On the Subject of Freddie Gray’s Knife and Giving Police “Fair Leeway” to Make Mistakes in Their Enforcement of the Law

By Elaine Magliaro

Patrik Jonsson has an interesting article over at Yahoo News that I think is worth read. Titled What Freddie Gray’s Knife Says About Police Power in America, the article touches on the legality/illegality of Freddie Gray’s knife; police power that “has been abused during the tough-on-crime era that emerged in New York in the 1990s and spread nationwide”; knives having become “a favorite target for police under political pressure to clean up the streets”;
and courts giving police “fair leeway” to make mistakes in their enforcement of the law. Jonsson noted that a Supreme Court ruling last December (Heien v. North Carolina) said the “leeway” was necessary “for enforcing the law in the community’s protection.”

Jonsson noted that seizing a particular kind of knife had “been a cornerstone of New York City’s ‘stop and frisk’ policy, which allowed officers to frisk anyone that they reasonably thought “might be breaking the law.” He said that “there is widespread confusion across America about which knives are legal.” He added, “In the past four years, 11 states have ended bans on the kinds of new folding knives carried by Gray.”


The Baltimore police union says the officers in the Gray case acted correctly and did nothing to unduly harm him while he was in custody. The union suggests that the prosecution rushed to judgment in a case that amounts to a tragic accident.

Johnson said that legal experts say that the “officers’ argument, at least regarding the arrest itself, has merit.”

Rob Kane, a criminologist at Drexel University in Philadelphia who specializes in police authority, said that under the current legal standard in the U.S., “it seems reasonable to allow police officers to make errors of law when trying to decide whether a person’s behavior or instruments they possess are illegal.”


But in the end, the charges of illegal imprisonment may not hinge on the details of Maryland’s knife law. Instead, the question may be one of whether officers are legally liable for knowing the exact wording of laws. Even if objective observers would declare Gray’s knife legal, “is it still unreasonable for the officer to think that it could be an illegal knife? That’s a close call,” says David Gray, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Law.

Click on the link to read the full text of Patrik Jonsson’s article What Freddie Gray’s Knife Says About Police Power in America.


This entry was posted in Courts, Crime, Jurisprudence, Law Enforcement, Police, SCOTUS, United States and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to On the Subject of Freddie Gray’s Knife and Giving Police “Fair Leeway” to Make Mistakes in Their Enforcement of the Law

  1. randyjet says:

    How the hell could police SEE or think he had any kind of a knife, legal or otherwise? All that does is void the fourth amendment if the cops can stop and frisk any person they wish.

  2. Harvey says:

    I think the DA will lose on the matter of the knife. The cops found the knife when they frisked him. I think that (the frisk) is probably legal. That still leaves Freddie Gray dead. That is not legal.

  3. bettykath says:

    This is the closest thread that’s near current. The killer of Trayvon Martin (I don’t use his name) was involved in a road rage incident in Lake Mary FL. Bullet hole in his truck passenger window; facial injuries from flying glass. The other guy did the shooting. Police say it’s an on-going feud.


    • randyjet says:

      Too bad the guy was not a better shot. Of course, I wonder how much damage could be done to Zimmerman by shooting him in the head. In any case, it seems like the guy was standing his ground and had a well founded fear for his life since Zimmerman is noted for being quick and deadly on the trigger. Maybe next time Martin will get some justice at the hands of another white guy. One can only hope.

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