People v. Richard Gonzalez
AD1 order dated December 5, 2013, affirming judgment of conviction. Decision below: 112 AD3d 440, 975 NYS2d 874. Pigott, J., granted leave April 21, 2014. Argued April 28, 2015.
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), 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). (2) Whether there is support in the record for the conclusion that the defendant engaged in disorderly conduct (PL 240.20) by cursing at police officers on a NYC subway platform, so as to justify the police stop and search of his person. (Assigned counsel: Robert S. Dean, Center for Appellate Litigation, 120 Wall Street, 28th Floor, NYC 10005.)
Issues before the Court: (1) Whether, to be guilty of third-degree weapon possession for possessing a “gravity knife,” in this case a common workman’s tool purchased legally at the Home Depot, the possessor must know that the tool has the characteristics of a gravity knife; the First Department said no. (2) Whether defendant’s cursing at police officers in a busy NYC subway station constituted probable cause for his arrest for disorderly conduct; the First Department said yes.
Held: Reversing the suppression hearing court, as well as the First Department, the Court of Appeals ruled that Mr. Gonzalez’s arrest for disorderly conduct, for cursing at police officers in a subway station, was patently without probable cause: “[T]here is no record support for the motion court’s determination that defendant’s rant against the police officers constituted the crime of disorderly conduct.” The Court suppressed the “weapon” and dismissed the indictment.
As to the “gravity knife,” the Court had “no occasion to address defendant’s argument with respect to the mens rea of criminal possession of a weapon.”
CAL Observes: As to disorderly conduct, apparently there were enough NYC subway veterans on the Court of Appeals to get that cursing at police officers in a busy NYC subway station, “provoking looks of surprise and curiosity from some passengers,” comes nowhere close to constituting disorderly conduct. (This holding would probably extend to the subway orators who scream at us that we had better repent or suffer eternal damnation.) As to the many thousands of purchasers of Home Depot’s Husky brand of utility knives–still legally sold outside of NYS and on Amazon.com-- who are unaware that Hon. Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., considers them criminals, they will have to wait for the next “gravity knife” case to wend its way before the Court. Stay tuned.