People v. Elliot Parrilla


AD1 order dated December 19, 2013, affirming judgment of conviction. Decision below: 112 AD3d 517, 977 NYS2d 29. Read, J., granted leave August 17, 2015. To be argued March 30, 2016.
ISSUES PRESENTED: (1) Whether the court erred in charging the jury, over objection, that to be guilty of possessing a “gravity knife” (PL 265.01[1]), the defendant had to know only that he had a knife in his possession, and not that it possessed the qualities of a gravity knife (PL 265.00[5]). (2) Whether the court’s refusal to discharge a deliberating juror as “grossly unqualified,” after she belatedly and fearfully reported that her living near appellant’s ex-girlfriend could “affect [her] judgment,” and thereafter gave no unequivocal assertion of impartially, deprived appellant of his right to an impartial jury. (Assigned counsel: Robert S. Dean, Center for Appellate Litigation, 120 Wall Street, 28th Floor, NYC 10005.)

Issue before the Court: Whether, to be guilty of fourth-degree weapon possession, under PL 265.01(1),  for possessing a “gravity knife” the possessor must know that the tool has the characteristics of a gravity knife.  In this case, the knife was common workman’s tool, a regular folding knife purchased legally at the Home Depot.  DA Vance has been prosecuting these cases since 2010, ensnaring thousands of unwary common laborers in a web of criminality.  These thousands did not know that the knife flicked out, nor would they be able to do so even if they did know.  Only specially trained NYPD officers are able to get these utility knives to open in this fashion.


Held: To be guilty of gravity knife possession under subd. 1, the defendant need not know that the object met the definition of a gravity knife.  


CAL Observes:  

Although not apparent to the general reader, the way the Court decided the case was an unprincipled mess.  (Disclaimer, this was a CAL case.) First of all, contrary to the Court’s decision, the defense contention was NOT that the defendant had to know that the object met the statutory definition of a gravity knife.  That was specifically not the defense contention.  Rather, the defense contention was that, in order for the possession to be voluntary and knowing, as IS required under the statute, the defendant has to, at the very least, know that the object he possessed flicked out–the essential characteristic of a gravity knife.  In other words, he had to at least know that he possessed something other than a common folding knife.  Thus, the Court felt it had to deliberately mis-frame the defense contention.  Second, although the Court stated that “It is undisputed that to be convicted of criminal possession of a weapon for possession of a gravity knife under PL 265.01 (1) defendants must know that they possess a knife,”   actually, that WAS disputed by the People.  DA Vance argued that, since the crime was one of strict liability, all the defendant has to know is that he possessed an object, not necessarily a knife.  The People opposed injecting ANY  mens rea requirement of knowing KNIFE possession, as that was inconsistent with their strict liability argument.  The requirement of knowledge of KNIFE possession is a uniquely First Department construct, with its unique reasoning and line of cases.  In coming to its decision, the Court of Appeals blandly cited to that line of cases, as if everyone agrees that this is so; in reality, the Court did inject a mens rea requirement into the statute, one not present in the statutory language.  So, in the guise of just upholding the statutory language, the Court actually and actively decided a significant issue of statutory construction at variance with the statutory wording.  To come to this result,  the Court had to misstate both the issue really in question, and what was actually in dispute.  And, of course, they left thousands of common laborers in the position of being unwary criminals sucked into DA Vance’s war on laborers.


One immediate consequence of this inhumane decision was that both houses of the State Legislature immediately passed a bill taking common folding knives out of the definition of “gravity knives.”  The legislation is awaiting the Governor’s signature.  Although content to rely on the wisdom of the Legislature when arguing Parrilla in the Court of Appeals (hey guys, it’s harsh, but this is what the legislature wanted), DA Vance is urging the Governor not to sign.