Criminal Possession of Duct Tape?

The recent news of the arrest of a Brooklyn after-school band teacher in Brooklyn raised an interesting question that is not academic. Under New York's criminal laws can anything be a weapon?

Kenyatte Hughes, the leader of the marching band program, was arrested for allegedly taping shut the mouth of a nine-year-old student and the resulting injuries after the tape was ripped off causing "a cracked, bloody lip and swelling and redness." Mr. Hughes was charged with Assault, Endangering the Welfare of a Child and Criminal Possession of a Weapon. The weapon allegedly employed by Mr. Hughes in this case? Duct tape. 2015-11-05-1446737150-3653881-ducttape.jpg

Yes, criminal possession of duct tape. How is duct tape a weapon you may wonder?

There are two basic categories of weapons under New York Law. The first is a long list of specific weapons like firearms, stun guns, switchblades, cane swords (sorry, Abraham Setrakian) and even "Kung Fu" stars (the literal words of the New York State Penal Law, not mine). The next category of weapons is, quite simply, is anything. In New York, possession of any weapon with an intent to use the weapon unlawfully against another is a crime, a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the specific facts of the case and the background of the person charged.

That means that the mere possession of an object that could inflict an injury, for example, a glass window and even a handkerchief (anything!) if employed in a manner to that is unlawful, is a crime. Well, not anything. Not wet toilet paper or one's own teeth. What about the injuring power of duct tape? As long as a thing is intentionally being used unlawfully, then Criminal Possession of Duct Tape is an actual thing: "I put duct tape on the complaining witness' mouth to explain how slavery worked." Police, on the other hand, believed that Mr. Hughes taped the boy's mouth shut to get him to stop talking.

What about the other charges? Rounding out the charges against Mr. Hughes are Assault and Endangering the Welfare of a Child. Assault requires an intention to cause a physical injury to another person and a physical injury. Whether the duct tape was allegedly used to teach the boy a lesson or get him to stop talking, it is doubtful that prosecutors could prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Hughes has an intention to harm the boy. Whereas, Endangering the Welfare a Child is an extremely broad crime. It includes anything merely likely to injure the physical, mental or moral welfare of anybody under the age of 17.

As noted above nearly anything could be considered a weapon under New York law. That means that seemingly mundane aisles of Home Depot or Lowe's probably contain many weapons. So, beware the next time you are holding anything short of toilet paper.