Wednesday, September 23, 2015

A Win For Knife Rights In The Second Circuit

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals provided a win for knife rights and the Second Amendment yesterday. The case involved the suit that Knife Rights had filed in New York against DA Cyrus Vance, Jr. The judge in the District Court had dismissed that case in favor of the defendants saying that the plaintiffs did not have standing because they hadn't identified specific knives. The Second Circuit disagreed in part and remanded the case back to the District Court for the Southern District of New York.

In a decision authored by US Appeals Court Judge Reena Raggi, the Second Circuit said the individual plaintiffs clearly showed that they had shown a threat of prosecution for intended conduct. Indeed, Native Leather, the business plaintiff, was under a deferred prosecution agreement with the Manhattan District Attorney's Office. Because of this, they had standing. However, she found that Knife Rights and the Knife Rights Foundation did not have standing to sue.

The Court concluded:
To summarize, we conclude as follows:

1. Plaintiffs Native Leather, Copeland, and Perez have standing to challenge defendants’ application of N.Y. Penal Law §§ 265.00(5) and 265.01(1) because each has expressed a present intent to possess such knives (but for defendants’ challenged enforcement actions) and each has demonstrated a credible threat of prosecution based on defendants’ (a) recent enforcement actions against them, (b) express threat to prosecute Native Leather further under the terms of a deferred prosecution agreement, and (c) continued defense of the wrist‐flick test that allegedly prompted plaintiffs’ past violation charges.

2. Our precedent precludes Knife Rights and Knife Rights Foundation from asserting standing on behalf of their members under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.  Nor can these organizational plaintiffs demonstrate standing to sue on their own behalf based on claimed injury to their activities from expenditures diverted to oppose defendants’ actions.    Such past injuries cannot be redressed by the declaratory and injunctive relief sought in this action, and plaintiffs fail to demonstrate that any future expenditures and attending injuries are certainly impending.

3. The district court did not abuse its discretion in denying plaintiffs’ motion for leave to amend their complaint a second time to address defects in standing.

Accordingly, the district court’s judgment of dismissal is AFFIRMED as to Knife Rights and Knife Rights Foundation, and VACATED as to Native Leather, Copeland, and Perez.   The case is REMANDED as to these three plaintiffs for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. 
 Knife Rights was quite pleased with this ruling even if they were found not to have organizational standing in the case.
The reversed lower court previously found that the claims were not specific enough to proceed because they did not identify specific makes and models of folding knives at issue -- even though the very inability to determine which knives would be arbitrarily deemed "illegal" is the basis of the lawsuit itself! The Second Circuit agreed that specific knives need not be identified for the case to proceed.

Knife Rights Chairman Doug Ritter said, "we are very pleased that we have overcome the absurd ruling of the lower court on 'standing' and can now proceed with the heart of the case itself -- the unconstitutional manner in which the City and DA enforce the New York State's gravity knife law to potentially demonize all folding knives."

There have been over 60,000 "gravity knife" prosecutions in the City in the past 10 years, with the rate doubling recently. These prosecutions have focused almost exclusively on common locking-blade pocket knives, not actual historical paratrooper gravity knives which were the basis for the statute back in the 1950s. The so-called "wrist flick" test employed by the City and DA is a completely subjective test with immense variability and no knife owner can know can know with certainty whether or not his or her knife is legal at any point in time. This enforcement is unconstitutionally vague and must not continue.
Perhaps the lower court will finally see just how abusive the NYPD and DA Vance have been towards knife owners.

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