apple

     MANHATTAN (CN) – New York City must face claims that its ban on “gravity knives” is unconstitutionally vague, the Second Circuit ruled Tuesday.
     The law in question forbids possession of “any knife” with a blade released through “force of gravity or the application of centrifugal force” via “a button, spring, lever or other device.”
     An advocacy group called Knife Rights led the lawsuit against the law, contending that its murky language allowed New York City police officers to arrest innocent people.
     Two New Yorkers that the law entangled joined the group as co-plaintiffs. John Copeland, an artist, and Pedro Perez, an art dealer, each said they carried folding blades for cutting canvases and work-related uses.
     Perez said he had a Gerber blade from a Tent & Trail store poking out of his pocket when New York City police officers spotted him five years ago.
     Though the officers could not flick open the blade, they charged Perez with unlawful possession of a gravity knife anyway on April 15, 2010, according to his lawsuit.
     Months later, the NYPD spotted the metal clip of a Paragon Sports-purchased Benchmade in Copeland’s pocket. The artist whose work was exhibited this year in Denmark, Sweden and Germany got slapped with identical charges.
     Both men pleaded down to adjournments in contemplation of dismissal and joined the lawsuit with another advocacy group and the retail store Native Leather in 2011.
     U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest dismissed the lawsuit two years ago, but the Second Circuit found Tuesday that the men and the retailer have standing.
     In order to establish standing, or the right to sue, the challengers of the law had to demonstrate that it could punish them.
     Native Leather, which sells folding knives in Manhattan’s neighborhood of Greenwich Village, showed that the NYPD’s confusion over what a gravity knife is could harm its business.
     Likewise, Copeland and Perez’s fear of prosecution from the law is “not conjectural or hypothetical,” the panel found.
     “Each man has already been charged with a § 265.01(1) violation for carrying a common folding knife,” Judge Reena Raggi wrote for the court. “Each was obliged to retain counsel to secure an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal.”
     In affirming dismissal of the advocacy groups’ claims, however, the panel found that neither could show that the law affected them personally.
     A spokeswoman for the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office said the city was “pleased” with the dismissed claims and would “continue to litigate the remaining portions of the case in the district court.”
     Daniel Schmutter, an attorney for the plaintiffs for the firm Hartman & Winnick, meanwhile said he was “very pleased” with the court’s recognition of “the right of these plaintiffs to proceed with their claim to stop the unconstitutional manner in which the city enforces New York’s gravity knife law against honest individuals and businesses.”
     “We look forward to presenting these claims to the district court on the merits,” Schmutter added.

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