Neal ended that night in a squad car. There was only one problem: The knife he was carrying was not a gravity knife. At least, not by most of the world's definition.
According to the vast majority of police departments and district attorneys in New York State -- not to mention knife manufacturers, labor unions, and almost everyone else who knows a thing about knives -- what Neal was carrying was a perfectly legal folding knife. When gravity knives were banned under New York State law in the 1950s, the legislature actually had a very specific style of weapon in mind -- a foot-long terror that bears no resemblance to a knife like the one Neal had. True gravity knives, for all intents and purposes, have been extinct for the better part of a century; today they're relegated mostly to the antiques section on eBay.
Nonetheless, under the department's unique interpretation of Penal Code 265.01, almost every pocketknife on the market today can be considered a gravity knife. It's as if authorities in New York City were using an antiquated law against flintlock muskets to prosecute BB-gun owners.
And the prohibition is as strict as it is all-encompassing. A knife that can be shoehorned into that definition is not only illegal to carry, it's illegal to possess at all, even within one's home. The only narrow exceptions apply to those "actively engaged" in hunting and fishing, and are essentially meaningless in New York City.
The penalties are severe, too, as Neal would learn. As a prior offender, he was eligible for a felony "bump up," rendering the pocketknife Neal possessed the legal equivalent of an unlicensed, unloaded pistol. Though the court said he likely had no idea his knife was illegal, and he wasn't accused of using it toward any nefarious end, he was convicted nonetheless.
After a series of appeals, he was sentenced to six years in prison.