New York Federal Criminal Practice Blog
November 13, 2007

EDNY Judge Suppresses Gun Recovered After Police Seize Individual in Possession of Everyday Utility Knife

In a decision published yesterday, United States v. Irizarry, 509 F.Supp.2d 198 (E.D.N.Y. 2007), EDNY Judge Weinstein suppressed a concealed handgun recovered from an individual arrested for being in possession of a "Husky" folding utility knife, widely used in the construction and moving industry for cutting sheetrock, carpeting and windowscreens.  The case is an interesting example of a judge privileging common-sense, community perspectives of what is "reasonable" over the more narrow-minded and skewed perspective of law enforcement representatives.

Holding that the officer had neither "reasonable suspicion that criminal activity was afoot" under Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968), when he stopped the defendant on a belief that the defendant had a Husky clipped to his pocket, nor probable cause to arrest the defendant upon recovering the Husky, Judge Weinstein highlighted "[t]he prevalence of this instrument and its everyday use by law abiding mechanics."  

In fact prior to the hearing on the suppression motion, the judge had directed the parties to provide him with an estimate of how many such knives are sold annually in New York and the U.S., and information from unions or other sources as to what trades carry such instruments.  Learning that Home Depot's New York stores sold over 67,000 of such instruments in 2006, and that almost 2 million of a similar brand were sold nationally the same year, the court held that mere possession of such common tools, not designed or intended to be used as weapons, cannot result in the law "defin[ing] as criminals tens of thousands of mechanics who are required to carry such tools in order to earn a living." 

The judge expressly rejected as unreasonable the officer's belief that a Husky is a gravity knife - a type of knife that can be released by force of gravity and is banned under New York State law.  While the officer demonstrated with some difficulty at the hearing that the Husky can be opened through centrifugal force, the court heard expert testimony that the Husky is not designed as a gravity knife.  The court also did an exhaustive analysis of the legislative history of the statute criminalizing the possession of gravity knives, finding that its purpose was "to ban only those items that are manufactured as weapons, not to criminalize the carrying of utility cutting instruments which are widely and lawfully sold."  The judge went on to hold that "[w]ith so many folding lock-back utility knives in circulation for lawful purposes, nationally and within the State of New York, it was not reasonable for the arresting officer to believe that the Husky represented a weapon." 

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