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Law School Case Brief

Cracco v. Vance - 376 F. Supp. 3d 304 (S.D.N.Y. 2019)


Under New York law, gravity knives are per se illegal weapons. See N.Y. Penal Law § 265.01(1). A person who possesses a gravity knife is guilty of Criminal Possession of a Weapon in the Fourth Degree. Pursuant to  § 265.01, a gravity knife is defined as: any knife which has 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.


Plaintiff Joseph Cracco was arrested for possession of a gravity knife. In New York state court, Cracco pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct and paid a fine. Cracco wanted to continue carrying the same type of knife that led to his arrest, but he feared he would be prosecuted again. Cracco thus filed a declaratory judgment against defendant Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., in his official capacity as District Attorney for the County of New York, that: (1) the gravity knife statute as-applied was void for vagueness, and; (2) a knife that did not open in response to the wrist flick test on the first or second attempt could not form the basis for a criminal prosecution under the statute. Cracco claimed that it took his arresting officer four or five tries of the wrist flick test to get the knife to lock into place; Vance disagreed and claimed that it did not take that many tries. The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment.


Was the gravity knife statute, as-applied to Cracco, void for vagueness?




The court granted Cracco's and denied Vance's motion for summary judgment. The court noted that Cracco brought an as-applied challenge to the gravity knife statute based on his factual circumstances. The court ruled that statute was void for vagueness as-applied to Cracco in that: (1) Cracco had no reliable way of knowing whether the common folding knife that he had when he was arrested and that he wished to possess in the future would be viewed as legal or illegal given the text of the gravity knife statute and the procedures used by Vance to enforce the statute, and; (2) the statute did not provide sufficiently clear standards to eliminate the risk of arbitrary enforcement, and Cracco's conduct did not fall within the core of the statute's prohibition—Cracco's knife was an ordinary folding knife offered for sale at stores in New York that did not open on the first or second attempt of the wrist flick test, i.e., it was not one used to advance criminal purposes.

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