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New York has one of the most draconian and burdensome knife laws in the Country and as we have reported over almost a decade in this blog many innocent people have been caught up in New York’s knife law maze.  Last week, however, after several prior attempts at changing the law, Governor Cuomo finally signed a law that will change New York’s knife laws.1142076_knife_1

The Problem

As we wrote as early as 2010, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office made a deal with several retailers in Manhattan, including Home Depot and other major retailers for them to pay a financial penalty and stop selling gravity knives in New York.  The problem was that these knives were being sold by companies who paid only a relatively small financial penalty while citizens, many african-american and latino youths were being arrested and given criminal records for buying these knives which were readily available.  In 2016, we wrote another blog about this problem after the Village Voice wrote an extensive article about it.  According to the Village Voice article, there had been as many as 60,000 arrests for gravity knives in the preceding 10 years which put gravity knives in the top 10 most prosecuted cases.  Village Voice analysis also seemed to indicate that a disproportionate number of African-Americans and Latinos were prosecuted for gravity knives.

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Under New York DWI law, merely by driving a car a motorist is presumed to have agreed to take a chemical test when requested by a police officer who suspects that the driver is under the influence of drugs or alcohol. This law, called an implied consent statute, is in effect in many states.

Recently, the United States Supreme Court heard the case Mitchell v. Wisconsin that raises a previously undecided issue regarding implied consent laws. Specifically, the case required the Court to determine whether “a statute that authorizes a blood draw from an unconscious motorist provides an exception to the Fourth Amendment warrant requirement?”

The case arose when the defendant was arrested on suspicion of driving while intoxicated. Evidently, on the way to the police station, the defendant became lethargic, and the arresting officers took the defendant to the hospital. One of the officers accompanying the defendant read him a form explaining the state’s implied consent law; however, the defendant was so incapacitated that he was unable to indicate to the officers that he understood the warnings. The defendant did not either specifically consent or refuse. However, at the hospital, police officers requested that hospital workers take the defendant’s blood. It was later determined that the defendant’s blood-alcohol content was .222, which was well over the legal limit of .08.

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As Second Amendment attorney Peter H. Tilem reported in a blog on April 24, 2016, New York and New Jersey’s outright ban on stun guns and tasers were unconstitutional.  stungunNow today, a Federal District Judge in upstate New York confirmed that opinion and enjoined the New York State Police from enforcing New York Penal Law sec 265.01 (1) as it applies to “Electronic Dart Guns” and “Electronic Stun Guns.”  The case entitled Avitabile v. Beach was decided earlier today by US District Judge David N. Hurd of the United States District Court for the Northern District in New York.  While the case is not necessarily binding in New York City, the case applies the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Caetano v. Massachusetts, which struck down the Massachusetts state ban on stun guns.

The issue actually began with the famous Second Amendment Case of Heller which was decided in 2008.  In knocking out a ban on handguns in Washington DC, the US Supreme Court in Heller ruled that the Second Amendment applied to “bearable” arms.  The Caetano decision, in knocking down a stun gun conviction in Massachusetts, made it very clear that a stun gun was a bearable arm as that term was used in Heller.

Besides being illegal, bans on stun guns and tasers are inherently illogical.  All states permit the possession of handguns to a degree.  Even New Jersey and New York City which effectively ban the possession of handguns outside the home, permit handgun possession in the home, with the appropriate license (in New York).  However, prior to today’s ruling, New York and New Jersey have a complete and total ban on the civilian possession of stun guns and tasers which are non-lethal.  This complete and total ban includes both possession inside the home and outside the home and does not even permit possession with a license.

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Recently, the United States Supreme Court issued a written opinion in an interesting case discussing the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. Specifically, the case involved the Excessive Fines Clause of the Eighth Amendment and required the Court to determine if the rights contained in the Clause applied to both federal and state proceedings. Ultimately, the Court concluded that when the Fourteenth Amendment was passed, it incorporated the rights contained in the Excessive Fines Clause (as it did with most other rights included in the Bill of Rights).

The Facts of the Case

According to the Court’s opinion, the defendant was arrested on drug and theft charges while he was driving a Land Rover SUV that he had just purchased with the proceeds from an insurance policy after the death of his father. The defendant paid $42,000 for the SUV.

The defendant pled guilty to both charges. While the maximum allowable punishment would have resulted in a jail sentence and a $10,000 fine, the defendant was placed on house arrest and fined approximately $1,000. After the case was over, the government claimed that the SUV was involved in the transport of drugs, and sought civil forfeiture of the vehicle.

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