Law School Case Brief
People v. Parrilla - 2016 NY Slip Op 03417, 27 N.Y.3d 400, 33 N.Y.S.3d 842, 53 N.E.3d 719
Penal Law § 265.00(5) defines "gravity knife" 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. The crime of criminal possession of a weapon in the fourth degree is defined as a class A misdemeanor.
In Feb. 2011, police officers stopped defendant Elliot Parrilla for a traffic infraction. An officer patted him down for weapons at which time Parrilla admitted that he had a knife in his pocket. One of the officers tested the knife to determine whether it was a gravity knife by flicking his wrist with a downward motion; the blade opened and locked into place. Parrilla was arrested and charged with third-degree criminal possession of a weapon, namely a gravity knife. At trial in New York state court, Parrilla testified that he bought the knife at a large retail store in New York in 2009 and that he used it to cut sheetrock while working in his trade of home remodeling and renovation. After trial in New York state court, a jury found Parrilla guilty of criminal possession of a weapon in the third degree, and the trial court imposed a sentence of two-and-one-half to five years' imprisonment. On Parrilla's appeal, the appellate division affirmed, holding that the trial court properly instructed the jury that the knowledge element would be satisfied by proof establishing Parrilla's knowledge that he possessed a knife in general, and did not require proof of his knowledge that the knife met the statutory definition of a gravity knife. Parrilla was granted permission to appeal.
Did the mere possession of a knife warrant Parrilla's conviction for third-degree criminal possession of a weapon on the premise that it was a gravity knife?
The Court of Appeals of New York affirmed the appellate division's order. The trial court properly instructed the jury on the knowledge element because Penal Law § 265.01(1) did not require the People to prove that a defendant knew that the knife in his possession met the statutory definition of a gravity knife. The plain language of the statute demonstrated that the state legislature intended to impose strict liability to the extent that a defendant need only be aware of his physical possession of the knife; it was not necessary that he know the knife met the technical definition of a gravity knife.
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