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Only in New York: Jewelry as a "Weapon"?

In one recent Manhattan case, a fashionable New York photographer was arrested for the very serious sounding crime of possession of a weapon with intent to use it unlawfully against another. The "weapon": a two-fingered ring with a flat and narrow metallic bar extended across the outside of the hand which was marketed, sold and worn exclusively by the photographer as a fashion accessory. No less than fashion and cultural icon Kim Kardashian has been photographed wearing a virtually identical ring. Although she may draw criticism from the fashion police, it is doubtful that she will attract the professional interest of law enforcement.

But according to New York police and prosecutors, this item is not a ring; it is a dangerous set of "metal knuckles." New York Penal Law Section 265.01(1) states that possession of "metal knuckles" is a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail. Although the Penal Law defines other types of weapons, such as gravity knives ("a knife with a blade which is released from the handle or sheath thereof by the force of gravity or the application of centrifugal force which, when released, is locked in place by means of a button, spring, lever or other device") and switchblade knives ("a knife which has a blade which opens automatically by hand pressure applied to a button, spring or other device in the handle of the knife") the Penal Law remains silent on the definition of "metal knuckles."

Thus, police, prosecutors and courts are left with little guidance in determining whether any particular item qualifies as "metal knuckles." Unfortunately for the New York photographer, this lack of clarity led to his arrest and prosecution for what amounts to a fashion choice rather than a common sense analysis of whether he posed a danger to the public safety or fostered any criminal intent.

What is the definition of "metal knuckles"?

The leading authority on what constitutes "metal knuckles" are People v. Laurore, 30 Misc.3d 1237(A) (Rockland Cty. Sup. Ct. 2011) and People v. Singleton, 127 Misc.2d 735 (New York Cty. Crim. Ct. 1985). These courts applied a three part test to determine whether an object was "metal knuckles," thereby making possession of it a per se criminal act. These were: (1) whether a blow by a fist wearing the instrument in question would cause metal to come into contact with the victim's body; (2) whether the instrument is designed so that it readily can be used offensively against the human body, and (3) whether the design is such that the item cannot reasonably be put to any use other than to enable the wearer to inflict a blow with a fist covered by metal or pieces of metal.

The first two factors would seem to apply to any metal object held by a person, including keys or even a cell phone. Thus, the third prong of the test—whether the object reasonably can be said to have a use other than striking a blow with the fist—is usually the critical inquiry. In Laurore, the court found that the item in question, a "cat key chain" which was worn over two fingers and included two metal pointed spikes protruding from the back of the hand constituted metal knuckles because it was designed specifically marketed, sold and designed for use in hand-to-hand combat.

So what about the New York photographer's ring? Fortunately, if the court applies the Laurore/Singelton test, then the case appears destined for dismissal. He wore the ring in a manner precisely with how it was marketed and sold: as jewelry. He was not observed acting in a manner suggesting that he intended to use it as a weapon. In other words, the ring could reasonably be put to use for a purpose other than pummeling another human being: use as a fashion accessory. Time will tell how the prosecution and court treat this matter. Hopefully, the matter will be dismissed by the District Attorney as a matter of prosecutorial discretion.

Have you been arrested? Call our NYC criminal defense firm!

Unfortunately, many law-abiding people are arrested and prosecuted in New York City for criminal possession of "weapons" such as rings or pocket knives used as tools, which are incorrectly classified by police and prosecutors as "metal knuckles," "gravity knives" or "switchblade knives" by police.

The Law Office of Mark A. Bederow, has successfully defended several law-abiding citizens who have been arrested for criminal possession of a weapon, including loaded firearms, gravity knives and switchblade knives. If you are in need of criminal counsel for possession of a weapon, please contact us in order to discuss the matter. New York City criminal defense lawyer, Mark A. Bederow, is a former Manhattan prosecutor with vast experience in both prosecuting and defending New York weapons cases.

For your complimentary case evaluation, please do not hesitate to get in touch with our New York criminal attorney today.